CLEAR LAKE | Seth Thackery's smile was as bright as the winter sunshine Wednesday as he showed off the newly renovated Barrel Drive-In on the first day of the 2015 season.
"We pretty much just reconditioned everything inside," Thackery said. "We took down the ceiling, put up a new ceiling. We painted everything in the dining room."
He is also grateful for the many hours of volunteer labor and donations of materials which helped to make the renovations possible and saved the iconic landmark from going under.
It's a far cry from last year. The Barrel was in financial trouble and a neighboring business was eyeing the property for possible purchase to expand its business. Thackery admitted he was in near financial ruin.
Then the community stepped in and a groundswell of citizen support helped turn things around. Volunteers painted and spruced up the place.
Customers continued to come. There was a "Save the Barrel" Facebook page. Business became so good the restaurant stayed open about a month past its normal closing date.
On Wednesday, it opened about a month earlier than usual.
The light wall color seems to brighten up the place. A partition and several booths in the middle of the dining room have been removed. With the remaining booths placed along the wall, there is space in the middle of the room for several tables and chairs.
All new lights were installed in the dining room. The bathrooms were renovated. A new sound system pipes 1950s tunes into the drive-in.
"It was a lot of work. We had a lot of volunteers who helped," Thackery said.
One big change is wait staff will take customer orders at their tables rather than customers placing their orders at the counter.
"It's all new systems for me. I hope people are a little understanding and give us a little break at first," Thackery said. "Even my employees from last year never really waited on tables. They just answered the phones and brought out food."
Justin Bryant is beginning his eighth season working at the Barrel. He's been doing everything from carhopping to cooking chicken since the age of 14.
"I think it's super exciting. It makes me more excited to come here and be here," Bryant said. "With all the support we've had, it's been fantastic."
Several healthier items will be added to the menu.
"We'll probably try them out as specials first. See what works," Thackery explained.
"This was a lot of work but it makes you feel good. Changing the colors, the lights, the ceiling -- everything is brightened up," Thackery said. "I mean, it's a feel-good place and I think people are going to come and hang out a little bit more. The sun is shining in here. It's warmer. It just makes you feel good to come in and sit down and get some comfort food in you."