Top Destination–Rainbow Shores, Rudy’s, Sweet Inspirations, Jellystone Park

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Rainbow Shores Lakeside Dining and Cottages

Scenic view of lake, fine dining draw visitors.

It’s a hidden gem at the end of a dirt road along Lake Ontario in Pulaski.

Rainbow Shores lakeside dining and cottages overlooks what is considered to be the most magnificent and unique view in the area.

Rainbow Shores adds another reason to draw tourists to Oswego County by providing fine dining to those who come to take advantage of the activities Lake Ontario provides.

Its homemade and prepared-by-order menu includes seafood specialties such as grilled yellow fin tuna and broiled Chilean sea bass.

All of the salad dressings, desserts and breakfast breads are homemade by co-owner Renee Alford’s daughter and head chef Rebakah along with her kitchen crew.

Alford shares a partnership in the business with her husband Timothy and Rebakah.

Coming from a family in the restaurant business, Renee Alford said she has some diner experience.

“My parents had a diner, and my son and daughter-in-law had a diner previous to us purchasing this. We had been faithful customers here for many years. We had really enjoyed it and had known it had been for sale for several years,” she said.

Alford said her daughter studied culinary in the Adirondacks and worked as a personal chef in the area. She worked at fine dining establishments, and according to Alford, her daughter has cooked for celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen on several occasions.

“She was looking for a way to break into ownership. The Adirondacks being three hours away was a little far for us to invest in,” Alford said. “We knew she needed something that was going to provide a steady income, something already going because I think it would be close to impossible to start something from scratch. This had a great history of being a place that served fine food.”

The Alford trio has owned Rainbow Shores for three years. The restaurant and cottages are open seasonally, usually from mid-May until mid-October. However, Alford said they plan to remain open until New Year’s Eve this season.

Upgrade facilities — “We rebuilt our kitchen this past winter. The problem before was the water lines were too close to the surface. So we put them deeper into the ground with the intention of staying open if we wanted to,” Alford said.

She added the new kitchen provides efficiency and increases the restaurant’s functionality. The construction involved tearing down the entire existing kitchen and building a completely new one. Alford said the renovation increases the size and capacity.
Rainbow Shores is open seven days a week for dinner. Lunch is offered Thursday-Sunday and breakfast is on the weekends.

Alford said they began serving breakfast last season and it was well received, so they plan to continue it this season.

Rainbow Shores also entertains its guests with live music performed by local bands.

“We have music that plays at night Thursday to Sunday,” said Alford. “People will watch the sunset and then all turn around to face the band. It’s a really unique setting.”

The setting is what Alford said sets her business apart from competitors. The restaurant has a deck for dining as well as two indoor dining rooms surrounded by windows to enjoy the view. There is also a bar with a full bar menu, and Alford said they plan to add another bar deck to the establishment.

She said people come to watch the sunset, but because the bar is inside they cannot enjoy both. So a bar deck is the ideal solution.

“Tourists need to be wowed by something. I think there has to be an initial impact of, ‘This is great I’m glad we came.’ They’re on vacation. They’re here to have a good time, so you really have to cater to them,” Alford said.

The Alford family’s passion to provide visitors with a fantastic experience is what sets them apart, according to Alford. She said what she enjoys most is sharing what they have with people and creating something wonderful for them.

Rudy’s Lakeside Restaurant

Lakeside restaurant has become an institution in Port City.

Anyone from Oswego County who has not heard of Rudy’s Lakeside Restaurant must be living under a rock.

They are missing not only the food, but the experience as well.

Owner Carol Livesey’s passion for her establishment is apparent through her determination to provide quality food and service, as well as atmosphere.

Livesey shares the business with her son Jason, but said that she will never leave it completely.

“I’m half retired and half never letting go,” she said. “When it’s something you’ve put a lot of time and effort into, you don’t just throw that baby out with the bath water.”

Livesey said she focuses her efforts on making Rudy’s a positive experience for all who pass through, from tourists to locals, and even employees. Her main concern, she said, is to accommodate.

“You’re coming out to buy a product and it should be the best that we can offer you,” Livesey said.

Rudy’s built its foundation on fried fish and is famous for its Texas hot sauce, a house specialty. Adding “hot” to an order automatically tops it off with onions, mustard and the special sauce.

Hamburger hots and Texas hots are displayed on the menu. However, the hot sauce may be included with any order, and according to Livesey, it usually is.

The restaurant is open seasonally, from March to September, and overlooks Lake Ontario with a sunset view that is ranked among National Geographic’s top 10 in the world.

During the off-season, Livesey said a great deal of time is spent researching to try to stay on top of market trends and pricing. Offering quality food for a reasonable price is her priority, Livesey said. But a lot of work goes into it. Each item is checked over and taste testing is done before the food goes near a grill.

“I can’t say, ‘Here little fish I want you to be exactly six and a half ounces and you swim by me and I’m just going to take you.’ There is so much that goes into finding that fish,” said Livesey.

But that attention to detail is what holds Rudy’s in a special place in people’s hearts, according to Livesey. “We are such an important part of people’s memories here,” she said. “After locals grow up and move away, they still remember Rudy’s.”

Because it is such a known attraction, tourists will make a special trip to Rudy’s while visiting Oswego or just passing through. Livesey said about 50 percent of her revenue is generated through tourism.

She attributes that to Rudy’s recent advertising strategy. In the past few years, she said they have been focusing on advertising at more of a distance, because everyone who lives in Oswego already knows about Rudy’s.

“Our business used to be based primarily on the repetition of our local people. Now they’re a little more aware of how they spend their money. Therefore that advertising outside of the community is keeping us going,” Livesey said.

