|"Fresh & Free"
Mac's welcomes 48th summer with
mugs of root beer
By Craig Fox, The Finger Lakes Times
Appeared Thursday, August 10, 2008
Let the root beer flow once again...
It's spring, and in this Seneca County town, that means Mac's Drive-In -- where the beverage of choice is a
given -- is opening for the season.
It's one of the few places in the country that still serves Mrs. Richardson Root Beer fresh from the spigot.
"It's all made here, fresh," said owner Gerald MacDougal, who will open Mac's for the season on Friday.
As has been the case the past 47 seasons, customers can get a frosty mug of Mrs. Richardson Root Beer for
free on opening day. It's a part of many traditions that MacDougal and his crew of 30 workers keep intact at
the drive-in restaurant at 1166 Waterloo-Geneva Road.
MacDougal expects to give away about 2,000 mugs of root beer tomorrow. A couple of weeks ago, MacDougal
drove up to the Baldwin Richardson Food Co. in Macedon to pick up 48 cases of the root beer syrup that will
eventually be mixed with soda water to make up the soft drink.
During Friday's opening, MacDougal guesses that he'll go through about 10 cases -- or 40 gallons -- of the
syrup by the end of the day, adding that 90 percent of his customers regularly order root beer.
Many of them will add a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream on top -- to make a root beer float, of course.
"Our help will be wearing their legs out to go out back for the floats [Friday]," said his wife, Cathy MacDougal,
co-owner of the drive-in.
To prepare for the big day, MacDougal called in Steve Zadarik, owner of Steve's Carbonics, to get the root beer
and soda machine ready.
Every spring since the drive-in opened in 1961, the company has taken care of the root beer machine at Mac's,
with Zadarik's father, Steve, first handling the responsibilities until he took over 22 years ago.
"You got to get it just right," Zadarik said while tinkering with a valve that controls the amount of syrup and
soda water that's released.
For this opening, Zadarik had to adjust the valve and fix a broken switch. A big Richardson Root Beer barrel,
with coils snaking inside, still sits on the front counter, but the taps are no longer used and have been replaced
by electronic valves.
Unlike most restaurants, Mac's mixes its root beer right at the counter; syrup comes out of one valve and the
carbonated water from another.
That's how you get that fresh, authentic taste of root beer, MacDougal said, adding that other restaurants use
tanks of already mixed root beer.
"This is tradition," he said. "My customers, they stick with the same thing."
The beverage has always been served at Mac's. In the early days, it was known simply as Richardson Root
Beer, but somewhere along the line the "Mrs." was added on, MacDougal said.
In fact, the business was a Richardson Root Beer franchise stand for the first six years. The chain of drive-ins
has all but disappeared over the decades, with only one left in Conneaut, Ohio, MacDougal said.
The only other place that he knows of where you can get freshly mixed Mrs. Richardson Root Beer is from a
vendor who travels with fairs, he said.
"They don't do much root beer anymore," he said, adding that Baldwin Richardson is now known more for
maple syrup, toppings for ice cream and mustard.
Mac's typically opens on Good Friday, but Easter was earlier this year, so the MacDougals delayed it until
tomorrow. It'll still close on Labor Day, as it has the past 47 times, MacDougal said.
About two weeks before opening each year, MacDougal and a handful of workers start getting the place ready
with some basic sprucing up and maybe a little painting.
He's never considered making Mac's an all-year operation, which would take some renovations and would have
interfered with his career as a math teacher at Midlakes High School.
Not much of the building has changed over the years, and some of the same equipment, such as the counters
and coolers, have been used since Mac's opened, he said.
Much of the staff has worked there for years, including six employees who began when they were in high
school and are now teachers themselves, he said.
MacDougal, who retired from teaching in 1990, and Cathy, have been involved in the business since the
beginning. About 10 years ago, they bought out his brother, Raymond, and sister-in-law, Vera.
Except for a few sandwiches, much of the menu remained the same, although the popularity of pizza and ice
cream at Mac's has grown immensely over the years, MacDougal said.
And the curb service remains a big draw.
It should be busy, he said, since most of his old regulars know that the root beer will begin to flow at lunchtime
"I'm a little nervous, just a little jumpy," he said.
Mac's is open for lunches and dinners Tuesdays through Sundays through the Labor Day weekend.