Press-Republican

September 15, 2013

North Country Club marks milestone

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

KEESEVILLE — Three sets of owners will be on hand when the North Country Club restaurant in Keeseville celebrates its 60th anniversary at its current location. 

Present owners Tonia and Mike Finnegan said the event is scheduled for Sept. 28. It will start with hors d’ouevres and a free wine tasting followed by a full dinner with a choice of three entrees — prime rib, veal scallopini or lobster tail.

A disc jockey will be playing music from all of the different eras. There will also be presentations from former owners Peter and Carol Stone and Fred Chiappalone about their experiences.

“We hope to attract a number of our long-time customers,” Tonia said, adding that she hopes they will bring their own memorabilia to add to what the owners have collected.

Opened in 1947

The restaurant was opened in 1947 by Anthony and Stella Chiappalone along with their son, Fred. It was originally located at the corner of Pleasant Street and North AuSable Street.

“When we started, to the best of my knowledge, we had the only pizza restaurant in the North Country,” Fred said.

He said Stella went to the New York City area to sample pizza recipes, which she incorporated into her recipe for thin-crust pizza.

Needing more space, they moved it to the present location in 1953. That required extensive renovation of the building, which was the railroad depot for the line that ran from Port Kent to Keeseville.

“It was called the peanut line because it was so small,” Michael said.

The attic still has coal ash deposits from that by-gone era.

Fred said it was a real family affair, as his sisters, Rose Chiappalone and Nancy Chiappalone-Tierney, also worked at the restaurant.

“I was the manager,” Fred said. “My mom took care of the kitchen.”

Offered varied menu

The menu featured pizza and other Italian specialties, but also steak and chicken dishes. They also had prime rib on the weekends.

In the early days, Route 9 was the prime route of north-south travel in the area, as the Northway didn’t exist. The dining room and bar were full every night, he said.

Fred said his dog would sneak in with customers, then hide under a table. He would eventually beg for pickled eggs at the bar, then wander back to the door, jump up to push down the exit bar and let himself out.

Stella, the mainstay in the kitchen, passed away after a struggle with cancer in 1957. Carol said her parents, Doug and Grace Zimmerman, along with Grace’s brother and his wife, Dana and Marian Knox, bought the restaurant in 1958, with Edwin Knox acting as a silent partner.

They did some remodeling, including creation of the foyer and conversion of the porch to a fireside room.

“People love that room because of the fireplace,” Carol said.

She remembers visiting regularly,especially after school sporting events. Carol and all the other members of the family took their turns working at what everyone fondly calls “The Club.”

Special orders shipped

She and her husband, Peter Stone, took over in 2001 when Doug decided it was time to retire. 

“We kept the pizza exactly the same because everybody loves it,” Carol said.

The motto was “known from Montreal to Miami” because of the popularity of the pizza, Carol said. They often had to ship special orders to Florida for past customers.

Some of their customers’ fond memories are now hidden, Carol said. The dining room had soft tongue-and-groove paneling on which guests would etch their initials, but it is now covered by wainscoting.

She remembers Arto and Gladys Monaco visiting on an almost weekly basis from their home in Jay.

Carol said Ronnie Miner and Gladys Rock worked as waitresses at the restaurant for 48 years until they retired recently. They were the ones who taught Carol and her sisters the finer art of being a waitress.

The Stones closed the restaurant on Sept. 17, 2007, but the Finnegans, who both were raised in Keeseville, stepped in and reopened it on March 15, 2008. 

“It was a perfect fit,” Pete said. “The people who lived here and loved the restaurant were the perfect choice to buy the restaurant.”

Tonia said her family visited faithfully on Wednesday nights. Mike’s parents, Jim and Carol Finnegan, even had their wedding reception there in 1955.

“I still have pictures of what it looked like then,” Mike said.

Menu items retained

They also have kept a lot of the traditional menu. The first question people asked was if they had the pizza recipe.

“We wouldn’t have bought it without it,” Mike said.

The restaurant remains a comfortable place to come relax, have a meal and visit with friends, he said.

“Everyone knows who you are.”

The North Country Club opens at 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and at noon Friday and Saturday. Tickets for the anniversary celebration are $40 and are available at the restaurant.

Email Dan Heath: dheath@pressrepublican.com