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A Recipe for Success

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

By Justine Parkinson | Photo Supplied

Situated on the shores of Lake Champlain, the Naked Turtle is a restaurant and bar whose goal is to make patrons feel as if they are on vacation.

Founded in 1996, “The Turtle”, as the locals call it, is tucked in at the bottom of a dead-end street in downtown Plattsburgh, New York. Its location violates all three criteria thought to be necessary for a successful casual dining establishment – accessibility, visibility and traffic flow. However, while The Turtle does not earn high marks in any of those categories, its location directly on the lake makes up for all that and more.

While Turtle Fare is casual and the location is stunning, the menu is by no means an afterthought. To learn more about this popular restaurant I sat down recently with Operations Manager John Parmelee who, for 20 years was an integral part of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Hospitality Management faculty. Today he is an Assistant to the Dean of the School of Business & Economics, a Program Coordinator and Lecturer. When his academic year winds down, Parmelee puts on a campy shirt and offers his expertise at he Turtle. Parmelee has been immersed in the hospitality industry all of his working life. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Administration from Cornell University, a Master’s degree in Adult Education from Elmira College and had extensive experience in the management of luxury hotels and eateries in the Caribbean. Much of that expertise has been in what is called Front of House (FOH). Everything that contributes to the customer’s experience, outside of the kitchen, is orchestrated and managed by FOH. The Back of House (BOH) is the staff area, where cooks and other support staff work. Balancing the two is both an art and a science and that is where Parmelee excels.

During our conversation we talked about many things. One of them was the science of menu engineering. “It connects guests with the bottom-line profit of an operation and is often not given the top priority it deserves,” Parmelee began. “Giving careful consideration to menu items and seasonal and local favorites, while promoting cross utilization of food items is the best model. That can be done with core ingredients. For example, a sandwich, an entrée and an appetizer can all using the same protein, but with a different preparation can broaden the menu and enhance efficiency.”

Parmelee and the Turtle Team welcome guests to enjoy lunch or dinner with a cool drink or two on one of the multiple decks or a seat indoors where they can enjoy the eclectic atmosphere. “Indoor seating helps us with the largest, most consequential unknown —Mother Nature,” Parmelee shared with the wise smile of someone who has survived and thrived over multiple North Country seasons.

When asked about recipes for success, Parmelee offered, “The challenges of a seasonal business are the same as a year-round operation, but more intense. Whether slope side or lake side, when your season is shorter, everything is more challenging. The labor pool is highly competitive and when looking for skilled seasonal staff it is even more so. No one is really insulated from those variables. Time has necessitated a much more creative approach to the recruitment process.”

When discussing the upcoming season Parmelee was excited to continue what he called The Turtle’s “post COVID ramp up for both the property and the community. It’s exciting to get back to doing what we all enjoy. This year we’ve got some new ideas. One we’re looking at is “Cans and Clams” where patrons can enjoy a can of their beverage of choice and some fresh clams with colleagues or friends they haven’t met yet. This season will bring unique challenges, but we’ll figure it out. We always do!”

In closing I asked Parmelee what he enjoys abut hospitality work. He smiled. “I’ve always been guest-centric. That’s what motivates me.” Some of his favorite memories are hosting the banquet after the annual Make-A -25Wish Golf tournament the restaurant sponsors every year. “That’s one of my favorite events. When people come here, they are our guests and I get to share in their enjoyment and happiness to be at the party!”

The Naked Turtle Holding Company 1 Dock Street Plattsburgh, NY 12901 518 566-6200

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