edible Vermont – Restaurant Revival: Johnny Seesaw’sBack
Kim Prins, general manager of Johnny Seesaw’s Restaurant and Seesaw’s Lodge in Peru
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“It was fortuitous that our intensive renovation from 2015 to 2018 incorporated total air exchange systems, touchless features in the bathrooms, and doors that push open or swing both ways. We didn’t have to scramble because these elements were already in place.” –Kim Prins
JOHNNY SEESAW’S RESTAURANT AT SEESAW’S LODGE (FOUNDED 1924, RENOVATED 2018)
Kim Prins: “It’s all about people.”
Seesaw’s has always had an outdoor focus so we were in a great position when Covid hit. We’re blessed with plenty of outdoor space for lounging and dining, between our restaurant deck and The Hut down below. We can accommodate up to 40 people dining on the deck, with breathtaking views across to Stratton and Magic mountains. People can dine there year-round thanks to the overhead heaters. And The Hut, located just down the slope from the restaurant, is our outdoor après ski area with a massive outdoor fire pit, a new pizza oven, drinks, and lounge chairs.
We closed down on Sunday, March 15 and started curbside pickup a week later. We opened The Hut and offered outdoor dining from Memorial Day weekend on. We didn’t open the bar or indoor dining room until late September 2020. We waited as long as possible to ensure the safety of our staff and our guests.
It was fortuitous that our intensive renovation from 2015 to 2018 incorporated total air exchange systems, touchless features in the bathrooms, and doors that push open or swing both ways. We didn’t have to scramble because these elements were already in place. Our secret weapon in the restaurant is the powerful exhaust fan in the fireplace hood. We crack the windows open during service, and the exhaust fan circulates and refreshes the air quietly and continuously.
Even our lodging was well situated to weather Covid. Guests can rent a full cabin or rooms in the Lodge. All the Lodge rooms have outdoor balconies, so we closed the inside of the Lodge and guests accessed their rooms through the exterior French doors. And self-service check-in was already part of our protocol.
“Seesaw’s has always had an outdoor focus so we were in a great position when Covid hit.” –Kim Prins
We had two fantastic summers, where every day felt like a slammed Saturday night. It was great for the business but took a toll on the staff. We now close for a week in November and again in April to give everyone a much-needed break. We walk a tightrope between the overall business operation and keeping the emotional health and stress levels of our staff in mind. Our staffing number determines how many reservations we can accommodate each night. It’s just a huge puzzle we piece together every week.
The service industry requires the human touch. You can’t do this job with robots, and hardworking humans need balance and recovery. Restaurants experience a natural ebb and flow each week, each season. Covid has taught us that we need that ebb and flow to create a more sustainable pace and atmosphere. We used to be open Thursday through Monday nights. Now we’re open Tuesday through Saturday night. That allows us to give our staff a two-day break so they can enjoy time with family and friends and come back refreshed to work on Tuesday. You can’t operate a healthy business unless you take care of your staff. We’re willing to dial back to protect our staff. It’s all about people.
Seesaw‘s deep outdoor porch now offers infrared overhead heating and comfortable dining in almost any weather. And yes, the porch gets shoveled daily.
FINDING CREATIVE SOLUTIONS TO HOUSE EMPLOYEES
I wish we could find and provide more employee housing. But we’re in the hospitality business, and providing housing puts you in the real estate business, where you act not only as employers but as landlords, which can be tricky
“The day after we closed down in March 2020, our neighbor adjacent to the restaurant approached us about purchasing their home. The timing wasn’t great, but we found a way to make it work. We renovated the house and created more bedrooms and bathrooms to house six people. We had our first employees with H2B visas in 2021, and that worked out well. Seasonal staff can live in the house for a period of time as they get to know the area or look for other lodging. I wish we could find and provide more employee housing. But we’re in the hospitality business, and providing housing puts you in the real estate business, where you act not only as employers but as landlords, which can be tricky. How far in to real estate do we want to go? We’re looking in to partnerships with other companies. There’s no easy answer.” –Kim Prins