In the beginning….
Our journey began in the summer of 2022. What started out as the “Ice Cream Truck I always wanted when I retired”, then a “Bagel Boat”, (after I spotted an adorable little Steury) soon grew into a unique opportunity to bring good food and drink to boaters on Cayuga Lake. So we started our search for a used houseboat that could accommodate the weight and space of a commercial kitchen. We thought we found the perfect boat, it was an abandoned steel boat, a Jeff boat. It was unique and the sister to Theonomics, the amphibious houseboat that lives in Auroroa, NY. We spent several hours getting her ready to finish off the inside. We learned that the title was lost so then it all became complicated. It’s like buying a foreclosed house – you can get it for a lot less money but there are a lot of hoops to jump through. After several weeks/months of delays and hoop jumping, we had to come up with a plan B. Once again the search was on. My focus shifted to the Riverboat Queen, I realized finding the right one in this area would be quite a challenge and shipping one here was just too complicated. It didn’t take us long to literally uncover a beauty, a 1971, 32 foot Alcan 370 right here in our marina. It’s an aluminum, twin-engine houseboat. She’s kind of funky but we see that as having a lot of character. We were able to drop it in the water and take it out for a sea trial on the same day we looked at it. She didn’t sink, the engines ran most of the time, and we got back to the marina in good shape. We’ll call that a successful sea trial.
We started the tear out that weekend and were finished by Monday. Tear out was quick and easy but then the hard work began. Finding the holes to keep the water on the outside was our first mission. I can honestly say, I never knew using duct tape to temporarily secure those holes could be so effective. Our marina, Lansing Harbor Marina, has been great! This is the marina that the Big Boat Café will operate from. Greg, Bill, Austin, Ra, and Roni have been wonderful. They loaned us their Kubota (my first time driving a Kubota;-) for a day to haul material from the boat to their dumpster. They even brought their loader around to haul the heavy stuff. If you are ever on Cayuga Lake and need a full service marina, these are the people to see. We named her Sweet Lou after our precious rescue golden doodle that we tragically lost to cancer in July 2022. Lou Lou was only 2 years old. She was the sweetest, gentlest girl you would ever meet and we miss her. Life can be so unfair sometimes. Renovating Lou has been challenging but also therapeutic. She is definitely a labor of love.
We had lots of curious onlookers and interest in what we were doing from folks in the marina and soon the “scuttlebutt” was out that we were doing a “food boat”. This was well received and when we mentioned some of our menu options, we seem to draw even more positive comments. Soon all of the boats were pulled and it was mostly just us there working on the inside of Lou. Painting, ceiling, light fixtures, and the head complete, with a composting toilet. The weather definitely cooperated and we had a very mild fall that allowed for exterior work we thought would have to wait for springtime. 70 degrees in November??!! We got the top side paint on and half of the bottom paint, (I underestimated how much paint I would need). It is a special order because it has to be copper free in order to use it on the aluminum boat. I purchased a boot strip and had high hopes of taking full advantage of the warm weather, I missed, so another project for the spring. The cold weather has brought us to a halt so we are spending the winter, experimenting with breakfast sandwiches, bagels, coffees and smoothies.
Today, we purchased our first piece of equipment. It is a Blackstone grill with 2 air fryers and a warming compartment. Tomorrow, we head to Syracuse to visit Gerharz equipment which was highly recommended by Mark and James, 2 very successful, longtime restauranteurs in Ithaca. Update: We have our Blackstone grill coming today. We ordered a refrigerator and will be ordering some of the larger items that take longer to come in. We need to get rolling on the plumbing and electric so will be getting our sinks very soon as well.
We finally finished our logo!
It has been an incredibly mild winter. Particularly, the past few days. We’ve had sun and reached 70 this week. If the lake weren’t so low, we could have been sailing a few times! Cayuga Lake views looking North and South. February 2023!
