WARRENSBURG - One day in January, an electrician powered up a sign hanging above the entrance to the brand-new building that now hosts Oscar's Smoke House, which has been closed since a devastating fire Sept. 4 that turned the historic structure into ruins.
Soon after the sign was illuminated, several dozen people drove up the hill to the legendary business, where generations have bought their smoked meats and cheeses, to see if Oscar's Smoke House was now open.
But Oscar's will be reopening Saturday Feb. 20 with great fanfare, and the public is invited. Community leaders from all over the Adirondacks are expected to attend, as well as hundreds of long-time fans of the products, and friends of the owners, the Quintal family.
Thursday, Jerry and Joq Quintal reflected on what it was like to reopen after months of recovery from the fire, with demolition of the old store and smoke house, then designing, planning, equipping, and resuscitating their business.
"It's like losing a child, and then a new baby being born," Jerry Quintal said, noting that although a lifetime of memories were invested in he old building, the new one offers a new beginning and new opportunities.
The old building was a maze of additions and isolated rooms. The new building, designed for efficiency, is the same size, but has considerably more workspace and retail area for customers. Instead of 12 feet of main display coolers, 32 feet will show off their meats and cheeses. Plus, a bank of auxiliary coolers will show off their specialty items.
The charm of the original building has been retained, as the original Oscar's pig character was restored by neighbor John Richardson, cedar trunks hide the building's steel pillars, the walls are covered by knotty-pine wainscoting, and a lot of the original, historic furnishings that were pulled from the fire have been retained.
Most of all, the friendly smiles of the clerks will be the same. Jerry Quintal kept his entire cast of 14 employees on the payroll for four months, regardless of the lack of production work occurring - and those friendly faces will be back, serving customers as well as preparing the meats and cheeses as two generations before them have.
Behind the old-world charm, however, is high technology, in both the plant and its equipment, that is environmentally conscious.
The entire plant has geo-thermal heating and cooling system. Heat from the groundwater is extracted to warm up the building in the winter, and groundwater chills the air conditioner evaporators in summertime and the product freezers and coolers year-round. Also, the roof is engineered to soak up the heat in winter to warm the building, yet reflect it in summer to keep the building cool. Also, the lighting is the latest in design, saving about two-thirds of its electricity usage by employing high-efficiency LCD or fluorescent lighting that shuts off automatically when not in use.
These "green" aspects of the building may have boosted the cost of the enterprise by about $300,000, but Jerry Quintal estimates that the sum will be recovered in five years or so in energy savings - while lessening the impact of the plant on the environment.
Jerry said his daughter Janelle influenced their decision to make the considerable extra expense in geothermal technology and other "green" innovations, which are expected to save up to 61 percent of utility costs.
The new smoke house has other attributes that are anticipated to enhance the success of the operation.
The three new smokers are higher capacity and computerized, so they control smoke intensity, heat and humidity in various cycles automatically to maximize flavor, uniformity and production. The entire curing cycles, which can be complex, have been developed by the Quintals for maximum taste and quality and programmed into the smoking apparatus, so the employees can be more productive.
The main smoker can cure a ton of ham in a day rather than in three days, Jerry Quintal said.
Considering the national and international demand for their meats by mail order and over the Internet, they'll now be able to more easily meet their customers' expectations.
While their business was interrupted by the fire's destruction of their plant, this widespread following of customers was evident.
Oscar's received thousands of e-mails expressing sympathy for their loss from people all over the nation, many recalling personal stories of how Oscar's Smoke House was a favorite Adirondack stop-off, or how beloved their products were for generations. These e-mails implored them to rebuild, but the Quintals didn't need convincing.
Both Joq and Jerry Quintal knew they'd be back in action as quick as they could, they said Friday.
"When the fire was still burning, I knew we'd rebuild," Joq Quintal recalled.
The demolition work - and recovering some of the business artifacts took almost three weeks. In the meantime, employees were at work developing designs for a new plant, applying for permits, and choosing the most appropriate equipment - some items came from as far away as Germany.
In a month, excavation for the new building was accomplished, and pipes were laid for the geothermal wells, and soon after, the concrete floor was poured. Within four days, the new steel frame for the building had been erected.
Over the next several months, equipment arrived and was installed and tested.
Federal and state approvals were completed Feb. 5 for their meat-processing operation, and production began four days later.
In three days, Oscar's had processed three and a half tons of meat, and Jerry Quintal said they would have all their traditional products on hand for opening day this Saturday.
Friday, all three new smokers were operating, smoking one ton of hams, 1,500 pounds of turkey breast and 1,000 sticks of beef jerky simultaneously.
The process of rebuilding, Quintal said, was expedited by Glens Falls National Bank, which provided cash and extended credit to the business as needed.
"The support we've had from Glens Falls National Bank has been fabulous," Quintal said. "It's made reconstruction a smooth, quick process."
Jerry and Joq Quintal also said they've been overwhelmed by the support of the local community, citing not only the outpouring of sympathy over the loss, but the countless offers to help out, including those just this week who have volunteered to stock shelves and get the store ready for its grand reopening.
"The support from local people has been just incredible," Jerry Quintal said, noting that since the fire people from near and far have bought a total of 1,000 Oscar's gift certificates, which have provided cash flow for the business while production was idle.
Joq Quintal, who is the third generation of Quintals to operate the business, said he is dedicated to nurturing the enterprise and taking it to new heights, regardless of the challenges that lie ahead.
"I love what we put out and what we do with people - our customers and employees," he said. "I can't wait for the next 25 years - This is all about continuing an Adirondack tradition."