AU SABLE FORKS - A new restaurant is bolstering the effort to keep business booming in downtown Au Sable Forks.
Brothers Shane and Lance Lawrence opened Mad River Pizza in January, hoping to have a positive impact in an area that hasn't seen a lot of recent growth.
"I definitely just wanted to bring a fun place with good food to a small town I grew up in," said Lance, who has spent the last several years as a chef at a couple of Lake Placid restaurants.
The impact has been felt right from the beginning. When Mad River Pizza held its grand opening Jan. 15, Lance and Shane donated much of their proceeds to the AuSable Valley Central School basketball team in honor of the late Johnny Nixon, an AVCS graduate who died at the age of 28 after contracting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
"It just seemed like the right thing to do," said Lance. "I knew John Nixon and he was a really good friend of my nephew."
In turn, the basketball team donated those funds to the family of Jeff Brown, an AuSable Forks native currently suffering from the debilitating - and often terminal - disease.
"One of the things we wanted to do was to let people know that we wanted to do stuff like that in the future," said Shane.
The restaurant operates in a Main Street storefront previously owned by Travis Glicksman, who operated it as Travy G's Pizzeria until closing last fall.
Lance, a friend of Glicksman, had originally planned to partner with him at Travy G's, but when Glicksman decided to move out of the area, he teamed up with older brother Shane, who brings 10 years of experience managing a chain of convenience stores.
They renovated the building and, with the help of a federal stimulus grant through the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation, added new kitchen equipment.
"Had we not gotten that, we probably would not have gone into business," said Shane.
The new equipment allowed Lance to draw on his cooking expertise and expand the menu to include a wide variety of meals beside pizza.
"It was just a pizzeria before, and we definitely tried to get away from that," Lance said, noting their shift to rustic-style pizzas made with the freshest of ingredients, while also offering seafood, steak, pasta and more. It's a change he said customers have noticed; and praised.
Another noticeable change has been the addition of live music. A handful of bands, such as local favorite Lucid, have made appearances at Mad River Pizza. It's a tradition that Lance, somewhat of a musician himself, hopes to continue.
While the brothers admit there is some risk to starting up a business in such a small town, they are optimistic for steady growth and a steady stream of customers in Au Sable Forks.
"It's going to take a little time, but it's definitely changing," Shane said of the hamlet. "People are moving into the area."
Contrary to popular belief, he added, there are also a fair number of tourists who pass through Au Sable Forks on their way between Plattsburgh and Lake Placid.
"You can cater to the tourists, but it's the locals that keep you going year-round," said Lance. In line with that, the restaurant plans to offer regular specials like buy-one-get-one pizzas that cater to families.
Their success thus far has helped them keep big plans in mind for the future of Mad River Pizza. Goals include expanded seating, both indoors and out, and continued support of their fellow Main Street neighbors, such as the Hollywood Theatre and the Tahawus Lodge Center project currently under way.
For more information about Mad River Pizza, call 647-2222 or visit their page on Facebook.