Small Biz Startup: The Hop

Daniel and Rebecca McDermott reopened the The Hop this summer at 3 Market St. in Potsdam. Melanie Kimbler-Lago/NNY Business

Daniel and Rebecca McDermott reopened the The Hop this summer at 3 Market St. in Potsdam. Melanie Kimbler-Lago/NNY Business

THE INITIAL IDEA The Hop’s new owners Daniel and Rebecca McDermott re-opened the 1950s-style restaurant known for its late night fare after eight years of dormancy after about six months of what Mrs. McDermott described as “a lot of detailed cleaning” and more than $10,000 in small-scale renovations that included a new basement floor, re-painting and new furniture. The Hop opened its doors in early June and had a formal grand opening and ribbon cutting in mid-September.

“We wanted to get all the kinks out on our main food and we had such high success with the Hop to begin with that we never had time to plan it,” Mrs. McDermott said of the decision to delay the grand opening.

Mrs. McDermott, a Massena native, worked as a server at Mama Lucia’s and Maxfield’s restaurants in Potsdam for several years before deciding to open her own business. She still works about twice a week or as needed as a server and her husband, who works full-time as a registered nurse for the state at night, grew up in a family in the restaurant business.

Last November, the McDermotts bought a building in Massena to open a bakery, but after purchasing equipment, plans were stymied by municipal issues with the building’s water and electricity supply. Mrs. McDermott said the two “wanted to do something quicker” and were encouraged to lease the Hop and helped through the process of opening a business by its former owners, Lawrence and Pamela Hazen, whom she worked for at Maxfield’s. Many people in Potsdam were also clamoring for the Hop to be re-opened, she said.

Still, opening a restaurant that serves comfort food attractive to hungry college kids was somewhat of a departure for Mrs. McDermott, a trained cake decorator and water-based bagel maker who doesn’t, unlike her husband, eat burgers.

“I’ve had maybe three burgers only because I had to because of the way we hire,” she said. The “interview” for employment at the Hop consists of making a burger and an egg on the grill to certain exact specifications, a process that she says “cuts out all of the biases” in hiring.

TARGET CLIENTELE “You’re opening a restaurant in the beginning of summer—the quietest time of the year?” Mrs. McDermott said her husband skeptically asked her last spring. But thanks to the community’s support, the Hop was able to make it with only a few slow days, she said.

With school back in session, business had already “picked up a lot” by the first week of September, she said.

While the clientele is community members during the day, the Hop’s low prices make college kids the primary audience for the restaurant’s 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday year-round hours.

“It’s amazing how many people want to eat late at night,” she said.

THE JOURNEY Despite her full-time job as a server and two young boys ages nine and 11, Mrs. McDermott took a course on running a small business at the Reh Center for Entrepreneurship at Clarkson University before opening the Hop.

“I learned a lot,” she said, adding that she intends to take additional courses this fall to keep abreast of marketing strategies. “I had to be dedicated, I had to put everything into it.”

Opening her own business was “probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” she said, crediting the support of the Hazens with much of the Hop’s success.

Continuing to work as a server also balances out a busy and stressful life.

“One day I might get to the point where I want to expand so I won’t have the time, but right now I need to make the time,” she said. “It’s a check and balance thing.”

Both Mrs. McDermott and her husband put in “countless hours” and are “physically at the restaurant every single day and night,” with Mrs. McDermott covering the night shifts and Mr. McDermott helping during the day, including making daily trips to buy fresh vegetables and bread from local businesses.

Her two sons also help out when not in school and over the summer. The Hop has about nine employees total, three who work more than 30 hours a week and the rest part-time college students.

IN FIVE YEARS “I think the menu will probably expand and be tweaked a little,” Mrs. McDermott said. Following their September grand opening, they added more salads and vegetarian dishes. “Hopefully we’ll be able to expand and go further than just the Hop, maybe expand into another college town as well.”

In the meantime, the McDermotts plan to purchase another fryer to be able to serve at a faster pace, a larger sandwich prep table and another freezer and possibly another refrigerator to accommodate more frequent deliveries. All equipment should be in place by the end of the year, she said.

The McDermotts are also contemplating adding evening dinner hours and late night hours on Monday and Tuesday.

And they still plan to open the Massena bakery within the next year, which will make deliveries to local restaurants and provide the Hop with fresh bread and baked products.

For now, though, the couple remains intensely focused on analyzing the Hops’s day-to-day performance and strategizing to increase business on slow days.

“We’re anal,” she said. “The food has to come out perfect, the presentation has to look great.”

But business is overall going well. Recently, a college student employee told Mrs. McDermott that she couldn’t handle the fast-paced environment and was surprised by the constant business.

“It takes a special person and a hard worker,” Mrs. McDermott said.