SARANAC LAKE - Local contractor Charles "Tug" Duffy bought the once and future Casa Del Sol at an auction late Monday morning.
The Bloomingdale resident agreed to pay $126,500 - $115,000 plus a 10 percent buyer's premium - for the Mexican restaurant property and all its contents, according to Randy Passonno of Collar City Auctions Realty & Management Inc. (Editor's note: The sale price has been corrected based on information Passonno provided.)
Duffy told the Enterprise he plans to renovate the building with his construction company and then lease it to someone who will, he hopes, bring back its booming business of the 1980s and '90s, when 45-minute waits for a table were the norm on summer weekends.
People gather for an auction of the former Casa Del Sol Mexican restaurant late Monday morning.
(Photo — Steve Buzzell)
"I'm very, very excited," Duffy said Monday. "I want this restaurant to be what it used to be, and I think that's easily accomplishable."
He said his purchase included the restaurant's recipes, and any tenant will have "to run it as Casa Del Sol." He said he has some possible operators in mind, "which has given me the enthusiasm to go through with this plan I've been describing to you," but even if he didn't, he probably would have bought Casa anyway.
"I would like to attract the right person, and I'm not in a hurry to find that person," Duffy said. That's because he has renovation work to do first.
Among his plans, he said he wants to insulate the building and upgrade much of the restaurant equipment to save on energy costs down the road.
Being a contractor helps, Duffy said. So does getting Casa for a relatively low price. Prior owner Bryan Morgan said his main problem was that he paid too much when he bought Casa from founder Harry Tucker in 2008. Morgan closed Casa in December owing more than $650,000 in total liabilities.
Duffy said he wants to restore Casa to the success that marked most of the Tucker years, although he didn't criticize Morgan.
"Bryan's a good friend of mine, and we've been friends for a long time though athletics and otherwise," Duffy said. "He was trying, but he had a big nut to crack. Bryan had a big overhead."
Fortunately, Duffy said, the eight months that have passed since Casa closed have not been long enough to be detrimental to the building.
"There's been a lot of buzz about 'Tear it down; tear it down,'" he said. "I'm a big proponent of tear-down and rebuild - for residential."
But Casa's existing structure has a "historical mystique" Duffy said he wants to preserve.
"I think that place has a lot of character," he said.
He said his wife Marla, who is also part of Duffy Builders, will be a big part of the renovation as well.
"That's what I want, the feeling my wife and I used to have when we went in there," Duffy said. "It was a date and a gathering place for locals, as well as some really nice tourists."
As customers waited for tables, they spent that time drinking margaritas and beers from a porch bar and visiting with others in the crowd. That "social environment" is the aspect Duffy misses most.
"You don't really want an hour-and-a-half wait," he said, "but I remember, when my wife and I would go in there and I'd ask how long the wait is and they'd say 20 minutes, and I'd say, well - can you bump me back a little bit?"
The auction was conducted by Collar City Auctions late Monday morning at the Casa Del Sol property, 513-521 Lake Flower Ave. The real estate and restaurant contents were offered both separately and as a complete package. The top bid for the real estate alone was $60,000, and no one bid on the contents alone as a whole, according to Passonno. The contents were not offered separately, although some people had come to the auction in hopes of buying individual items, Passonno said. The deal with Duffy must be closed by Sept. 30, according to the auction house.
The posting of this news on online around 6 p.m. Monday lit up the Enterprise Facebook page.
"Wonderful news," Maggie O'Neil wrote. "Nothing better than a meal and a few margaritas as Casa back in the day!"
"We would drive 80 mins from North Creek for our Casa fix!" Jeremy Williams wrote. "So glad to hear this! And soon we'll be staying at one of your new hotels! We love Saranac Lake!"
The hotels Williams mentioned are presumably the Hotel Saranac, for which a sale and renovation plan are in the works, and a 90-room hotel proposed for the shore of Lake Flower.
Sam Churco of Saranac Lake, another local contractor and fan of Casa, told the Enterprise he remembers seeing Duffy there and is glad he bought it.
"I had heard some rumors in the last couple weeks that someone wanted to buy it, turn it into a bistro or something," Churco said.
He'd much rather see it stay Casa.
"It has such a following, and I've been going there for over 25 years," Churco said. "It's such a place to meet. You always see your friends there, and make new friends."
Contact Peter Crowley at 518-891-2600 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.