Of Diners and Drive-ins

Of Diners and Drive-ins

Of Diners and Drive-ins

Couple Reimagines Plattsburgh Landmark

Imagine it’s the summer of 1964. Passing under the neon glow of the overhanging sign, you and a date stroll into Gus’ Red Hots and are seated inside a dark red booth. You order and soon a platter of the diner’s famous Michigan red hot dogs arrives, the pleasant, spicy aroma filling the air. After dinner, you decide to pay a visit to Stardust, a drive-in theater located just up the road, where you find a double-feature playing that night.

Sixty years later, Gus’ offers the same old-style atmosphere. The Plattsburgh landmark is a great place to meet up with old friends, socialize with others and enjoy a meal. The diner was built in 1949 and began serving customers in the summer of 1951. Over the years, the restaurant has been rebuilt and expanded to include a new dining area.

“It’s a very family friendly atmosphere,” waitress Olivia Hetfield said. “(We’re) quick paced, but still attentive to customers. It’s like a family dynamic.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic closed the diner in March 2020. Regulars of the establishment were devastated and the building stood empty for more than a year. Things changed for the better, however, over Memorial Day weekend 2021. Under new ownership of Rob and Jennette Steele, the diner was restored to its former glory and opened its doors once more. 

“We purchased the restaurant over a year ago now,” Jennette Steele said. “My husband grew up right around the corner, on Cumberland Head. Growing up he’d always come to Gus’. It was a big part of his life, so it was quite a move to want to preserve the restaurant.”

They chose to maintain its old charm by making only small adjustments, such as updated technology, better maintenance and a new front deck. The folks of the community quickly clamored back into the diner and rejoiced in celebration with a delicious meal. 

“We’re known for our Michigan hot dogs,” Hetfield said. “People also like our perch, burgers, melts and pizza.”  

For customer Mike Shaffer, Gus’ is his go-to eatery for whenever he’s back in town.

“I come up once a month,” Shaffer said. “I stayed right next door at the motel and would come over here for breakfast. This is where I’ve come to eat for the last two years. Love the atmosphere, love the diner.”

In addition to the diner, the Steeles have plans to bring in a new drive-in theater just around the corner from where Gus’ is located.

“It is in the process,” Jennette Steele said. “ It will roll out maybe this summer, toward the end, if not, 2024. There is still quite a bit left to do, but it is still in the works.”

The neighborhood the diner is located in used to have a drive-in theater up the road on Route 9, which opened in 1949. The theater was known as the Stardust. It featured a 50-foot viewing screen and was a popular attraction in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Stardust closed in 1987. 

Thanks to the Steeles, this once popular pastime will make its return. Their plan is to set up one large screen for the viewing audience and a concession area where people can purchase snacks. Both old and new movies are expected to be playing when it opens. 

 “It’s something for people to do,” Steele said. “Something for the families and the community.” 

The return of a local drive-in will mark another Plattsburgh legacy the Steeles have preserved, although they may need more time to make it a reality. In the meantime, if you’re looking to stop for a tasty meal while passing through town, Gus’ Red Hots is open everyday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 5 Commodore Thomas Macdonough Highway.

Story and photo by Matthew Wendler

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