WHITEHALL — Anybody who remembers the legendary Roma Restaurant on Route 4 in Whitehall knows it was the place everyone in the area went after baseball games, dance recitals and for most any family party.
And ever since a group of locals bought the old restaurant, now named The RailYard Taproom & Restaurant, most everybody’s been asking, “When are you opening?” and “Will you have The Roma’s spaghetti and meatballs?”
So, when the owners teased of an August opening, the buzz started to build. And after the Aug. 18 date was officially announced, hundreds and hundreds have been posting comments on Facebook that they’ll be there opening day.
“Everywhere we go, Ticonderoga, Vermont, they ask us,” said co-owner Cheryl Putorti of Whitehall. “One woman said, ‘I’ll be first in line to get spaghetti and meatballs.’ And when we posted the menu, we had 20,000 look at it. ”
The RailYard Taproom & Restaurant, designed after a vintage rail yard, has blended a bit of the old from The Roma with a completely rebuilt interior, new menu options and a sprawling bar with 10 beers on tap to start.
“The kitchen is phenomenal and all brand new,” said Putorti. “Our head cook, Jesse Wade, had been at the Adirondack Bar & Grill for several years. But he lives in Whitehall.”
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When the group of five local families bought The Roma last year, they knew it would be a lot of work, but they didn’t, at the time, realize how much. At first they thought they would just have to tear out the ceiling, but they discovered there was no insulation behind the walls, so the space was gutted and they built it back up from the studs.
“It’s been an adventure. We went into this with our eyes wide open,” she said. “It has been a big undertaking. But like any new project, it’s bigger than you think. But it’s exciting.”
After the restaurant obtained a temporary liquor license for a full bar and the final health inspection was this week, the finishing touches are visible, with a parking area paved, new exterior lights around the opening and a new exterior sign, the logo designed by Whitehall High School student Hayley Taylor.
Several former Roma Restaurant employees taught the new owners how to make several Roma favorites, including the spaghetti sauce and the pizza dough.
“We’ve been practicing,” said Putorti. “They are making 300 meatballs today to get ahead and put in the freezer.”
Staff training is next week and they will have a soft opening the day before the official opening on Aug. 18.
“We are so excited about this adventure we’ve been on and so looking forward to bringing this restaurant back to the community,” said Putorti. “We have high expectations for our staff and we really hope the community will be pleased when they join us at the RailYard Taproom & Restaurant.”
Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli covers Washington County government and other county news and events.