After 2013 fire, Dockside Restaurant reopens at South Hadley marina

Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2014
SOUTH HADLEY — It’s not official yet and the grand re-opening is still a couple of weeks away, but the Dockside Restaurant & Brunelle’s Marina, destroyed by a fire last year, is up and running.

“There’s no such thing as a soft opening when you are on the river and everybody wants to come and see it,” said Luke Brunelle Jr. of his attempt to ease his family business back into full gear. “So many people were asking us to open our doors, so we finally opened our doors.”

A grand re-opening is set for July 26, the anniversary of the fire. It will be an all-day affair lasting until midnight, said Brunelle.

There will be door prizes, give-aways and free rides on the Lady Bea, the 49-passenger cruise ship named for Brunelle’s grandmother, Beatrice. There will also be specials on some new drinks they are concocting.

The menu is building up to what it was before the fire forced the food part of the operation to cut back to hamburgers and hotdogs served under a large tent last August.

“It’s been a challenge to try to train six or seven new staff in the height of our season,” said Brunelle recently. “We are learning every day and gaining new ground.”

The new building at 1 Alvord Street, built from the ground up at a cost of about $2 million, occupies the same footprint as the old one “but it’s a totally different restaurant,” said Brunelle.

What was ruled an electrical fire, started in the part of the old building that was erected as a snack bar in the late 1950s. The first real building opened in 1960. From there it grew in the form of add-ons, with two metal structures added in the late 1960s.

Patios were added and then glassed in. The building always was a cozy work in progress.

“Then in 1977 we took that little snack bar and my father’s brother turned it into the Dockside,” said Brunelle. That’s when they got a liquor license “and it just kept growing from there.”

Until last July, that is, when the early-morning fire that started when wiring near the refrigeration system overheated, creating an all-consuming blaze that took firefighters about 90 minutes to extinguish.

If there is an upside to the fire it is that Brunelle got to replace the old cobbled-together restaurant, boat servicing shop and showroom with a planned structure. There wouldn’t have been any point in trying to artificially recapture the character of what was there before, Brunelle noted.

“Knowing that the formula worked we built it back except this time we have the size kitchen we need to service the size restaurant we want and we have the size showroom we need to service the marina side of the business,” said Brunelle. They also have a retail outlet for gear.

The efficiency of the new space allowed them to increase the seating capacity from 175 to 275. They is room for expansion with the possible addition of an upper deck and a banquet facility in the future.

One of the hazards of opening the doors to the restaurant before they were fully ready is that they got “a little beat up in the social media” with comments on sites like Yelp complaining about wait times and order mix-ups. “We got a lot of positive feedback and we got a lot of negative feedback,” said Brunelle.

Not one to let a little adversity get him down, Brunelle added, “I’m sure if they come back and check us out in the weeks to come we’re only going to get better and stronger. There’s no question about it.”

The insurance payout “didn’t come anywhere near” to covering the costs of rebuilding and the business will be paying off loans for years to come, according to Brunelle.

But, he said, “it feels real good to be back, it’s exciting.”