When Arby’s reopens in Harrison, the big news won’t be the return of beef ’n cheddars and curly fries -- it’s going to be the bathrooms.
Getting to the bathrooms there meant going outside and around to the back of the building. With the new building, they’ll be inside.
“It was extremely challenging to get the bathrooms inside the building,” franchise owner Jim Noble said. “That was our biggest challenge.”
But, he said, “we had inconvenienced customers so much with the bathrooms being outside, it was past time to get it taken care of and fix that problem.”
Noble expects the restaurant on Freeport Road in Natrona Heights to reopen by the end of the month .
Noble said his family has owned the restaurant for 50 years. They also own an Arby’s in Johnstown.
Arby’s has 3,415 restaurants worldwide. Of those, most -- 2,340 -- are franchise-owned, while 1,075 are company-owned.
Noble said the Natrona Heights location was probably among the first 100 built.
Having the bathrooms accessed from outside was by design.
“All of the original Arby’s were built the same,” he said. “There were no drive-thrus at that time. The franchises were relatively young and there were not very many of them. The business model wasn’t very developed.”
The building had been remodeled three other times in its five decades, including bumping out the front to get more seating. This time, about 75 percent of the building has been demolished, leaving only the kitchen standing.
Noble said the new building will be quite different and much more modern looking, but will be about the same size with the same amount of seating.
“It’s going to be worlds apart,” he said.
While based on a current Arby’s model, Noble said he had to get custom plans drawn up, because the new Arby’s buildings are wider and would not fit on the space he has available.
Noble is doing much more work than he originally planned on, and more of the building ended up getting torn down.
“Once we started peeling back parts of the building, it became apparent we needed to rethink the project and go deeper,” he said. “The building codes 50 years ago were not the way the codes are now. For us to try to get things up to the current code, we had to do much more extensive work than we thought.”
Noble wouldn’t comment on what his original plans were.
Based on the original plans submitted to the township, the initial plan was to wall-in the “four seasons room” -- the glass area at the front of the former building -- and to enclose the sidewalk along its side, making it an interior hallway to get back to the bathrooms, said Lindsay Fraser, Harrison’s zoning and ordinance officer. The kitchen and bathrooms would also be reconfigured slightly.
“There were some structural deficiencies that came to light as the renovation got started,” she said. “It required taking a different path and more demolition of the existing structure than anticipated.”
Noble said the restaurant’s employees will be brought back and are being paid through the down time.
Noble said construction will start next week, and walls will be going up quickly.
“It will be fun to watch,” he said.
He wanted to thank customers for being patient.
“We’re looking forward to serving everybody when we get up and running,” he said. “We’re looking forward to opening the new building so our customers can enjoy the nicer atmosphere, the more comfortable atmosphere, and enjoy our indoor restrooms.”