A man stopped shoving and peeked over the top of the silver metal ice cream machine. It was nearly the same width as the back door of the Twin Freeze building.
“Try it a little this way,” said a young man on the other side of the machine.
They wiggled it one way and then the other, pushing all the while until it slid through the door, a job well done. Behind the men sat a giant truck with three more machines to go.
There’s still snow on the ground, but the men and women who work at Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In have a restaurant to get ready for a busy summer season that officially kicks off March 28. On a sunny Saturday, employees buzzed around the Scotia eatery, bounded by the slow stirring of the Mohawk River out back, the hum of cars on the nearby Western Gateway Bridge and the winter tranquility of Collins Park across the street.
The restaurant’s five ice cream machines spent the winter in storage, safe from any flood waters that could carry them away or any dust and dirt that construction of a new addition might kick up. Jumpin’ Jack’s employees welcomed them home Saturday, as owner Mark Lansing Sr. reflected on the year past and the season ahead for the popular ice cream and burger joint.
“We’re still finding mud here and there,” said Lansing, amidst the clacking of more machines being rolled in. “It’s in places that you couldn’t get to before.”
He’s referring to the detritus left by 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene, which flooded the Mohawk River literally in the restaurant’s backyard and swamped the place in water 5 feet high, sweeping away 11 picnic tables and cracking windows. Employees picked their heads up and poured 700 hours of work into repairs in the week after the flooding, and continued on throughout the mild winter, installing new windows and replacing ruined machines.
Jumpin’ Jack’s opened last spring to an excited community. It was a comeback story, through and through.
“It was a good summer,” said Lansing. “The rainfall was minimal. People were excited. I’m looking forward to another awesome year.”
A crew of workers milled around the eatery Saturday, sweeping floors and dusting off machines. Each year, they come in about 10 days before opening day for the spring cleaning. They popped in early this year, though, to get the ice cream machines out of storage and installed.
The foundation for a new addition went on the Twin Freeze building in October, increasing its floor space by 30 percent and leaving room for new handicap restrooms to go in. The old bathrooms hadn’t been upgraded since the building was first erected in 1952.
“We just needed to do an upgrade because, you know, things were outdated and it was time for a change,” said Lansing.
Lansing is a little brusque, and even he admits to being set in his ways. He likes to keep his menu simple and old-fashioned. But he appears to have softened a bit this year, adding touches of variety he hopes will please customers, like the new sundae machine that can make 10 milkshake flavors instead of the standard four — chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and coffee. Now, people will have their choice of pistachio, banana, blueberry, black raspberry and cherry, as well.
He’s also thinking of offering chocolate- or cherry-dipped cones. When asked why he never did before, Lansing simply responds: “We were too lazy,” before adding “No, I just thought the demand is there. You know, people ask for it a lot, so if they want it they get it.”
But not every request makes it onto the menu. Over at the burger stand, customers have pleaded for mozzarella sticks and chicken poppers.
“But if you get too many choices then it’s too difficult,” said Lansing. “People don’t know what to order because you have too many selections and they can’t make up their minds. And that slows everything down, you know? So we try to keep it old style. You know what we have and you know what to expect and you know what it’s gonna taste like when you get here.”
Besides, no one’s ever complained before about subsisting on a good, old-fashioned Jackburger, curly fries or milkshake. So why mess with a good thing?