×

The line may be long, but the loyals don’t care at Scotti’s Drive-In in Leeds

  • Marisa Dineen, left, and owner, Amanda Ashton, work the lunch rush at Scotti’s Drive-In on Route 9 in Leeds. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scotti’s is connected physically and in business to Meadowcrest Golf Range. Owner Amanda Ashton prepares burgers during a recent lunch. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ashton began working at Scotti’s as a teenager under previous owner Scott Brisson. She has plenty of experience working the grill. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scotti’s does a brisk business, as these order slips show. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ash Hartwell puts up order slips at Scotti's Drive-In Leeds, during lunch rush. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ashton began working at Scotti’s as a teen under previous owner Scott Brisson. She has lots of experience working the grill. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left Marisa Dineen, an employee, and right owner Amanda Ashton, of Scotti's Drive-In in Leeds, during the lunch rush. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Customers wait to place an order at Scotti's Drive-In in Leeds now owned by Amanda Ashton, during the lunch rush. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ashton says that the staff likes to joke that the rush hour line stretches to Worthington. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amanda Ashton, 27, owner of Scotti's Drive-In restaurant on Route 9 in Leeds, cuts lettuce in preparation for the lunch hour rush. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Ashton cuts lettuce for lunch. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Scotti’s does a brisk business, as these order slips show. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scotti’s Drive-In in Northamtpon, now owned by Amanda Ashton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Cahillane, right, and his wife, Rita Cahillane of Holyoke, formerly of Northampton, say they like coming back to Scotti's for lobster rolls. Gazette Staff/Andy Castillo



@AndyCCastillo
Sunday, June 17, 2018

The steak and cheese sandwich that’s served at Scotti’s Drive-In on Haydenville Road in Leeds is exactly as it should be — shaved sirloin steak, as savory as it is cheesy, seasoned with a hint of pepper, grilled, and sandwiched between two crispy buns. Amid crunchy bites of fresh green peppers and raw onions, hot mayonnaise lingers soothingly on the palate.

It’s the kind of sandwich that keeps customers coming back.

To passersby on Route 9, Scotti’s, which is connected physically and in business to Meadowcrest Golf Range, doesn’t look like anything special. But don’t tell that to patrons like Diane Fratini of Haydenville, who was waiting under an awning at the eatery Tuesday for two chili dogs with raw onions on toasted buns. “It’s an institution,” she said, leaning in to add as if it’s a secret, “the tuna fish is very good, and I’m picky about my tuna fish.”

Evening sunlight poured down on the restaurant’s squat building, which is surrounded by awnings and picnic tables. The parking lot was packed with cars and the dinner line at the serving window was long, as it usually is. Inside, the phone was ringing off the hook with incoming take-out requests but that didn’t seem to faze those waiting to order or the half-dozen cooks who could be seen through the window filling orders as fast as they come in.

“It’s kind of fun having that challenge, when you see all of the slips up there,” said Amanda Ashton, owner and chief cook, looking up at the grill’s hood where order slips are clipped. “It’s kind of like a game. And when you’re done, it’s like, ‘yeah.’ ”

Neighborhood hot spot

Since opening in 1990 under previous owner Scott Brisson, Scotti’s Drive-In restaurant has thrived as a neighborhood hot spot known for serving American fare like lobster rolls, burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, fries and grinders. Ashton, who is 27, has been working at Scotti’s since she was 14. It’s consistently good, said Fratini, attributing its staying power to quality ingredients such as the chicken breast, real mayonnaise and white tuna used in its sandwiches.

“I think it’s because everything is fresh,” said Kelly Livernois, who works nearby and was at an outdoor table with her daughter, Kylee Livernois, and their dog, Kenzie.

For the most part, Ashton keeps the menu simple. She buys everything locally — fresh fruits and vegetables are purchased daily a few buildings down Route 9 at Clementine’s, Hood ice cream comes from All Star Dairy in South Hadley, and meats come from Big E’s Supermarket in Easthampton. She lets each ingredient speak for itself, adding a minimal amount of spices that include McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning and Slap Ya Mamma cajun seasoning. Ashton also uses a house-made buffalo sauce that she says “is good on everything.”

