Chris Kueller and Danielle Lavarnway inside Up A Creek.
“I remember my grandmother looking across the street at this place,” said Chris Kueller. “It was for sale, and she said, ‘That place is a goldmine if you get the right person to run it right.’”
Kueller is out to prove his grandmother right.
The grandson of Carl and Bertha Steinhoff, Kueller grew up at his family’s Sportsman’s Inn, a stone’s throw away from a new restaurant in town, Up A Creek, where he works as a chef.
He asked owner Danielle Lavarnway for a job after she purchased the property last summer.
“I came in and told her who I was,” he said. “You’ve got great advertising right there – the grandson of Carl Steinhoff working for you.”
He notes that he uses his grandfather’s recipes.
Up A Creek is in the building that formerly housed the Evening Hatch and, before that, the Pancake Haven.
The restaurant adjoins a well-appointed gift shop and sporting goods store that is aptly called the Great Outdoors.
Both the diner and the store are owned and operated by Danielle Lavarnway, of Morrisonville. She also owns the motel rooms, storefronts and apartments that round out the property. She has never owned a business before; her background is in retail.
“It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” she commented. “I saw the place for sale and figured it was worth a try. It’s a midlife change of pace. I’d been watching property for sale and came across the listing for the place and decided I’d take a look at it. I ended up buying it directly from the bank on a short sale.”
Lavarnway said that her plan was always, “pretty much using the property for what it had available: the restaurant, the store; I’ll eventually get the rental units able to be rented out.”
Her store offers a varied and appealing selection of gifts and mementos as well as gear for exploring Wilmington’s hiking trails and fishing holes.
The restaurant’s opening nearly coincided with the opening of the new “Poor Man’s Downhill” trailhead in Lavarnway’s parking lot.
The new trail, which links the flume trails, a trail up Whiteface Mountain, and the Memorial Highway trail to Cooper Kiln Pond, is used by snowmobilers, skiers, bikers, and hikers.
“The Great Outdoors pretty much describes where we are,” Lavarnway said. “Why else do you come to this area but to enjoy the outdoors?”
“I have a lot of local people putting their products in the shop, and I try to have what people need for hiking, camping, fishing, boating. I’m going to get a lot more bike stuff this summer; I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came in looking for bike stuff last summer. And then you have the gifts and the little mementos that represent the Adirondacks. It’s a little bit of everything. We provide people with whatever they need.”
Lavarnway said that she expects to expand her restaurant’s hours this summer and that she’s begun the “long process” of getting a license to serve alcohol.
As for the biggest surprise of her first few months in the business, Lavarnway said, “The most unexpected thing is the people of Wilmington. It’s an incredible little place. I bought a business surrounded by like businesses — there are other stores in town, there are other places to go eat — but it doesn’t matter: Everybody’s friendly, everybody’s willing to help you, answer your questions. Around here people are actually helpful. I think everybody has the same goal: to keep people coming back.“