Kookalaroc's gives back to the community
WATKINS GLEN--He got the nickname "Kook," which among some friends evolved into the nickname "Kookalaroc," for taking risks as a union carpenter and builder to get a hard job done. Some might say Roc Menio took a similarly huge risk by opening a restaurant/bar and grill, Kookalaroc's at 107 11th St. in Watkins Glen, in late May 2020. He and his family have taken on an additional challenge made harder by the current requirements for social distancing, that of raising money for local causes and individuals facing extraordinary economic hardship.
On many Sundays (see the Kookalaroc's Facebook page for current updated information - plans can change these days) the owners, some of their extended family and close friends come to the restaurant at 5:30 a.m., bringing the raw materials for a sumptuous breakfast. For two hours they cook and serve a breakfast that is likely to include bacon, scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes, and home fries. Posters introduce that Sunday's intended beneficiary, and donation jars nearby collect the payment each breakfaster feels moved to contribute for their meal.
Most diners sit at one of the widely-spaced indoor tables where they can see one of four large screens televising a Formula One race while they eat. They wear masks when they enter and when they aren't eating. Many come from as far away as Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton for the breakfast and the atmosphere. Fortunately, some also feel moved to contribute generously - it's not unusual to find a $50 bill among the payments in the donation jars.
In the time they've been doing it - as of this writing, they've done about six breakfasts - they've raised more than $5,000. All money goes directly to non-profit groups and those in need. Among the beneficiaries have been the Spirit of Schuyler, the Schuyler County Humane Society, the Sensenig family [seven people severely injured in Yates County when an automobile collided with their horse-drawn buggy in early August] and Nicolai Just, a Schuyler County youth with multiple medical issues. Tony Vickio, of the non-profit Spirit of Schuyler, is one of those family members assisting with the breakfasts, and often knows who needs help.
By 10:30 a.m., when the kitchen staff arrives to begin preparing for the restaurant's official opening at 11, the volunteer breakfast cooks are finishing cleanup and getting ready to leave. "We don't involve the restaurant," says co-owner Lorraine Menio. All the food is purchased and donated by the individuals who help create the breakfasts and every penny contributed goes to the previously-determined cause. Usually 40-50 people show up, Menio says. About 10 will get their breakfast as take-out, the rest space themselves around the restaurant to eat. Some stay to continue watching races and order from Kookalaroc's menu.
They specialize in seafood, mostly sourced from Wellfleet, MA. Menio says they wanted to open their restaurant "not only to support the economic development of the community but also to bring a new menu to the community, something that hasn't been done before."
The building's design is intended to echo the ambiance of buildings at Watkins Glen State Park, but its outside gives only a hint of what lies within.
Using massive, sculpted beams, Roc Menio created a post-and-beam structure whose interior décor is an homage to the village's racing heritage as well as the creativity of the Menios. Son Matt Menio, an accomplished welder, incorporated shiny gears, rebar, bicycle and car parts into the stair railings, filling in gaps with family names and initials. Live-edge wood frames doorways. Glass garage doors open to an outdoor space with 10 tables under tents for additional seating and a long bar made from another huge beam that could accommodate at least 45 people pre-Covid - but currently has seating for 15. The restaurant took close to two years to build.
Inside, part of the bar is suspended from truck springs, car axles and tow chains. As a finishing touch, father and son worked together to carry a shiny motorcycle up a pair of tall ladders to position it on a crossbeam.
The next special breakfast, expected to be on Sept. 20, is intended to benefit Hospice.
"We're doing this because our community needs it," Lorraine Menio says. "You know there's always a need. We're not doing it to brag about it. And it's the community that supports it." For more information, call 607-210-6080.