The lights are on at The Stand, which reopened on June 11 in Iron River.
IRON RIVER—To say that folks have been awaiting the reopening of the root beer stand on Lalley Road is an understatement.
As preparations were being made to reopen the stand after a three-year absence, passersby took notice. And when spring turned into summer and the weather finally broke, some couldn’t wait any longer.
“We opened on June 11, and in the week or so leading up to that, people were stopping all the time,” said manager Peggy Smith. “I mean, they were sitting in their cars waiting to be waited on.”
After being informed that things were not quite ready, the future customers weren’t deterred.
“They just said, ‘OK, I’ll come back,’” Smith said.
“The Stand” is the latest name for a business that has been identified with summers in Iron County for decades. Many people here have memories of pulling up to the drive-in for a cold mug of frothy root beer or a root beer float on a warm summer evening.
Those nostalgic memories are part of the community’s enthusiastic response to the reopening.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Smith said. “I think people missed it. I’ve heard from people that they’re really happy it’s open again. They missed being able to stop and have some ice cream.”
Ice cream and root beer may be the staples of The Stand, but there’s also a variety of hamburgers and hot dogs and side items like French fries, onion rings, cheese curds, deep fried pickle spears and nachos to satisfy the appetite.
But of course the charm of old-fashioned drive-ins across the country starts with ice cream and root beer. The Stand serves soft serve and hand-dipped cones, shakes and malts, floats, flurries, banana splits, sundaes and a variety of sodas.
For the kids, there are hot fudge dirt cups. And if a four-legged passenger happens to be along for the ride, The Stand offers a doggy sundae -- vanilla ice cream with a doggy treat.
Former Iron River resident Bob Rometti bought the business, which was called Fizzy’s in its most recent incarnation, last October. Rometti said old memories, in part, sparked his interest in bringing back the root beer stand.
“We all went there as kids,” said Rometti, who lived in Mineral Hills and graduated from West Iron County in 1976. “My dad [Ernest] used to take us there all the time.”
Rometti, who now lives near Kansas City, Kan., said he also wanted to try to help his hometown through some rough economic times.
“I just wanted to reopen it and bring some jobs, because I grew up there and everything seems to be leaving now. I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something, Iron River could certainly use it.’”
So Rometti turned to Smith to manage his new business. The pair has known each other for years through Smith’s other place of employment, Riverside Pizzeria.
“Last year, he started discussing doing something for Iron River, doing something fun and investing in the town he grew up in,” Smith said. “So we started throwing around some ideas, and when this place became available, we thought it would be a lot of fun.”
After the purchase, the building and equipment needed cleaning and some repair, so Rometti hired Chicaugon Lake Builders to coordinate the work, which included the physical cleaning, wiring and refrigeration.
The log cabin appearance and the mountain man logo from the old Fizzy’s were kept. The name change was rather simple, Smith said.
“I’ve always called it, ‘the root beer stand’ so we kind of wanted to play off that.”
Once all the prep work was complete, the business was officially reborn on June 11. The first week The Stand served only ice cream but added food items during the second week of operation. Now the menu covers dinner and dessert.
The Stand offers fresh ground meat from Meyers Wholesale and has its buns baked fresh daily by Jubilee Foods. The onion rings are hand-battered.
“We try to do as much as we can that’s fresh, so it does take a little longer (to prepare),” Smith said. “But the end product is very worth it.”
The Stand employees 16 people, and the car hops are both female and male (one of which is Smith’s son Andrew), while Smith oversees the operation.
“People think it’s awesome that we have some boys out front, too,” Smith said.
Customers can also leave their cars and sit at one of the three picnic tables stationed in front of the building.
The hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day except Sunda, when The Stand is open from noon to 10 p.m.
The grill runs until 8 p.m., but Smith said they’re considering going later in the coming days.
Like other drive-ins, The Stand’s hours are weather- dependent, but there’s been only one day so far that The Stand has closed early because of poor weather.
Smith said plans are to keep the business open at least through September, with the hopes of adding another month if the fall weather cooperates.
Next year, Smith said The Stand will open as early as possible in the spring.
“I’ve already had people ask if we’re going to be open in the winter because they still want to get the food,” Smith said. “And that is not outside the realm of possibility.”
In the meantime, The Stand is enjoying a robust return to Iron County, as business has been booming.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with how wonderful everything has gone,” Smith said. “Everyone has just embraced it.”