A Year in Schroon: Tales from the Smokehouse

Mr. P's Pulled Pork Sandwhich with a side of Blue Cheese Coleslaw and Green Beans

A year ago this month -- in an old consignment shop just up from the Strand Theatre --  unfolded  a scene of organized chaos.  As a construction crew was finishing up work on a counter top, years of grime and dust were scrubbed away and paint was applied to every surface possible.

A stream of delivery vans unloaded everything from supplies, to kitchen equipment to furniture.  For Shelby Davis and Chris Palmatier, the days were long and nights short as their dream of opening a restaurant came to life. Employees were hired, menus written and a million other details were nailed down.

Then literally just days before their official opening, the sweet smell of barbecue was wafting down Main Street, as Chris fired up his brand, spanking new smoker, and began test smoking the first batch of ribs, brisket, pulled pork and salmon.

Meanwhile, Shelby was baking the first batch of her gluten free brownies and cupcakes. And what’s remarkable about this is the entire process of opening Mr. P’s Mountain Smokehouse was accomplished in just 30 days.

“We got the keys on May 23 and we were open June 24,” Chris told Schroon Laker today.

“That seems like a long time ago, but in a good way,” Shelby said. On the eve of their one their one year anniversary, the couple shared the ups and downs of restaurant ownership in a small town.

In fact, Mr. P’s didn’t almost make it to see their first anniversary, revealed Shelby. There was an unfortunate accident that almost burned the restaurant to the ground,  just two weeks after opening.

The fire started when a gas torch, used for some plumbing work, accidentally turned on.

“That was a close call,” remembered Chris. “Now when I smell smoke from our apartment I ask myself: ‘Is that the good smoke, or the dangerous smoke’,” Shelby said.

But the restaurant again came precariously close to shutting its doors for good this past February.

“We came very close to closing the restaurant in February when negotiations to buy the building broke down with the former owner. We also had a difficult time securing commercial financing. Despite all of the renovations we had put into this place, we were prepared to walk.”

Luckily for the many hundreds of fans Mr. P’s has won, a deal was worked out.

“One of the highlights is that we were able to buy our building. That was a very happy day for us.”

I asked Shelby if they chose Schroon Lake or Schroon Lake chose them.

“It’s a bit of both. In March of 2011 we came out here from Michigan and looked at five places. Two in Schroon, one in Moriah, one in Keene and another in Tupper.  We had to meet three sets of criteria: we needed a place to live, an office space and of course a space for the smoker. Our current location met all three categories.”

“Of all the places we looked at, Schroon was the  logical choice. We couldn’t have done what we have done here anywhere else,” Chris said.

Shelby said that the location the couple had looked at in Keene was totally washed away when Hurricane Irene blew through last October.  “That was weird when we found out. I got goose bumps.”

For Shelby, one of the many appeals about opening a business in Schroon is that it’s “like being on vacation most of the time.”

“Schroon Lake reminds me of my childhood in Michigan when everyone would go to their cabins in the winter and lakes in the summer.”

For Chris the appeal is the climate and being able to follow his passion for mountain climbing.

How has it been assimilating into the fabric of Schroon?

“Very easy. Everyone has been amazing,” said Shelby. “Better than expected. We really enjoy being here, getting to know the town and its people. We absolutely love it,” said Chris. “Everyone has been really accommodating.”

And Schroon not only gained a tremendous barbecue joint, but two new festivities to add to its calendar of activities, organized by Shelby in her spare time: The Schroon Lake Chili Cook Off in February and the Schroon Lake Opening Weekend in May.  Both were enormous successes.

Shelby Davis with Chili Cook Off Trophies

Those events were born out of a bigger concept the partners had in mind when they decided to open a restaurant.

“We wrote up a 48 page business plan that included what our mission statement was and our core values.  We had three goals. One, to be authentic, two, to support and engage the local community and three, to contribute to global sustainability.

“We are very proud to contribute to the community,” said Shelby. “We didn’t want to just come in and open a business and not give back,” Chris said.

For Shelby and Chris, their business has grown steadily over the last 12 months. The chaos of those opening weeks is a distant memory.  Do they have advice for others seeking to open a business in Schroon?

“I would say listen to the people who have been here for a while for their advice, but don’t change who you are,” Shelby said.

This Sunday  -- between 3 pm and 5 pm  -- the restaurant is throwing itself a birthday party, but it’s the customers who get the treats -- $1 pulled pork or chicken sliders and Shelby’s hands down, to die for, lip smacking Chipotle Brownies.

1106 Route 9  --  opposite the Grand Union  -- just up from The Strand Theater. (518) 532-4300