SCHENECTADY — “I can’t wait,” Everett Williams said Tuesday, as he rubbed his stomach inside the future Ya Ya’s House Southern Cuisine restaurant.
Everett, a maintenance worker for Utech Products, located next to Ya Ya’s new location at 135 Broadway — Utech is also the restaurant’s new landlord — said people have been asking when it will open ever since a sign went up advertising the move.
“We’re tired of eating Subway,” Everett said, adding there aren’t any other nearby restaurants offering good southern comfort food.
Anticipation of the new Ya Ya’s has followed the restaurant’s owners ever since they were forced out of their old location at 170 Lafayette St. When the former landlord decided she didn’t want Ya Ya’s frying food in the building anymore, several city officials tried to help either keep them in that location or find a new space.
“It’s really humbling,” said Amanda Thompson, who owns Ya Ya’s with her husband, Marc.
Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., was one of those advocates. When the restaurant lost its lease near the end of 2016, he said it was disappointing not only because the food was good, but they had a good following. He also said they participated in the city’s Wing Walk event and a fundraiser for the Improvement Corp.
Salengo said he started looking at different properties for the restaurant before reaching out to the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority for help. The authority got the tip about the new location, behind Proctors.
Amanda was able to sign the new lease in November.
Salengo said he not only enjoys the restaurant’s food, but it adds to the diversity of restaurants in the city.
“I’m really glad they had the focus to come back to downtown,” Salengo said.
After closing the Lafayette Street location, Thompson ran the restaurant out of the basement of New Day Christian Empowerment, on Chrisler Avenue, where she and her husband are both pastors. They continued to cook up dishes like fried chicken, fried fish, barbecue ribs and candied yams.
But the large lunch crowd they enjoyed at the first restaurant location, which opened in February 2016, didn’t follow them to the church.
Marc said part of the reason was because people thought they went out of business. It also didn’t help the church wasn’t close to downtown. But there still was enough interest to keep them going.
“It kept enough [customers] so those who were familiar still kept us up on the map,” he said. “Which was very good for Amanda — that we didn’t totally lose our entire customer base.”
Regular updates and videos posted to Facebook also helped. The videos consisted of Marc talking about what was on the menu, different deals and how to order food.
“It kind of took off organically, where people were chiming in who don’t even know us,” he said.
The new location, formerly home to the Jamaican food restaurant Hot Spot, is almost ready to open, though some equipment needs to be installed and there is some painting that needs to be done.
Thompson said she hopes to open in February, but they first need site plan approval from the city Planning Commission, which is expected to address the plan at its Jan. 17 meeting.
Williams, who said he’s saving the right side of his stomach for ribs, isn’t the only person excited about the opening. So is Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo, who works at Proctors.
“It’s like sitting down at your mother’s table,” Perazzo said of Ya Ya’s food. “It’s made with love, and it clearly has a personal touch.”
Thompson said she’s appreciative of the support, adding, “You can’t keep a good woman down.”
“I want to thank (the community) for believing in us and believing in our product,” Thompson said. “We’re back.”