AMSTERDAM - While Walter Porath Jr. attributes his restaurant's 30 years of success largely to luck, many long-time patrons, staff and prominent politicians think there is a little more to Porath's modest claim.
Serving everything from lobster tails to Ruebens, the Raindancer Restaurant on Route 30 has evolved since it opened in 1980, but a number of employees agree it has remained true to a commitment to building special memories for everyone who walks through the door
Ed Cassidy, a retired math teacher from the city of Amsterdam, said he looks forward to dining at the steak and seafood house two or three times a week.
The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle
Pam Sorbero, a waitress at the Raindancer, serves Ed Cassidy, right, stuffed scrod and broccoli Wednesday night at the restaurant on Route 30 in Amsterdam.
Cassidy added the Raindancer to his weekly routine in the early 1980s when he discovered the salad bar and said he loves dining there because he always bumps into friends.
"You're bound to run into somebody you know," Cassidy said. " It always happens, and the waitresses are great. They'll go out of their way to help you. That's the way Walt runs the place."
Many of the employees have been working at the restaurant for a good portion of the time it has been open, Raindancer General Manager Margie Schulz said.
Sam Greco, a former firefighter for the city, has bartended there for 26 years.
He started out working part-time while he was a firefighter and said the hours fit his schedule.
Greco said working with all his good friends at the restaurant and the people on the other side of the bar have made his time there special.
"I don't have a favorite memory," he said. "They all molded into one big one."
Porath and his wife, Doreen Porath, who has since died, opened the Raindancer after they bought the building at an auction. They got into the restaurant business in 1973 when they opened and grew the Top Notch Restaurant in Galway into a successful business.
Later, they sold the restaurant in 1978 and moved to Florida to escape to warmer weather.
"It just didn't work out because it's a different world down there and we were not happy with how things were going," Porath said.
So the Poraths moved back and poured all their time and money into the Raindancer.
Bob "The Bear" Baia was the restaurant's first bartender and started working with Porath at Top Notch.
"I served the first drinks [at the Raindancer] to the first customers and then I drank with them," Baia said. "[The restaurant] was always pretty good, but now it's amazing compared to what it used to be."
Baia's wife, Jeanne Baia, also worked as a waitress at the Raindancer.
"It's a place where there are so many strangers, but everyone just blends right in," she said. "It's a very special place to us."
The Baias had their wedding reception at the Raindancer.
Bill and Kim Sikora have a special place in their hearts for the restaurant because they fell in love there while Bill was working as the general manager and Kim as a waitress.
Bill Sikora was the restaurant's manager for the first 15 years.
"We were just really lucky," Porath said. "We had great people working with us and great customers and suppliers who have stuck with us."
Porath said they never had to worry about the food because his wife, who was an excellent cook, held all the chefs to her high standard.
He said because of the support from patrons and staff, he never struggled to get the Raindancer off the ground, but he's never had a feeling of having "made it."
"Honestly I don't think you ever get that moment if you want to keep it going," Porath said. "Once you think it's all set and don't have anything to worry about, that's when things start going wrong."
Schulz has worked at the Raindancer since it opened in 1980. She started as a bus girl and worked her way up to manager 15 years ago.
"I think the reason we lasted 30 years is because we have a lot of loyal customers who have stayed with us," Schulz said. "We also don't cut corners and try to do new things and look for what people want."
She said the most rewarding part of her job is knowing she's a part of people's priceless memories when she helps them plan special occasions at the Raindancer.
Schulz said Porath, now 64, is the backbone of the restaurant, and its success is partly due to his dedication to keeping on top of industry trends.
Porath said the Raindancer hasn't suffered a hit from the poor economy, business has remained stable and everyone keeps coming back, though they may not spend as much.
In light of that trend, he introduced smaller-portioned menu items that cost less.
"It's a pricing structure that still makes going out to eat attractive," he said.
The restaurant also looks to improve technology in the kitchen.
"We were the first ones in the area to automate our kitchen," Porath said. "We have a conveyer broiler in the kitchen that most of the broiled seafood is cooked on to make sure it's all done right."
Walter Porath's son, Walter Porath III, is following in his father's footsteps and works as a bartender. He said the restaurant has always been a part of his life, and he loves working with his family.
"We'd pretty much come here every day," he said. Schulz also was his babysitter when he was young.
Walter Porath III said the restaurant's Halloween party always is his favorite night.
"It's always a fun night," he said. "Everybody dresses up, and we do a costume contest."
Ron and Joanne Gras, of Broadalbin, have been Raindancer regulars for 20 years.
"They give you a lot of food for your money, and the quality is there," Joanne Gras said. Ron's favorite dish is the "Love at First Bite" roast beef sandwich.
Joanne likes a steak and spicy rice combination on the heart-smart menu.
"Raindancer has been a landmark for the past 30 years on Route 30," town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said. "It's probably the only place that you can have such a large crowd and such a large party in this area."
"We need the place," DiMezza said. "Walt is a great guy, and he deserves the recognition."
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who grew up in the city and has been dining at the Raindancer since it opened, said he made it a point to honor Porath and his staff at a 30th anniversary ribbon cutting Wednesday.
"It's a welcome home party every time you come here," Tonko said. "To be able to come here and enjoy the company of friends-it's just a good atmosphere."
Amanda Whistle covers Montgomery County. She can be reached at email@example.com.