Meeting all of the different people and becoming a part of their lives is what Livesey enjoys most about her work, she said. To her, it is not just doing business and selling hot dogs. It is getting to know the people and the feeling of family that makes it all worth it.

“They come here for something pleasant, and I’m glad when they say, ‘Mmmm that was good.’ It’s like I’m having a dinner party every time I serve someone, and I want them to enjoy it. Their enjoyment makes it worth while.”

Sweet Inspirations Drive-In

Fulton business is celebrating 25 years, brings back nostalgic memories.

Most known for its car cruises, Sweet Inspirations Drive-In in Fulton is reminiscent of a simpler time, with its ‘50s and ‘60s-themed atmosphere and large selection of ice cream.

This year marks Sweet Inspirations’ 25th, a milestone which co-owner Sandy Freeman said he and his wife and co-owner Stephanie are proud of.

“This restaurant actually started out as an ice cream stand back in the ‘80s. Slowly but surely it built up and became bigger,” Sandy Freeman said. “The former owners in 1994 added food, rebuilt the restaurant and I would say we’re not as famous for our food as we are our ice cream, but it’s getting close.”

The Freemans acquired the restaurant with no experience in the food industry and continued to expand the fame of the burgers and ice cream. The couple had previously worked in management at different businesses in the area and decided buying Sweet Inspirations was their next move.

“We wanted to work with each other, so we collectively said, ‘Why don’t we try to buy this restaurant?’ The former owner stayed with us for the season in 2001 when we bought it, and guided us all the way through,” said Freeman.

Since the millennium, the Freemans’ restaurant has become famous in Central New York for its car cruises. Freeman said he has a pretty good following and will even bring in people from Canada.

Classic presentation — “Large groups of people from car clubs or people on their own with collector cars, classic cars, motorcycles, hot rods come every Saturday night. We have a DJ and we give away prizes,” he said.

Tourists will also come from the Finger Lakes and Rochester areas for the food and ice cream, according to Freeman. They come to take advantage of the campgrounds on Lake Neatahwanta located behind the restaurant as well.

In his experience with the restaurant, Freeman said consistency is key to create a loyal customer base. He said each time people visit the restaurant, they are looking for a certain level of quality in the food, service and overall atmosphere.

“When you’re serving anything, either food or ice cream, each time a customer comes here they’re expectations are a certain way things are done, a certain taste and a fair price. We try to do that each and every time,” he said.

His goal is to satisfy all customers who come in and to make the experience a positive one for them, he said.

Due to the economy, each time a customer is served it is important to ensure his or her satisfaction in order to guarantee they will return again, he said.

With so much responsibility challenging Freeman, he said his job gets tough at times. But the pleasure of customers makes it fulfilling, he noted.

“The most satisfying part is the interaction with customers and my employees,” Freeman added.

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park

Hey Boo Boo! Check out Jellystone Park in Mexico!

Since 1970, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Mexico has been a tourist destination for campers to enjoy a family vacation.

The park not only features the beautiful scenery it is engulfed in, but the many amenities provided to keep children entertained as well. From the flat rocks along the river to the miniature golf course, Jellystone Park is a place for a family oriented getaway.

Visitors rent cabins or trailer units, or may park their own vehicles on one of the more than 100 available sites. Comfort stations are throughout the park to provide campers with a hot shower and restrooms. Also on site is the “Ranger Station” stocked with everything from groceries and snacks to souvenirs and RV supplies.

For the kids, Jellystone includes a swimming pool with a water slide, wagon rides, lighted basketball court, playgrounds, water war games and a jumping pillow filled with air for kids to bounce on, which was recently added last year.

Owner Barbara Lighthall oversees a full activity schedule for entertainment as well. She said her park is one of the highest rated in Oswego County and nationally recognized due to the franchise.

“People who are looking for a camping facility look for a Jellystone. They know that it’s comparable because of the standards that are set for the franchise,” Lighthall said.

Also an advantage for Mexico’s Jellystone Park is its location, according to Lighthall. The surrounding attractions such as Salmon River Falls and the Safe Haven Museum are beneficial for business, keeping tourists in the area longer.

“If you are in the tourism industry you need to not only know what’s in your area, but help promote it,” said Lighthall.

Although well over 90 percent of Jellystone’s revenue is generated through tourism, Lighthall said people will come from less than three miles away to use the park and camp. She said locals stay there so their children can take advantage of the wide array of activities, and of course Yogi Bear and Boo Boo.

International visitors — But the locals aren’t the only ones aware of this hidden gem. Lighthall said she has international visitors from Israel, Germany and the United Kingdom, to name a few.

“I have found that local people are a bit surprised at all the [people from] different countries that come here,” Lighthall said. “I don’t think local people necessarily think of us being international, other than the Canadians who come down. But it’s a lot more than Canadians.”

Originally from Fulton, Lighthall has lived in Mexico with her husband and children since 1961. The campgrounds were once part of the family’s farm, and only became Jellystone Park as a fluke.

Lighthall had four children left at home, and the family belonged to a square dancing group. Many of the members of the group also went camping together, and all gathered at the Lighthall property for Memorial Day weekend.

“There were seven families, and one lived here in the neighborhood. We had a wonderful time with the children and adults square dancing. All the time they were here they kept saying this would make a good campground. They went home on Monday, and on Tuesday they called us and said they had called a campground in Onondaga County and wondered if we would like to go talk to the owner. We did. That was Memorial weekend and we opened on Fourth of July with 13 sites along the river,” Lighthall said.

After 42 seasons and 17 as a franchise, Lighthall said her favorite part has been meeting all the different people. She still keeps her reservation books from the ‘70s and ‘80s, which were all done in pencil. She said it’s fun to pull them out when campers return and reminisce about their stay years ago.