Old Dock, new crew

IMG_6814Popular day trip destination is bought by Burlington’s Daily Planet owner

By Geeda Searfoorce | The Charlotte News

The Old Dock restaurant in Essex, NY, is under new ownership. Copey Houghton, Whallons Bay summer resident, and owner of Burlington’s Daily Planet restaurant, has purchased the popular waterfront eatery from Steve McKenna, the longtime owner who has been struggling with health issues.

After a busy time hustling to open for the season on Memorial Day weekend, business is humming. Clement weather and a buzz about the restaurant reboot have helped boaters, travelers and ferry passengers make their way to the bucolic spot this past month. My waitress, a server at the restaurant for 10 years, has noticed the difference already. “Usually it doesn’t get really busy until July,” she said, “but this year June has been hopping!”

The town of Essex, Charlotte’s neighbor-on-the-lake, has been a popular day trip for community members for years. “My family has been going to the Old Dock for years,” said former Thompson’s Point resident Ruthie Nye, who fondly remembers evenings spent in the late 1970s taking her family’s 1955 Chris Craft out for aquatic adventures after dinner. “So much tomfoolery!” she said.

Everyday adventure is a recurring theme among those who have enjoyed the 30-minute ride on the Lake Champlain Ferry from Charlotte. “I used to take my grandchildren over there,” said Charlotter Ruah Swennerfelt. “It was just like an adventure. It’s an inexpensive excursion and everyone loves it.” A sand box, filled with toy trucks and shovels, sits on the restaurant’s side deck for children to play while family members enjoy the view of the Green Mountains across Lake Champlain.

The menu, populated with American summer fare like burgers, salads and fish n’ chips, has a few regionally inspired items like lobster poutine. A full complement of beer, wine and house cocktails are available to quench alfresco diners’ thirst. “Mr. Houghton—Copey—is already making some great changes,” my waitress said. “New menu additions are coming soon, but we’ll always keep some old favorites going for sure.”

A recent sunny Friday attested to the appeal and accessibility of the restaurant. Though many tables were full of happily chatting families and couples, there was space enough to enjoy the view. Long wooden tables can accommodate larger groups and smaller tables perch under umbrellas or in full sun.

The restaurant itself is described as an old favorite by any who have gazed out over its railing at the idyllic splendor of a Vermont summer day. And the efforts to re-open the restaurant this season, despite the uncertainty caused by its former owner’s health concerns, are a testament to the tight-knit willingness of a community to come together. Announcing the good news of Houghton’s purchase and the staff and patrons’ support, the McKenna family posted on the Old Dock’s Facebook’s page, “We would like to sincerely thank everyone for their kind messages, offers of help, prayers and get well wishes. Without your help, the Old Dock would not have opened. This truly is a fabulous community.”

Ruthie Nye agrees, and feels the mutual support of the two communities that are separated by a lake but united by it, too. “It takes a village,” she said. “Or in this case, two! It’s such a good place, and I think we’re all grateful that it can keep going.”

To keep up with restaurant updates, visit facebook.com/Old-Dock-Restaurant-112356458790961 or to book a table, call 518-963-4232. To plan an excursion and confirm ferry schedules and rates, visit ferries.com.