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Downhill Grill owners come home

Joe and Ken Lawless’ new restaurant opens Friday; Lake Placid one closed

May 26, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - After sitting vacant for four years, the former Meyer's gift and drug store on Main Street is now the village's newest restaurant.

Joe and Ken Lawless, who had run the Downhill Grill in Lake Placid for 14 years until last month, open a Saranac Lake version of the restaurant Friday.

During a Wednesday interview inside the new downtown eatery, Ken Lawless described the venture as a homecoming for he and his brother, who are fifth-generation Saranac Lakers.

Article Photos

Tom Murphy, chef of the new Saranac Lake Downhill Grill restaurant, stands in the restaurant’s dining room Wednesday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

"This is where we're from and where we belong," he said. "We just felt we wanted to be here. We think there's a good market for it. We loved Lake Placid, but we think Saranac Lake is going to do very well."

Last year, when word got out that the Lawlesses would open a restaurant in Saranac Lake, they said they planned to keep running the Downhill Grill in Lake Placid, in a building they leased on Sentinel Road. But things haven't worked out that way, Ken Lawless revealed.

"As it stands right now, we've closed the Lake Placid one," he said. "That was not our original intention, but things have worked out that way. That building may sell, and it's worth more than we can pay for it. Hopefully we can get back (to Lake Placid) next year and rent somewhere else. But right now our priority is getting this one up and running for the summer."

The way things worked out saved them some money in start-up costs, Lawless said. Instead of having to buy new kitchen equipment, appliances and other goods for the Saranac Lake site, they've simply been moving things over from Lake Placid.

But that doesn't mean getting the new restaurant ready has been easy. Lawless said it was quite difficult, given the fact that they were busy trying to run the Lake Placid Downhill Grill at the same time.

"We'd make progress, then stop, make progress, then stop," he said. "Finally, we got on a roll this last year. Lake Placid was very busy over the summer, when we had intended to be doing most of the work. We didn't even start here until October, when we originally planned to open up."

Ken credits his brother Joe for designing the layout and interior of the Saranac Lake Downhill Grill. It features an 80-seat dining room with tables that look out over Main Street and a bar area that can seat up to 30 people. One wall of the dining room has been left with its brick facade exposed. Old-time photos of Saranac Lake adorn the walls.

The menu will be very much like what Downhill Grill customers in Lake Placid have come to expect, Lawless said, again crediting his brother who he said is "a genius in the kitchen.

"I call our menu 'American casual' with a lot of different elements," Lawless said. "We've got some Tex-Mex, some comfort food, great lunch and dinner sandwiches, seafood, pasta - all very reasonable priced, and our portions are huge. We've had 14 years to get everything off the menu that people don't absolutely love."

While the business in Lake Placid ebbed and flowed with the tourism industry, Lawless said they expect to appeal to a different demographic in Saranac Lake.

"Locals primarily," he said. "One of the nice things about Saranac Lake is we don't have six months of down time. We have a very viable middle class here that we're hoping to catch."

The restaurant will have 15 full-time employees during the summer, many of whom worked at the Lake Placid Downhill Grill, Lawless said.

While the plan is to open for business on Friday, Lawless described it as more of a soft opening. The business doesn't have its liquor license yet and will likely have more of a grand opening later this summer, he said.



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