PORTVILLE — Sprague’s Maple Farms celebrates its 20th year on Sunday and to mark the occasion, owners Randy and Toni Sprague commissioned a 20th anniversary snow sculpture by Eric Jones.
Earlier this week, Jones, the West Clarksville artist who’s become something of a celebrity this past year because of his pumpkin carving and snow sculptures, built a 10-foot-tall golden maple leaf with “20 Years” written on it. The snow sculpture stands along the curving driveway to the restaurant from Route 305 north of Portville.
As soon as it was finished, the sculpture was a hit with customers. A raccoon peeks over the top of the leaf and a maple sap bucket hangs from a tree that is part of the sculpture.
“It blew up on social media Thursday,” Randy said as he smiled behind his face mask.
People were trekking through the snow to get selfies with the maple leaf marking the anniversary. A path has since been cleared to the snow sculpture.
“We thought we’d kick off the year with something special,” Sprague said. “We saw the snow sculptures in the paper and asked Eric if he’d be interested. He came up with the design and said it would be 10 feet tall.”
Sprague said it’s a way to thank customers and the community for the support of the restaurant. Toni Sprague said they also want to thank their staff “who have gone through this coronavirus pandemic with us.”
The restaurant has nearly 100 employees.
The restaurant keeps strict COVID-19 protocols and has reduced its capacity to 50%. Masks are required whenever a guest is not seated at a table.
Partly due to the pandemic protocols, the Spragues are embarking on an expansion of the dining and kitchen facilities.
A 40-foot expansion of the dining room with a wall of glass doors toward the mountain vista will be ready this summer. The folding doors can be open, except in inclement weather. An 80-foot-long courtyard will feature more outdoor dining space.
“It will be quite a project,” Randy said. “But we don’t see things going back to the old dining.”
Tables will be more spread out to make diners feel more comfortable with the more spacious dining area.
Sprague’s is a regional destination. Besides local diners from nearby communities and counties on both sides of the state line, some come from as far as Buffalo, Rochester, Corning and beyond.
“When we get done, it will be an even bigger regional attraction,” Toni said. The couple plan to add 10 to 15 new employees once the addition is ready in July.
The restaurant will add outdoor dining to its takeout dining that has helped the bottom line through the difficulties of the pandemic. The restaurant has an app for ordering and orders can also be made online.
The restaurant can only seat 50% of its 275 capacity, but with the new space, Randy hopes to get back much of that original capacity.
“The outdoor space will be really well-done too,” he said. “There will be plenty of landscaping.”
Toni said the added kitchen space from the project will make everything run smoothly. It will make the dining experience more pleasurable when everything comes together, she added.
Randy turned his longtime hobby of making maple syrup, which he learned on the Deschler Farm, into the successful business.
Twenty years ago the Spragues open the restaurant, which became the biggest customer for Randy’s maple syrup and turkeys from a turkey farm down the road.
It’s not just the traditional country restaurant the Spragues are showcasing.
“We’ve got the whole area behind the restaurant to demonstrate the entire maple operation,” Randy pointed out.
State-of-the-art equipment removes much of the water from the maple sap before it is sent to the gas-fired evaporator visible from the hallway as diners enter the restaurant.
“It’s a big step, but it was a business decision,” Randy said.
The next big thing on Randy’s mind after the anniversary is getting some maple sap running with warmer temperatures.
It won’t be long until warmer temperatures during the day — and still-freezing nights — push maple sap into the miles of tubing connected to maple trees behind the restaurant and at several sugar bushes in the area, which the Spragues own or lease.
He said they’ve got enough syrup from the 2020 season left to keep the restaurant and retail trade supplied until the 2021 syrup is ready.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)