CLYDE – The minute Tabitha Talbot and Jennifer Adams saw the space that had been the Kee Kee Run Café – and its hardwood floor, high white pewter ceiling, and spacious back counter – they knew it was was their fate.
Talbot and Adams had been waitresses at Port Byron Diner for years. Talbot is from Savannah; Adams lives in Auburn. They had talked about going into business together and opening their own restaurant, but the opportunity never presented itself.
That is, until they saw a Facebook post in early October from the new owner of the building that housed Kee Kee and Clyde Hardware before that. Keith Martin was looking for a new tenant for the restaurant.
He took them through space – they fell in love with it.
“We were going to do it,” Talbot said. “I even sold my motorhome!
Their partners, Talbot’s husband and Adams boyfriend, gave them money to help them get started. Other family members were supportive and encouraging.
“They all said we’d be crazy not to try,” Adams said.
The women opened the Blockhouse Diner on November 22 at 85 Glasgow St. They turned the space into a restaurant more than the cafe it was when Buck and Mary Lainhart ran it as the Kee Kee Run during in recent years.
Talbot and Adams cut off the espresso machine, panini machine, and fancy silverware that Talbot called “too heavy and difficult to clean.” They installed two new grills and a deep fryer, and created a menu they knew would appeal to the clientele they hoped to attract – a more laid back clientele than the latte drinkers who sought elaborate desserts. The after-meal choice at the Blockhouse is, quite simply, a pie – often of many kinds.
Eggs, homemade fries, bacon, French toast, pancakes, eggs, omelets and sausage sauce on cookies are typical breakfast dishes that are served six days a week, from 6 hours of the morning. For lunch, it’s hamburgers, fries, sandwiches and salads for the most part; lunch is served until 2 p.m. when dinner closes. The business is also closed on Tuesday, giving the women time to catch their breath, they said.
“It’s been busy,” Talbot said, noting that they might like to be open for dinner as well.
Right now, they’re working to get food to tables faster and better handle the take-out orders that have started pouring in around lunchtime.
Adams and Talbot said they weren’t the only ones interested in reclaiming the space, but Connie Varricchio, who manages the building for Martin, said they were the better choice.
“Look at them,” said Varricchio, owner of a gift shop in the other half of the first-floor retail space that focuses on selling locally created items. “Look how excited they are. How could we not have chosen them? It seemed fair to me.
The women said they relied on their experience working in Port Byron to find out what supplies to order (they use the same dispenser) and what help they need. Currently, six others work with them at the Blockhouse.
They also took a lesson from Galen Town historian Hugh Miner, who took them on a tour of the Galen Historical Society. They named the blockhouse after a French and Indian War-era fort and blockhouse established around 1758 near the present-day village of Clyde. It was abandoned and burned down around 1788, but a reproduction, which still stands on Route 31 today, was erected in 1975-76.
Talbot said they want to embrace the history of the community so their business isn’t just another place to grab a bite to eat. They also hired City Supervisor Steve Groat, who is a photographer, to help them with vintage photographs, which they reproduced to help decorate the restaurant.
The Lainharts renovated the building when they bought it from the Robert family and left much of the charm that carried over to the structure when it was a mostly old-fashioned hardware store. .
When the Lainharts left, they sold much of the furniture they added to Martin, as well as the building. This has been of great help to Talbot and Adams. They kept the tables, the electric fireplace, the comfy chairs, and the crockery, as well as a massive cabinet that complements the dinner party with intimate personal items that the women have added. They also added extra tables and chairs in the back room and cabins in the front windows.
They immediately decorated it for Christmas, including a huge tree that they got at half price when the person who sold it heard they wanted it for dinner.
“Tab wanted a big tree, and she got it,” Adams said, adding that she thought they could ask their new clients to help her decorate it with ornaments that were meaningful to them.
“Everyone has been so wonderful to us,” Talbot said as she spun around the restaurant, filling cups with coffee and apologizing that some orders were taking a little while. “We offered to buy breakfast from the people who were waiting, and they said no, they understood that we were still working. They want us to be successful.