When Liz Comatis and Jim Woodard joined forces to open “Woody’s Bar and Grille” on State Route 414 inside the Quality Inn (former Holiday Inn) the community was behind them. See, it started as an effort to acquire more banquet space, but turned into a full-blown restaurant endeavor after the passing of Liz’ mother.
She operated Abigail’s on State Route 5&20 nearby, and for decades was a staple in the Seneca Falls-Waterloo area. The history is important because Abigail’s roots can be seen all over Woody’s when walking in any given day of the week.
“We had instant regulars,” Liz said of the transition. “We’re probably the only restaurant that could open up our doors and have ‘instant regulars’.” She says that while they lost a few along the way – a vast majority of them transitioned, and many other ‘new regulars’ have been picked up. “We focus on the quality of food and the service. We’re creating our own niche of a casual bar, pub style menu.”
Liz says that if she had to guess – approximately 70% of those regulars from Abigail’s come to Woody’s on a regular basis. She says much of the staff came over from the other restaurant, too, which was crucial in finding continuity on the business side.
It wouldn’t have been uncommon in 2019 to walk in, and see drinks sitting on the table for the regulars as they get to their seats. “That’s how Jim operates,” Liz explained. She says that sometimes, if Jim isn’t there, regular customers don’t even recall the kind of wine they drink, or what they regularly order. It’s an old school mentality of service for those folks who walk through the doors every week that is anything but ordinary.
“We Started Off Putting Everything On Pause”
That said, things got really complicated in 2020, as the Coronavirus Pandemic ripped through New York State. When Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would go on ‘PAUSE’ Liz felt inclined to wait it out. However, she quickly realized that things were going to change, and that the business would need to reevaluate how it reached patrons – if they wanted to keep moving forward.
“We were gearing up for a big spring and summer with banquets, events, and live music at the bar,” Liz remembered. She says that when they first got the call that things were shutting down – the prospect of schools being closed, or businesses being shut down for months seemed like an impossibility. Now, months later some businesses remain closed – as employees scramble to make ends meet on an unreliable unemployment system.
“When they came out with the announcement that we could do takeout only my initial thought was ‘This is gonna last for two weeks’,” she explained. The stress of transitioning the business from dine-in to takeout only looked like it might not be worth the effort. Liz says it was after spending about five or six weeks at home that she realized takeout was going to be necessary, as the COVID-induced shutdown continued. While takeout business was slow to start – it quickly built up into something that served as a line of hope for Liz as the bills continued coming due for Woody’s Bar and Grille.
“Think Outside The Box And Be A Little Creative”
Chef Marshall Grady, or “The Wing King,” focused on creating nightly special that were interesting for the takeout menu. Liz says those creations often tapped into what they had previously ordered, or had significant stock of to move through as the Coronavirus Pandemic continued.
Dinner specials weren’t the only thing changing at Woody’s though.
“As awful as this whole situation has been it’s forced us all to think outside the box and be a little bit creative,” Liz said of the last several months. Even after restaurants were able to reopen for indoor dining – Woody’s had expanded into the former Heritage Cafe, which gave the restaurant space for even more ‘socially distanced’ seating. They set up seven tables outside, expanded into a second dining room, and took over the former cafe where the hotel served breakfast.
Since the hotel will not be able to resume that operation anytime soon, Liz says they expect to remain in that space for the time being.
“We’re at less than 50% capacity in each room, but we have more seats now than we did when we started,” she explained. Liz says staff got the tape measures out, and placed tables precisely far enough apart to ensure that everyone coming into Woody’s would be safe.
“When people come into the restaurant, we have a thermometer and a notebook,” she added. “We take down name and phone number one person in the party. So we have that on hand for contact tracing if needed. We take temperatures everybody coming in to take temperatures have all of our staff when they start their shift. We have sanitizing stations throughout the restaurant. And now the one thing that people have really gotten a little kick out of this we have the little towel that you would get like the barbecue ribs, and we give that back with people to people after we run their credit card. So they can sanitize it and before they put it back in their wallet.”
She says it’s the little things that make a difference – and customers have appreciated that.
Liz says employees have been coming back, but she’s been creative about bringing them back so that they don’t take a financial hit. Business is not what it was before the pandemic, so when servers come back – they are making less money, just like the restaurant is at reduced output.
“We’ve lost weddings, conferences, and Christmas parties. For that there’s no end in sight. That’s the hardest part – not knowing if it’s gonna be lifted, or when it’s going to be lifted,” she continued. For her part, when it comes to notification from local health officials and the state – Liz hopes there is better communication between state policymakers and businesses on the ground. “We just want time to be able to make plans and coordinate,” she continued.
“Much More Than Just A Hotel Bar”
Driving by Woody’s Bar and Grille on State Route 414 might look nondescript. But it’s sheer size and space gives it a huge advantage for those looking to find restaurants to eat at while maintaining social distance.
“That’s probably one of the biggest things we have over other restaurants in the area,” Liz explained. “This extra room was basically not utilized in the evenings. But also, with the level of service and quality of food – you can’t beat it.”
There also are not many restaurants that have a Chef Marshall. That’s Woody’s X-factor, according to Liz, and many who make regular stops at the bar and grille. “He just knows how to compliment flavors and create amazing dishes,” she said. “And he can recreate things, too. It’s a real talent, and not something that can purely be taught. So we’re very blessed to have him as our chef in the kitchen here.”
More Photos From The Visit To Woody’s Bar and Grille