"We opened Jan. 7 of this year," said Jennifer Burgess of the Pack Basket Diner in Gabriels. "The closing date for the property kept changing, but finally everything came to be, and here we are."
Here is a brightly painted room with Adirondack memorabilia, locally painted artwork, Adirondack-made pack baskets and a toasty gas fireplace/stove in a corner. The diner is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Open for breakfast, lunch or takeout with a Friday fish fry during Lent. She would like to be open other evenings but is taking things slowly.
Jennifer Burgess wants people to know that she didn't take over Gus' Adirondack Diner in Gabriels. Instead, she opened a different diner in the same location. Though people may miss Gus', she hopes with the Pack Basket Diner she's created something homey and fresh, something her own. Jennifer Burgess wants to create a place for family to gather.
Jennifer Burgess, right, and her daughter Kathrine showcase the new sign for the Pack Basket Diner in Gabriels.
(Photo — Diane Chase)
Opening a diner was not a spur-of-the-moment decision for Jennifer but a dream that kept presenting itself until she felt opening the newly named Pack Basket Diner was the road she had to take.
"We had heard through the grapevine that this place was going to be sold. It never hit the market," Jennifer said. "We came in and talked to Gus, agreed on a price, and that was it. We went home that afternoon, sat down and wondered 'What have we done?'"
Jennifer had just started the nursing program at North Country Community College and continued to take classes throughout the summer of 2010 "just in case."
"I wanted to pursue nursing but also wanted this to happen," she said. "If the diner agreement fell through, I wanted to make sure I was still current with my nursing courses."
Jennifer enlisted her immediate and extended family to help with the initial preparation of putting their personal touch on the Pack Basket Diner. She went to restaurant auctions and gave the whole place a fresh coat of paint. The diner is bright and spacious. Since it has only been open for a little over two months, she continues to bring in memorabilia to further strengthen the feeling of family.
"Those speed skates hanging on the wall belonged to my grandmother," Jennifer said. "She participated in the 1932 Olympics when speed skating was just a women's demonstration sport."
She continues to walk around the family restaurant, showing a hand-carved wooden deer made by her father-in-law as well as her grandfather Harold McCasland's fishing creel and handmade pole. Her father was an Adirondack trapper and guide.
"People used the fishing creel to store the fish they would catch," Jennifer said. "They would line the bottom with moss and put the brook trout or other fish they caught on top."
The Saranac Lake native wants people to realize that it may not be "health" food on the menu, but she does serve "home" food with ingredients found in the cupboard. The pies and soups are all homemade, as are the house specialty, sweet potato fries. Jennifer mentions more fresh items like sausage and homemade biscuits and the "Moody Sandwich," made with homemade bread. She makes the corned beef for the Reuben sandwiches weekly and rattles off an ever-growing list of menu items made from scratch. She wants to continue to provide local food options and currently serves Tucker's potatoes, grown in Gabriels.
"When I was a kid, my parents owned a restaurant in Ohio called The Old South," Jennifer said. "My mother is originally from Saranac Lake, and my father went to Paul Smith's, so we moved back in 1980. My father worked for Paul Smith's College at the Hotel Saranac, so all us kids got into the restaurant business quite young.
"My parents even had foster kids and adopted some of those kids, but they just happened to also be all boys. One of the boys (now an adopted brother) was just visiting when we lived in Ohio. As the youngest, I would play with all boys in the neighborhood, and he saw me dressed in my brothers' hand-me-downs. He asked why Jimmy got dolls for his birthday. My brothers quickly set the record straight and told him my name was Jenny.
"By the time we got our working papers at 14, we were helping my father at the hotel. We did everything at the hotel. All my brothers went to Paul Smith's for hotel management."
As the only girl in a family of boys, Jennifer learned to be self sufficient. After high school, she met her husband Jim and they started their family. Jennifer stayed home with her children in the beginning, but as the children grew older she held jobs that helped hone her skills.
"I worked at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in Hogansburg and helped manage the dining room, bar room and staff. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I also worked at Trudeau Institute for a time. All these experiences led me to wanting to have my own place.
"My husband went to Paul Smith's for forestry and owns his own business in nuisance animal control." Jennifer jokes about how "in no way shape or form are their two businesses combined."
Jim does come and help on the weekend, making sure customers are happy.
Growing up in the family of boys, Jennifer's life is now surrounded by girls: her three daughters, Lyndsay, Samantha and Kathrine. Her kids now get dropped off from the school at the door of the Pack Basket and start doing their homework before helping with duties around the diner.
This summer there are plans for an ice cream stand and take-out window, so people can run across the street from the Brighton Town Park and get a quick snack or grab a meal to go on the way to and from town.
"We are going to get a soft-serve machine," Jennifer said as she points to her daughter. "It will be her summer job manning the take-out window."
Recently she had a customer come in who was used to the old management and hours. The fellow was pleasantly surprised to find that she serves breakfast all day. Jennifer agrees that she is making changes, a little bit at a time. For now she is just providing an old-fashioned dining experience.
"I had a woman come in with allergies, and she wanted to order the corned beef hash, so I made her fresh hash," Jennifer said. " If we can make it for someone, we will. It's just like eating at home."
"At 781 state Route 86, we are also right on the C7 pink line of the snowmobile trail map," she said. "We hope to be convenient and centrally located. We do stay open for special groups and meetings. There is a motorcycle group that meets for dinner monthly and a church group that comes weekly. We even are working on details for the wedding reception for a couple getting married in the park next door.
"We find ourselves treating this place like home, and we want other people to feel the same way. It's really a family place. We don't have a lot of staff. It's mostly our family that comes and helps out. We have plans, but right now we just want to give people a little bit of home."