Glen Brownell didn’t mind the slow line for fast food.
The 52-year-old attorney was just glad to have a place in the crowd at Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia on Thursday morning.
“It means we made it through the winter, and it’s a sure sign of spring,” said Glenmont resident Brownell, who has attended opening day festivities at the landmark drive-in for the past 20 years. “It’s kind of a focal point in the community. In the warm weather, everybody comes here.”
It wasn’t warm Thursday, but the traditional big crowd showed up anyway. Gray skies and 40-degree temperatures were far better than the high water and deep mud from Tropical Storm Irene that closed down Jumpin’ Jack’s last August.
Renovations and repairs have brought renewal, and Capital Region political figures gathered at mid-morning to salute the restaurant team before the first Jackburgers, cheese dogs and onion rings were served.
Mark Lansing Jr., general manager of the business owned by his father, Mark Lansing Sr., said the workforce of fryers and flippers put in 10- and 12-hour days after Irene flooded and mudded the parking lot, swept 11 picnic tables down the Mohawk River and wrecked the ice cream building.
“That crew is the reason we’re open today,” Lansing said. “They showed up at 8 or 9 in the morning, worked all day and worked hard, worked in mud, with sunburns and exhaustion, and came back the next day and did it again.”
Lansing later said the goal never changed — the team wanted Jumpin’ Jack’s ready for its usual opening on the last Thursday in March.
“Everybody who does such a bang-up job cooking food, they did a bang-up job putting this place back together,” Lansing added, as he held his 21⁄2-year-old son Parker in his arms.
Thursday’s line started at 5:50 a.m., when Mike Vedder, 48, of Glenville, arrived at the restaurant and took the first spot. Had Vedder been at the counter just after the August flood, he would have been swimming in 5 feet of water.
“I’ve never done it before,” Vedder said. “I figured I’m going to try to be first. I didn’t want to be late.”
Vedder ordered a cheeseburger and onion rings when Jumpin’ Jack’s opened at 11 and received a rousing cheer from people waiting in line when he took the first bite of the season.
Mark Lansing Sr. said the repairs cost more than $200,000. He said there’s no real secret to the success of the restaurant that first opened as an ice cream stand in 1952. “Keep it simple, keep it clean, keep it affordable,” said Lansing, who has owned Jumpin’ Jack’s since 1976.
The junior Lansing believes keeping the place nostalgic is another reason people keep coming.
“There’s stuff from your childhood that gets torn down and covered over and it’s gone,” he said. “Something like this, you can come down and say, ‘I sat right here when I was five, I skinned my knee over there when I was eight.’ ”
Opening day put people in good moods and in wooden seats at the drive-in’s 36 picnic tables. Many were teenagers, using “doctor’s appointment” notes signed by their parents for early exits from school. “I say, ‘I’ve got to see the doctor,’ ” said Ray Nazir, 17, a junior at Scotia-Glenville High School. “ ‘Yeah, Dr. Jack — bring me back some fries.’ My science teacher told me that.”
Nazir had a full tray — a double-decker Jackburger, cheese dog, vanilla milkshake and paper dishes full of onion rings and curly fries.
“The food is just so good, and it’s something to do,” said Nazir, who didn’t worry that his big lunch would affect his skills later in the day during Scotia-Glenville’s lacrosse match at Troy. “I’m a goalie; I just sit in the goal,” he said. “I’m good.”
Scotia resident Lizzy Kenific, 12, had a smaller appetite. She was in line just after 7 with three friends and waited about four hours for her hot dog and fries. “I just love it here ... I come here almost every day,” she said. “It’s just like so perfect. Most places you sit inside; I just like sitting outside.”
Pamela Spicer, who runs a daycare center in Scotia, brought four small children to Jack’s for ice cream and french fries. She said her 17-year-old daughter Olivia asked for permission to leave school early and join the morning social. “Not quite,” Spicer said. “She can come down in the afternoon with her friends.”
Jumpin’ Jack’s personnel, dressed in navy blue restaurant caps, shirts and sweatshirts, were smiling at their stations.
“It feels great,” said Tony Puglisi, 39, of Scotia, who has worked at the restaurant since 1997 and was on ice cream duty Thursday. “We got cheated out of a week last year; we didn’t have closure.”
Sarah Strait, 24, had more customers to worry about in the grill house. She was on fry detail, dropping metal baskets full of chicken, potatoes and onions into hot oil.
“I’m very enthusiastic,” said Strait, who lives in Clifton Park. “I’ve been here over 10 years; it’s just like home. We’re all back together again.”