Drive-ins open for the season
Burgers, barbecue and ice cream are blooming all over
By Linda A. Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Brick House offers taste of fun
In the past 24 seasons, the Brick House Drive In has seen a lot of young people work behind the counter.
Twenty-year-old Sarah Moody has been there so long she can’t actually remember for how long. This is either her fifth or sixth season.
“We’re all like a family,” she said, and then smiled. “A big dysfunctional family. This is a great place. A fun place to work. I’m still here.”
Owners Rosanne and Gary Cote are proud the kids come back to work each season, which begins in March and runs to Labor Day. All but two of the returning workers have been there for five or more years. Rosanne thinks it is the fun atmosphere and flexible hours. “They get to have their day at the beach and still work. I’ve got college kids who have worked here forever. Many started at 14 and kept working every summer. One girl graduated from college and has a full-time job, but she still works here part-time,” she said.
“Fun” is the operative word at the Brick House. “I am not a serious person,” Gary said; he pointed to his Spongebob Squarepants collection as proof. He makes acoustic guitars as a hobby — three instruments a year are all he has time to create.
Ownership of a summer drive-in was the farthest thing from Rosanne’s mind 24 years ago. She was a single mother with a nursing home job, all set to take a new position at a youth center and study to be a recreational therapist. Then a friend asked if she would be interested in a restaurant manager’s job.
The Brick House’s previous owners, the Gaudettes, wanted to find someone without any restaurant experience so they could train them in their methods. Rosanne, as a single mother, liked the idea of winters off. Both her daughters worked in the restaurant as they grew up. Youngest daughter Leisha brought Gary over from the mini-golf business he owned with his brother next door.
The mini-golf is gone, but the Brick House lives on with some of the recipes passed down from the Gaudettes — namely the onion rings, the lean 90/10 hamburgers and the coleslaw. The Cotes bread all their fried foods, and the fried fresh seafood is the number-one thing people come back to enjoy. That and the Giffords hard and Oakhurst soft ice creams.
The Cotes added grinders to the menu and now serve Sausage Heaven sausages. They also added healthy food choices such as garden burgers and buffalo burgers. Tuna and lobster salad can be made with fat-free mayonnaise. They will grill chicken for a sandwich instead of the fried version. “We started serving healthy options because we stared eating healthy, too,” Rosanne said.
The couple works seven days a week, and on a busy day in the summer they can process 300 to 400 orders. By September they are more than ready to not see another onion ring. Business has stayed busy even during hard economic times, and they understand what an accomplishment it is to survive 24 years. Roseanne said, “It’s a long time to be in the restaurant business, but being seasonal helps. And now that the kids are grown, we get our winters off.”
Cremeland has a secret burger weapon
For a drive-in to be around for 61 years, it must do something right.
At Manchester’s Cremeland Drive-In what they do right is serve high-quality, old-fashioned summertime food. Even when the temperature says otherwise, there is a warm feel to the single-story white building that evokes images of shorts, flip-flops, baseball uniforms and sunscreen.
“It’s amazing how the tradition has hung on and how people get excited to come here,” said Tom Queena, who with his in-laws and wife Nicole owns Cremeland. “I have three children and everyone inquires about them.”
Queena has worked at the drive-in since the summer of 1992 after a stint in electrical sales at the Home Depot. He moved to fulltime in 1998. His title is operator, but ask him his position and he will tell you operator, dishwasher, fry cook: “I’m a hands-on person. I enjoy the camaraderie of the young people. Working here is more than just cooking food. It is a sense of community. A sense of family.”
Customers will find all their favorites, such as hand-breaded onion rings and grilled hot dogs. The hamburgers are made with meat from a family-owned Boston company that grinds it straight from the side of beef at 4 a.m. and has it to Cremeland by 9 a.m. All the seafood is fresh, not frozen. The drive-in is known for its fried whole clams, and the lobster rolls are made with meat from the knuckle and claw, without fillers.
Queena’s father-in-law, Dick Choate, makes the ice cream on site. Through the years he has created approximately 125 different flavors, and he will make one third to one half that selection this summer. “The benefit of making your own ice cream is that you can make whatever flavors you wish,” Queena said.
The fruit-flavored ice creams, such as black raspberry or orange-pineapple, are big hits. Queena thinks it is because of the quality of the fruit Choate uses. Another popular flavor is the dirt ice cream — a chocolate pudding base with crushed Oreos and chocolate-covered almonds. Customers can order the soft-serve in vanilla, chocolate or a twist.
The restaurant averages about 600 orders a day. On a very busy night, they might serve 1,200 to 1,300 people. On the busiest days, they will process 1,000 orders just between 6 and 10 p.m.
Rain on this season’s opening day (March 8) had Queena worried the employees would be standing around looking at each other. However, business was good, and he hopes it stays that way until they close in October.
Queena said that a lot of their business comes from area baseball and softball leagues. They get a lot of people who came there as little kids, then as teenagers, and now as adults, perhaps with their own children. Some people just stop in to take a break from work and get a hamburger and some ice cream.
“Coming into the season, with the economy the way it is and the weather, we’ve still had a good turnout,” Queena said. “We’re grateful for that.”