Dairy Circus, the Scotia restaurant destroyed by fire in 2016, has reopened.
People have been visiting the new "Circus" on Sacandaga Road (Route 147) for milkshakes, hamburgers, sandwiches and omelets since Nov. 10, when owners Robb and Doreen Clemons decided on a quiet return to freezers and fryers.
"We wanted to do a soft opening," Robb Clemons said Friday, near the end of the lunchtime rush. "We thought it would be too crazy with all the new employees."
There would be no need for a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Clemonses, who run the business with their son Ryan, said word spread through social media that Dairy Circus was open again. Customers old and new have shown up, Robb said, and the business has been busy many days.
A fast-moving fire that Clemons believes was electrical in nature destroyed the building on April 18, 2016. Employees and diners had to rush out of the burning building.
The fire was publicity the Clemonses would have never wanted. They received better fame in 2011, when the business was included in a scene for "The Place Beyond the Pines," a major Hollywood film filmed in the Schenectady area.
Doreen Clemons said after the fire, young Dairy Circus workers contacted the film's director, Derek Cianfrance. Cianfrance later e-mailed Doreen and expressed his sorrow. The Clemonses have heard Cianfrance is trying to get all cast members to autograph a movie poster that will be sent to the restaurant for a spot on one of the walls.
Robb Clemons said he wondered whether or not the couple would be able to rebuild the business. He said he should have had more insurance on the building; Doreen took a part-time job and he began looking for work. The couple borrowed some money and used some savings to help with the reconstruction costs.
"It was more than I thought it would be," Clemons said.
Construction began last March and was completed by late October. Clemons said there was no reason to wait until spring to flip the first hamburgers and scoop the first hot fudge sundaes.
"We had to get some money going, too," he said. "We were out of business for a year and a half. It was time to start back into the business."
The new Dairy Circus has a larger dining area, with vinyl, faux wood flooring. Capacity remains at 48, and 12 tables purchased from the former Tartan Pub in Scotia fill the room. So do two dark wood, custom-made benches in the back of the dining room.
The business now employs 10 people for two shifts. The workforce will double during the summer months.
The restaurant was first a Dairy Queen, a building built by Clemons' father, Bruce Clemons, and leased to a DQ franchise owner. When Dairy Queen quickly went out of business, Bruce and his wife Alberta remodeled the building and opened Dairy Circus in 1973.
Robb and Doreen have operated the business for the past 25 years.
Customers are glad the business, located across the street from Scotia-Glenville High School, has reopened.
Galway's Brian Britt, a raw materials supervisor at Adirondack Beverage, said he's visited the place for lunch a couple times a week for the past 10 years. He was in for a hamburger and chowder on Friday.
"The design is better with the double doors," he said. "You used to have a draft here during the wintertime."
Pat Casler of Scotia visited with grandaughter Julionna Baker, 7, and Julionna's friend, Rachel Bearcrowft, 8. The kids decided on fried dough, french fries and ice cream for lunch.
"We love it," Casler said. "This is our third trip already."
"It all tastes yummy," Baker said.
Rob Rainboth of Glenville ordered the Friday special, beer battered fish fry with fries for $6.85. Daughter Abby, 8, opted for ice cream.
"It was devastating," Rainboth said of the fire. "This is a great gathering place for a lot of people in the area."
Doreen Clemons said community is a big part of Dairy Circus. "Without them, we wouldn't be here," she said.
The business is keeping later hours, open until 8 p.m. each night. The place is closed Sunday.
Robb Clemons said Dairy Circus might still run a little party celebrating the new space. "We might do something in the spring, something special with ice cream cones or something," he said.
And while two months of winter weather are on the menu, Clemons knows his prime time is coming.
"In another eight weeks, it's going to get busier, come spring when Jumpin' Jack's opens," he said. "People say, 'You're going to get slow when Jumpin' Jack's opens,' but our business doubles when Jumpin' Jack's opens. That's when everybody comes out of the woodwork, that's when we make our money, too."