A Sweet Restart as a Business is Reborn

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
Customers enter the Guzzle, which has recently reopened after burning down in a fire a few years ago.

BY: Nicole Caldwell

Just about anyone who’s stepped foot on Wellesley Island since 1913—including the likes of Abbie Hoffman, George Boldt and family, and any number of politicians, noteworthy musicians and famous actors—has likely also stepped foot inside The Guzzle.
     That iconic, classic American ice cream shop in Thousand Island Park served up sweet treats to residents and tourists alike for a century and a year before burning down in 2014, only to be rebuilt bigger and brighter three years later.
     Some things, especially those holding sacred spaces in our collective, cultural imagination, just can’t be destroyed.
Standing at the helm of such an icon is no small task. “Whenever you undertake something that’s been undertaken before there’s always that added level of pressure,” said Laurel Zarnosky, who now runs Guzzle with her husband, Mark.
     “You know how important it is to the community, and how much people are looking forward to it. Especially here, people have been missing it for three years. Watching that fire was devastating. There was that added level of, ‘OK, we put 1,001 percent into everything; but if there are any extra percentages, we need to throw them in there too.’ We want people to feel the love that we have crafting everything here.“

A classic ice cream shop, housed in a “fireproof” building, was built to last.
     Thousand Island Park was established as a campground site in 1874. By 1877, campsites were being forsaken for permanent structures. Around 500 lots were built on, with 50 new cottages on average being added each year. Transitioning from campground to summer resort area meant a significant spike in visitors, but also in danger: fires were a frequent and dangerous reality on an island lit by candles and lanterns. The Thousand Island Park Hotel in 1890 burned to the ground in less than 45 minutes.
     Even after electricity arrived at TI park in 1892, firefighters struggled to combat the spate of fires that swept through the park’s wooden structures. A single fire in 1912 engulfed 12 boathouses and a boat shop. Another fire took out the Columbian Hotel (already rebuilt from a previous fire), a chapel, seven businesses, almost 100 cottages and three schools.
Something had to be done.
     So in 1913, a “fireproof” building at the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and Rainbow Street East was constructed of cement blocks. That structure, over the years, housed the park’s post office, fire department, grocery story and quaint little ice cream shop called, simply, “Guzzle.”
     For the next century, kids enjoyed their first taste of ice cream at the Guzzle and bought their first penny candies. Families met there after church, or convened there on Friday afternoons. Everyone on Wellesley Island (and over much of the north country) has some classic, nostalgic memories of times at the Guzzle. All are good.
     “It was really a gathering place for kids—they’d ride their bikes over, leave their bikes out front, get candy, Swedish fish and ice cream,” Laurel said. “Mark and I both have experiences with it as a child. I used to play sports every day—softball on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, and soccer Tuesdays and Thursdays. The noon siren went off and we would all hunt for cans and get them redeemed so we could get popsicles or penny candy or whatever. A lot of kids [around here] have stories like that.”
     “Without question, the appeal or love of the Guzzle has been the sense of community that was always felt by TI Parkers and their guests, just like one really big family,” said Robert Bornhurst, an 85-year-old native of Syracuse who has been coming to Thousand Island Park for 38 years. “It included all ages from newborns to 100-year-olds. Everyone knew everyone else, and everyone shared the same interest of welcoming and camaraderie in making sure that all had a pleasant time while at ‘our park.’ The Guzzle was the focal point where it all began every year. It became the heart and soul of our community. Even first-time renters could share in the excitement and happiness that was felt by us.”

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING

     In 2014, that fireproof building housing the Guzzle proved mortal after all. Fire inspectors attributed the fire, which engulfed the entire commercial building, to an electrical blaze “with origin undetermined.” A massive rebuild plan was enacted with support from the community to not only remake the space, but to maintain the history of what that space meant to the people who frequented it.
     And that all rested on getting the Guzzle back.

A family tradition.
     Laurel grew up spending summers on Wellesley Island. “My parents still have a house here,” she said. “We were really familiar with it, the ice cream and the candy.”
Mark grew up just over the bridge. His parents owned PJ’s River Rat Café at Fishers Landing, and he graduated from Thousand Islands High School in Clayton. Mark went on to earn a degree from RIT with a focus on restaurant management. Since then, he’s opened and managed restaurants for a variety of companies. More recently, he and Laurel began talking about opening up a restaurant of their own. When they heard the Guzzle needed people to run it, they jumped at the opportunity.
     But they also had real stakes in it. The pressure was on to recreate a place not only beloved by the husband and wife, but by their entire community. Laurel and Mark set about designing the menu, painstakingly picking out ice cream flavors, and designing the new logo.
     “They did a great job with invoking the feelings of the old guzzle and matching the feel,” Laurel said of the newly constructed building. “The little character things, like the tin ceiling and the coloring are great. And yet it’s still modern.”
     “It was a great framework to start out with,” Mark agreed. “And it was up to us to take over the look of the place and the culture. For us, we’re excited to have our 15-month-old growing up here. She’s going to be able to see what goes on and grow up in this industry like I did, while also enjoying all the activities Laurel enjoyed when she was growing up.”
It’s hard to say if such a community mainstay would have had such a smooth opening had it not been pulled off by members of that same community.
     “We really put our heart and soul into getting this operating,” Laurel said. “There was construction equipment heading out 4:59 p.m. the day before Memorial Day, and we were sliding the ice cream window open. The upstairs got finished in July. It’s amazing to see it evolve so quickly.”

A community staple, re-imagined.
     “The Guzzle has always been a central gathering place for Thousand Island Park,” said Thomas Brown, 47, a Boston resident who has been coming to TI Park for 13 years with his husband, 61-year-old Tom Mousin. “That it has served ice cream makes it all the more delicious… and the BBQ ribs on Saturday are the absolute best I’ve ever had!”
     “It was always wonderful that such a popular gathering place was centrally located at the Four Corners, an easy walk or bike ride from anywhere on the park,” Mousin agreed.

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
Customers get lunch and ice cream at the Guzzle.

With an upstairs seating area for quiet workspace or conversation, a large dining area on the first floor with classic ice cream counter, and outdoor seating to boot, the huge, reimagined space has something for everyone—no matter their age. The new space is huge, to be sure. The newly designed Guzzle “seemed huge,” Bornhurst said, “with bright garish lighting, not the small cozy, inviting nook of its predecessor. My thought was just give it a chance.. The menu was wonderful, and the meals very tasty. The wait staff was friendly, upbeat and most helpful. They did a great job in putting it all together and working as a team, helping each other out. They became the welcoming ambassadors to TI Park and once again there was the excitement and caring that I feared had been lost.”
     “The new concessionaires, Mark and Laurel, have made the new Guzzle a place where old friends and new friends come together, including residents of other communities along the Saint Lawrence River,” Brown said. “Jonathan Taylor’s design of the building—with its open concept and its orientation to the outdoors—ensures that TI Parkers will continue the tradition of welcoming neighbors near and far to our little piece of heaven.”
     That the Guzzle had a strong summer economically is icing on the cake for Laurel and Mark, of course. To them, it’s all about keeping something so dear to them, alive.
     “The kids smile because they’re so excited about the candy, or the families gather for food,” Laurel said. “We had a family of 43 or 45 one day. It’s neat to see how the community and members of the larger community really embrace the spot and really appreciate it like we do. That’s been one of our greatest sense of wonderment.”