Owner Eric Lewis pauses for a moment one morning during setup for the days business.
by Dave Warner
The Copper Moose Ale House has been a fixture at 518 E Main Street since 2014 according to owner Eric Lewis, who moved here from Fredericksburg Virginia to open the facility.
Lewis had gotten to Fredericksburg via the Wilmington Delaware area, where he had been involved in working for some of the worlds largest banks. “It was just my mom living in northern Virginia and I thought it would be a good opportunity for the kids to get to know their grandmother.”
The house in Delaware went up for sale in 2003 and construction was started on a house in Fredericksburg. Along with the new house, came a new job in the city. “I moved to Fredericksburg and my family was still in Delaware waiting for the house to be built.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, as Lewis’ mother passed away in early 2004…before the house was finished and the family had been moved. “At this point, we had already sold our house in Delaware and this house was being built in Fredericksburg and the whole reason for moving there was now gone,” said Lewis.
The family went through with the plan and finished the house and then moved to the area. The new job had Lewis spending a week at home and then a week on the road. Lewis said “After a year or two of doing this, it was – why am I staying in Fredericksburg?”
He talked to his boss and asked him if he cared where he lived. The answer was no, so Lewis decided to move closer to family. In particular, his wife’s family in Little Falls. “We would visit (here) at least once a year and this was just such a different feel from what we had done. Constant traffic, constant people, just rush rush, run run,” stated Lewis.
“This just felt like such a different nice place, so I talked my wife into it and kept my job and we moved here.”
Change came at the company where Lewis worked, and he soon found himself on the outside looking in. “I didn’t really know what to do at that point. I had a friend from Fredericksburg and we had talked constantly about opening up a bar/restaurant. We really should try it, we’re both still young, so let’s try it,” said Lewis.
So, Kevin Roberts moved up here and in 2014 they opened the Copper Moose. “That first year was definitely a struggle. We were open for lunch as well and had a lot of staff and overhead, and it was just not working, so at the end of the year, Kevin bowed out.”
From that point on, the Copper Moose stopped serving lunch and focused on just dinner and adjusted their days of the week to be open six out of seven. Lewis said “We’ve done a little better every single year from that point forward.”
The name Copper Moose was not the first choice for the establishment either. The logo design and signage was already finished and the name was going to be The Blue Dane Bar and Grill “because I own a big grey great dane and they are called Blues. We had a very nice logo of a great dane with his head to the side,” said Lewis.
However, after some colorful input from friends, they decided to change it. “I was talking to Kevin, and we’re up here in the Adirondacks and something like a moose or wolf would be cool. We also liked the idea of a stone or metal in the name. Something like the Granite Wolf, which was one we talked about.”
They eventually settled on the moose because of the Adirondacks and copper because of the history of that in the region as well. “Kevin had a nickname a long time ago as Moose, so anyway, we thought that was a great name,” said Lewis.
“It seemed like as soon as we got the name, things started falling into place. We found this moose online from South Carolina and so they painted it up for us and shipped it up here,” he said.
They had also purchased a bar to install, but were told about one that used to be part of Walt’s Grill. “So this bar came to Little Falls in 1955. Walt had given his son Todd the business and in 1995, he shut it down and took this bar and stored it in his barn and it sat there for nineteen years,” Lewis said.
He went out to look at the bar and it was covered in tarps, dust and farm instruments. They took everything off and Lewis saw the curve. “I said, that is beautiful. We took more of the covering off and I said, OK, let’s talk.”
Todd actually didn’t want to sell the bar because this was his fathers bar. For forty years, he had sat at that bar and tended it and that is how Todd had grown up. “After 2-4 weeks of going back and forth, Todd warmed up to the idea. I showed him the blueprints to the restaurant, he came down and looked around the place and eventually agreed to sell the bar to me,” said Lewis.
However, there was just one condition to the sale, and that was that they not re-finish the top of the bar. “I said I won’t, but tell me why? He said for forty years, my father had a nervous habit and he stood at one end of the bar and would rub his palm on the surface.”
Today, you can see the imprint of Todd’s fathers hand on that corner of the bar. “I said Todd, I will never ever touch that.”
Todd, the family and even the extended family come in and visit – taking pictures at that end of the bar and remembering their dad.
Fire Chief Robert Parese’s daughter Rebecca, was the architect for the construction that was done at the Copper Moose. “We changed a lot of the layout of the restaurant just so we could expose the beautiful arch that you see in here,” said Lewis.
“The lines to our cooler are never outside of cold air,” with the changes that were made as well. “Things just came together.”
Was there anything that caught Lewis off-guard about the business? “I thought – how hard can it be? I think the formula for the business is simple; great food, great atmosphere, and in my case, the hook is great beer, a great staff and a clean well-lit place that is friendly. It’s just a really good atmosphere.”
But, the work, every single day to make all of that happen, caught Lewis by surprise. “That I think was the biggest surprise – how much time it actually takes.”
The word has spread far and wide about the Copper Moose and just how incredible the food and beer selection is.
“We’ll have life-long Little Falls residents who are eating here or are up at the bar having a cocktail and they’ll look out and say ‘I don’t know a single soul here.’ So we get people from all over Upstate New York,” said Lewis.
“This is a good middle meeting spot between Syracuse and Albany and a lot of times they’ll choose to meet here. We have really, really good reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor, and of course Facebook. Copper Moose was rated the number 10 bar in all of Upstate New York,” Lewis stated.
“We were definitely the smallest town – the rest were all Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Albany, Niagara Falls – all the big cities and little tiny Little Falls.”
Lewis and his staff are very proud of that ranking and what they have done to achieve it. “I’ve got the same core ten or eleven people for the most part and nearly half of them have been here since we opened. It’s been very good and I’ve been very fortunate.”
What does the future look like? “Well, there are a couple of degrees of the future. In the very near future, I would love to be able to expand – just four or five more tables. I can’t tell you the pain that we feel when we’re full, or fully reserved and a family of four or five will walk in and we can’t seat them,” he said.
“My heart sinks, not from the lost business, but from the fact that I can’t seat them. There’s literally nowhere for them to go.”
He’d also like the ability to seat larger groups of people, which just isn’t possible with the current layout. “I get calls constantly about parties of 40 people, but I have to say sorry.”
“Long term, I want to expand into brewing, but not as a brew pub. Basically a one to three barrel system offsite and have much more capacity to expand. Be a regional craft brewer instead of a very small brew pub,” said Lewis.
Lewis continued “Not to toot my own horn, but I’d like to think that I’ve been part of the renaissance in Little Falls. This is a brand new place, that’s not been a restaurant, it’s something completely different. It’s a cool place.”
If you want to find out more about the Copper Moose you can visit them on Facebook or call 315-508-5156 for reservations.