In the eatery’s small kitchen Tuesday evening, everyone was simultaneously doing something different — Marisa Dineen restocked a refrigerator with milk, Cody Malone brought in more cardboard sleeves for hot dogs, Dan Gougeon arranged a completed order of fries and a sandwich onto a tray, Cheyenne Creek called out another order from the front window, and Ashton was flipping burgers.

When it gets really busy, working the grill becomes a game of seconds. “I don’t let anything sit on a tray before the fries are done. Everything is timed perfectly, so things go out the window hot,” Ashton said.

Just then, the kitchen’s screen door was blown open by a cool breeze, revealing a golfer outside on the green at Meadowcrest Golf Range, centered in the doorframe. He took an arced swing, connecting with a tinny pop against the tee’d golf ball, and watched as it curved up into a bright blue sky toward distant white flags.

Despite the chaos, there’s a sense of calm that pervades throughout the kitchen’s busyness.

The cook staff seem polite and courteous not just to customers but also toward each other, stepping deftly and cheerfully around each other down a narrow hallway that connects a food prep area to the serving window. Courteousness and respect are two traits that Ashton says are an important part of her approach to the business, and keeping the mood light makes long days behind the grill go by faster.

“We always joke that ‘the line is to Worthington,’ ” she said.

From employee to owner

Ashton, who lives in Easthampton, grew up in the area and lived in Leeds next door to Scotti’s for awhile. She purchased the business from her longtime boss in May of last year.

She says she jumped at the chance to continue Brisson’s restaurant tradition when the opportunity arose.

“Scott told me three or four years ago, now, that he wanted to sell this place, and I just started crying. I said ‘you can’t do it, don’t sell it, you’re not going anywhere,’ ” Ashton said. First she leased the restaurant from him to save up enough money for a down payment. Now, for Ashton, Scotti’s has become “my home away from home,” she said. “I absolutely love it here.”

By taking the reigns, she hopes she can keep Scotti’s around for many more years, both for herself and her customers, which she notes makes the hard work of running a restaurant worthwhile.

Besides working at Scotti’s, Ashton says she doesn’t have any other experience or training in the restaurant business. But her transition from an employee to owner wasn’t hard, she says, because she has worked behind the grill for so long, and knows what’s required to manage the day-to-day operations.

On an average day, seven days a week between April and October, she comes in to the restaurant at 6 a.m. to begin prepping food — slicing and sauteing vegetables — for the lunch hour rush that starts soon after the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. She doesn’t leave until 9 p.m.

“The only difficulty is sleep, and being rested enough, because when I go home I can’t just go to bed,” she says. “I have a lot of book work to do.”

When she was growing up, her father owned Leeds Package Store for many years. They lived in a house next door, and Ashton remembers walking over to Scotti’s often for an ice cream cone.

“I would make it to the stump over there at the end of the driveway,” she recalls. “I would drop my cone 50 percent of the time. I’d come back up to the window and Scott would know right away that I’d dropped my cone, and he would make me another for free.”

Her goal in running the business is to continue the neighborly tradition that Brisson built, and which customers have grown to love. While she has added a few items to the menu, such as a veggie burger, Ashton intends to keep things the way she fondly remembers them.

“I’ve always been told ‘don’t fix something that’s not broken,’ ” she says. “So many people have said to me that they’re so glad I got this place, because they didn’t want it to change.”

Loyal following

As evidenced by the long line Tuesday, many others share Ashton’s love for Scotti’s.

Eating dinner at a picnic table, Lois Pare of Easthampton said that she’s been coming to the restaurant for more than a decade because of the cheeseburger specials.

“I love sitting outside and watching the golf,” she said, noting that she often brings her grandson, Logan, “for a hot dog and golf,” topped off with an ice cream cone.

Holding a tray with a lobster roll and a hot dog on it in a nearby car, husband and wife Steve and Rita Cahillane, of Holyoke, formerly of Northampton, say they drive a half-hour for Scotti’s courteous customer service and the food, which Steve Cahillane says is always good.

“In my case, I’m handicapped, and they’ll bring the food out to me,” he says, adding, “We still drive up for a lobster roll.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.