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Rudy’s Lakeside

Earlier this summer, a friend texted me that he was going to treat himself to dinner at Rudy’s. He even sent me a photo of a heaping plate of fish, french fries, and a frosty drink. Now, that’s not the kind of thing men typically do – but then, Rudy’s is a special place, and its fans and friends are justifiably happy that Rudy’s Lakeside Drive-In is serving their favorites at its lakeside location.

Open from lunch to 9pm, Rudy’s is now in its 73rd summer – and third generation of family owners – of being a highlight of a visit to Lake Ontario, and for the people of Oswego. The first restaurant was opened by Rudy Gadziala and his wife, Marie, in 1946, the business passed to the current owner’s parents, Brad and Carol Livesey, and is now owned and operated by Jason Livesey.

In all those years serving locals and summer visitors, Rudy’s has kept the feel of the original location, but as Livesey explains, done a lot to add comfort and convenience for its customers. “ We have new rest rooms, updated counters and outdoor seating,” said Livesey, “and we’ve gone from festival-style service to line service, to move people through more quickly, and help them get exactly what they want. This year, of course, has been a challenge.”

Determined to open, Livesey adjusted service to strictly take-out and pick-up. Customers are offered a buzzer that will alert them when their meals are ready so they can pick them up, and with its plentiful outdoor, lakeside space, people who want to linger and eat will likely find a socially distanced spot. “And after each customer, we sanitize the buzzer. We try to think of this challenge as an opportunity – finding new ways to run the business that seem to work, and the buzzer is actually something we plan to continue.”

Another thing that will continue, at least through this season until its October close, is the pick-up and take-out only service. And, given the additional staffing requirements needed to make the system work, Rudy’s will also remain closed on Monday and Tuesday for the entire summer.

The idea behind Rudy’s is simple: good, fresh food (local wherever possible), well-prepared, served with a smile and enjoyed with an unbeatable view. The emphasis, of course, is on fish. The haddock is never frozen, the beef is locally sourced, the hot dogs are Hoffman hots, and their special Texas Hot Sauce is a recipe perfected by Marie Gadiala. While the menu still includes all those favorites, diners can also request chicken, mac’n’cheese – just about anything their summer dining palate requires. “There are a few menu items we won’t be offering due to the situation,” Livesey says. “No steamed clams and a few seasonal items are off the menu. But we’re trying to be as efficient and safe as possible.”

In a typical year, per week, Rudy’s will serve 350 pounds of hot dogs, 2000 pounds of fish, 40 gallons of tartar sauce, 60-90 gallons of ketchup, 2000 pounds of french fries, and the restaurant will serve 1000 people a day, as many as 1500 on a nice summer weekend day. While those numbers may be a little different this season, the people who consume all that food can still enjoy gull watching (but not feeding!), the “flash” of sunset over the horizon, a pet-friendly park across the road, greeting friends, and simply relaxing and enjoying the waterfront.

Running any small business requires hard work, devotion, and pride in what you’re doing. Jason Livesey is proud of Rudy’s, and proud of being deeply connected to Oswego. “We’re part of Oswego,” he says, referring both to his family, and to the business. “We enjoy bringing a service to people that they like, one that they say is part of their memories of summer on the lake.”

Because Rudy’s is so integrated into the Oswego community, and because people will travel quite a distance for their Rudy’s summer meal, one of the things Livesey says has been hardest for him is not getting to meet and greet the regulars. “Since people don’t come inside, I miss the chance to say hello to our old friends. People have been really supportive and receptive, though, and I keep telling everyone I think I’ll keep the fish scarf I’ve been using for a mask! As my dad used to say, I cook fish. But I’m the best fish cook you know.”

Season: From the Wednesday closest to St Patrick’s Day in March to Columbus Day Monday in October SUMMER (Memorial Day to Labor Day): Please call if coming out close to closing time.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.