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A Gem for the Holidays

Would you like to hear a “gem” of a story as we anticipate the holiday season? Here you go: not long ago, Gem owner Doug LaLone’s wife, Tammy, told him they had to make a special trip to the diner for a celebration.It was a baby’s second birthday – Roman, “The Gem Baby,” whose parents were regulars and who had been coming to the diner since his birth.

For Doug, his wife, and now their son, Anthony, who is in charge of the operation of the popular West End eatery, that story encapsulates what the Gem, and now The Preserve at 405, mean to them, to the west side, and to Syracuse in general: staple parts of the fabric of Syracuse food, friends, and fun.

For a man who remembers going to The Gem (then The “Little” Gem) with his grandfather, watching his home town, and his neighborhood, make strides means a lot. Designing and building The Preserve (the walls of which represent an old salt pump house from the heyday of the Salt City) was one way of helping that happen.

Now in its 10th year since the LaLones expanded The Gem diner from 46 seats to its current 150, The Gem is a Syracuse go-to for great food. When what you want is quick, hearty and delicious food served up from early morning til late evening, the all-American diner has become a tradition across the northeast, and The Gem is its ideal incarnation.

“Our menu is 6 pages,” said Doug LaLone. “We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day – often at the same time. The customers get what they want.”

About a year ago, LaLone and partner Len Montreal opened The Preserve, a tavern and grille that serves an upscale menu of pub-meets-fine-dining selections, along with specialty and seasonal cocktails, wines, and a range of draft and bottled beers. The Preserve at 405 as become a popular Inner Harbor destination for down-towners and out-of-towners alike.

We could certainly fill a story with notes about the fabulous food at either restaurant. The Gem is known for its frittatas, home-made comfort foods, and daily specialties; and the Preserve offers popular and inspired pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and salads, and fine dining selections like Chicken Milanese and Broiled Salmon Fillet with asparagus and wild rice. The ambiance at either location is central-casting perfect: the Gem is everyone’s ideal “diner,” where you’ll run into old friends, your plate will be over-flowing, and the conversation is casual and non-stop; while at the Preserve you can relax outside at the firepit, drop by for a pre-game cocktail, or meet with colleagues for a business lunch.

And the LaLone family is justifiably proud of its long involvement with the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund of CNY, and particularly The Syracuse Challenger Baseball league, the oldest and largest baseball league in the world for special needs adults and children.

But as the holidays approach, LaLone wanted to stress the deep ties his family and restaurants have with the West End of Syracuse, and particularly with the many employees and customers who have been with them over the years.

“We’ve considered other locations,” LaLone told me. “We might have gone east, or north. Nope, The Gem is a west end institution. It’s where people come to look for us. Our customers expect to find us here. And many of our employees are west-enders, too.”

He explains that of his hundred or so employees, between the two restaurants, the majority have been with him since he took over The Gem 10 years ago.

“We started hiring locally out of necessity,” he says, “and we found great people. For some of them it was a first job – bussing tables or washing dishes. And they stayed, and learned, and they’re really what makes our businesses work.”

He believes deeply in the community, inside the restaurant, and around it. “Take a look at the west side – I think we’re going to see growth coming. New people, new businesses, the development of the Inner Harbor.”

“This is a season of thanks,” says LaLone. “And we have a lot to be thankful for – good food, good customers, great staff.”

You might just say – it’s a wonderful life!

The Gem:

Tuesday – Saturday: 6:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sunday: 6:00 am – 7:00 pm
Monday — Closed
Check for Holiday Hours
Located on the west side of Syracuse,
just five minutes down the road from Destiny USA.
832 Spencer St.
Syracuse, NY 13204
(315) 314-7380

The Preserve at 405:

Monday – Saturday: 11:30 am – 11 pm
Sunday – Closed
Check for Holiday Hours
405 Spencer Street
Syracuse, NY 13204
Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.