The danger in taking over a beloved institution is that any changes — however minor, whether intentional or inadvertent — may be very poorly received.
Frank and Kathleen Martin have passed the test.
A little more than two years ago, the couple took over Morrette’s King Steak House on Erie Boulevard, a local landmark famous for its steak sandwiches. The circa-1947 restaurant was shut down for several months in 2014 after the previous owner decided to retire and was not immediately able to sell it.
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The sale took longer than they expected, but the Martins were able to reopen Morrette’s in October 2014. They had the same pictures of old-time Schenectady on the wall, the same delicious-in-moderation food on the menu, some of the same decades-long employees working the counter and some of the same decades-long customers enjoying cheesesteaks.
In November 2015, a Gazette restaurant reviewer found the atmosphere and food as good as ever.
In January 2017, Frank Martin described a happy situation.
“Everything that we thought it would be, it’s exceeded our expectations,” he told The Gazette one Wednesday afternoon after the lunch rush had subsided.
“The old-time customers have come in, personally thanked me and my wife.”
Running a restaurant wasn’t an immediate or seamless transition for the couple — Frank was retired after 26 years with the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department, and Kathleen had dabbled with catering and concessions.
“Not coming from that type of profession before we opened the restaurant, that was a learning curve,” Frank Martin said.
But enough of the original staff was there that the curve was manageable.
The Martins got another surprise not long after reopening Morrette’s: The northwest tip of the city of Schenectady, just up Erie Boulevard from their restaurant, would become a new focal point of the city as a casino opened there.
“In no way would I have ever guessed that either the restaurant or Schenectady would have been that lucky to get that casino there,” Martin said.
Even before it opened, the casino began generating business for Morrette’s, he said, as word about the steak sandwiches spread among the contractors and they started coming in to eat.
He’s excited now about what the future holds for that stretch of the city.
“Even in the short period of time we’ve been there, Stewart’s expanded, a liquor store opened across the street,” Martin said. “That [new] roundabout, I go through that twice a day. It’s fabulous.”
He’s also eager to see the city make the streetscape upgrades it is planning in the area.
“There’s some infrastructure that needs to be fixed,” he said. “It really needs to pop … if you want to have a destination.