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Rebuilt Schenectady restaurant gets a warm welcome back (with audio interview, photo gallery)

Rebuilt Schenectady restaurant gets a warm welcome back (with audio interview, photo gallery)

Samir Abdallah looked at his kitchen’s empty cooler Monday and saw the next day’s fresh salsa.
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Samir Abdallah looked at his kitchen’s empty cooler Monday and saw the next day’s fresh salsa.

The restaurateur spent Monday marinating chicken, cleaning up, and preparing for the Tuesday lunch crowd at Hot Harry’s Fresh Burritos, which reopens at 11 a.m. today, with hopes the eatery will bounce back from water and smoke damage from a fire last year.

“It’s one of those things that’s an inconvenience. There’s nothing you could have done about it,” Abdallah said. “We had the insurance policies in place and we had adequate coverage. We’re going to open and hopefully regain the momentum that we’ve had.”

The 2,600-square-foot fast casual restaurant at 1625 Union St. is the flagship location and corporate headquarters for the six-store chain, the place where franchisees come to be trained.

The anticipated opening was chronicled on the social networking site Facebook.com, where enthusiasts made complaints of burrito withdrawal. The restaurant has had a Facebook fan page for only a month and already has 660 fans.

Audio interview with Samir Abdallah

To hear an interview with restaurateur Samir Abdallah on the reopening of Hot Harry's, click HERE.

“I’ve been trying to communicate the opening with the Facebook page,” Abdallah said. “They’ve been anxious for us to open.”

Tables and equipment survived much of the water damage caused by the October fire, which also affected the Armed Forces Recruiting Center and nine rental apartments located above the restaurant.

But much of the interior had to be scrapped, Abdallah said. Losses were estimated at $275,000.

Now the restaurant features a rebuilt interior of walls, floors, counters, ceiling and a mural with mountainous terrain, cactuses and colorful storm clouds.

The reopening should have happened sooner but was put off several weeks because of other needed repairs related to asbestos found under tiles, along with a recurrent leaky roof.

“It’s been a long, strenuous process and I wouldn’t push this on my worst enemy,” Abdallah said.

The reopening also follows expected growth for the company.

The restaurant has added a professional photographer on retainer for its marketing efforts, is expanding its catering business and is pushing for new locations focused in the Albany area. The company currently has two locations in Pittsfield, Mass., and one each in Lee, Mass., Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and East Greenbush.

“My goal for 2010 is to have a total of ten stores. We’re at six now,” Abdallah.

Hot Harry’s is among more than a dozen restaurants and shops in the Upper Union Street neighborhood, according to Guy Sementilli, president of the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District.

“He has been well missed. We look for him to do a tremendous amount of business like he was doing before the fire occurred,” said Sementilli. “I just can’t tell you how many people came in my restaurant, Scotty’s, and asked when Hot Harry’s was going to open again.

Business leaders in the neighborhood plan to rally behind the restaurant on Wednesday, which will mark the official reopening day at breakfast time.

“We’re all going there Wednesday for lunch to show him our support and how happy we are for him to be back on the street doing business,” Sementilli.

Another person in the lunch lot will be Jerry Griggs, branch manager at First Niagara who said he tries to grab a breakfast burrito before work at least once a week.

“I just think that Samir, as a business, has been a wonderful addition to the street,” Griggs said. “They’ve added a nice flavor in terms of food, but in terms of personality too. Samir has really embraced Union Street and it’s an opportunity to reach out to one of our own.”

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