We have had a very mild winter this year, not a lot in the way of rain or snow, just cloudy days. When we finally do see the sun, it is such a gift. We have not been able to complete the inside of the boat yet but are hopeful that in the next couple of weeks we can do that. The lake is very low. There is a forecast for a “snowstorm” that is predicted for next week of over 10″, that might help a bit. The lake level will be the deciding factor on when we can launch the boat and get the inside set up. I have been experimenting with and perfecting breakfast sandwiches, sliders, and smoothies and always handing out samples. All with positive feedback. Our house and garage are filled with equipment and appliances ready to be loaded and set up. I got my signs last week (complete with balloon dancer, I couldn’t resist) . Here are the yard signs and the sandwich sign that will go at the entrance of the marina. Our location is going to be right next to the gas dock, near the office so hopefully, we will catch some good traffic. I will be ordering the t-shirts and hats this week. With every new item that comes in with our logo, it makes the whole thing that much more real! So exciting!!
The leaky gasket around the I/O engines caused us to be pulled out earlier than we had planned. Although, not a perfect fit, Jay might have found a replacement gasket that will work, fingers crossed. We priced out repowering the boat with 2 outboards that would give us much better gas mileage, then we would could pull the engines and have more storage and someplace to put the generator but that is not in the budget for this year. It looks as if we will likely be staying put in Lansing this summer rather than making trips to the North end of the lake and The Cove. I sure hope we can get something worked out though so we can visit The Cove, it sounds like they would welcome the Big Boat Cafe!
We’re coming soon! I cannot believe the response I received from posting on Next Door! Everyone has been extremely positive and supportive. We are meeting some lovely people that have been stopping by to visit and ask about us. It has been a long, hard road and we can see the finish line. Sweet Lou has been painted and she came to life in a way that I never imagined, she’s beautiful. Jay has been working very hard on the kitchen and it is almost finished. My application for my TC DOH permit was accepted. We are loading all of the equipment on in the next few days and then it’s just getting everything unpacked and ready to roll. We’ve very blessed to receive assistance from some pretty incredible people, especially my sister Cindy and brother in-law, Tom, my nephew Dave and company. The Lansing Harbor Marina has been fabulous to work with. I cannot thank everyone enough, we never could have accomplished all of this without them. As they say…. it takes a village. Our new dock is almost finished and then we will be able to dock in our actual location down by the gas dock just past the marina office. Our signs will be up soon so you’ll know where to find us. (Yes…..I did get one of the dancing balloons to welcome everyone to our little cafe, I could not help myself. I just love them ;-). Here are a couple of sneak peaks at the outside of the boat. I love how the letters came out. A tribute to my beloved sweet puppy, Sweet Lou! More to come so stay tuned!
Well, we did it!! After a very busy spring of getting the Big Boat Cafe ready, we had our soft opening Mother’s Day weekend and our Grand Opening Memorial Day weekend. We have been overwhelmed by the incredible response to our little “retirement gig”. We stumbled a bit at first just trying to fine tune our processes. Everyone has been so incredibly patient and understanding that we are still a work in progress. I’d love to say that we have everything mastered by now, we are getting better all the time thanks to some valuable pointers from James! Many thanks to Mark from 14850 Dining. His article sent a very large influx of new folks our way. We have our regulars from the marina and lots of curious first time customers. It has been great to meet so many new and pretty incredible people. I think that is Jay’s favorite part, visiting with all of you. Even though I don’t get out from down below much, I do appreciate it when some stick their heads in to say hello! The feedback has been incredibly positive and we will continue to strive to provide you with a good experience. We hope you have found it relaxing to enjoy your meal looking out over the lake, it’s a pretty special place. I can’t imagine where we’d be without the support of family and friends as well as the help of all of the staff at the Lansing Harbor Marina. Greg and Ryan, we never could have done this without you, we are extremely grateful! It definitely takes a village…….. We look forward to meeting you or seeing you again when you visit the Big Boat Cafe! (Did I mention this was our “retirement gig”? 🙂