Friday, August 31, 2007

Fire Mountain - Ryans Alter Ego

Ryans Buffet chain has several locations named Fire Mountain. They are scattered all over - some in the same state and can be found listed as Ryans with Fire Mountain included in the name. I am not sure why. There may have been another buffet chain that Ryans took over some time ago - or there was a conflict of some kind in using the Ryans name at that location. I have heard that Ryans is changing these Fire Mountain locations over to the Ryans name, but not all have been changed over yet. Never the less, I have always wanted to try a Fire Mountain just to see if there was any difference. I finally got and took the opportunity.

Searching for a buffet in the Hershey, Pennsylvania area (yes, the town where the chocolate comes from) I could only find Chinese buffets. I was looking for something different and knew that there is a Ryans in the Carlisle, PA area just about thirty miles away. Finding a hot spot we fired up the laptop and checked the Ryans site for the address. Yes, there was a Ryans listed in Mechanicsburg, PA just outside of Carlisle. We plugged the address into the GPS and off we went. As we arrived in the general locale we started looking for the Ryans' sign. My wife thought that she saw it up ahead but when we got close we did not see a sign that said Ryans but, rather, a sign that said Fire Mountain.

The outside of the restaurant was basically the same as Ryans. We entered and the lobby area and cashiers were basically the same, but as we got into the dining room there was a definite difference. Instead of the usual Ryans layout, there were two dining rooms, one on each side of the entrance. The buffet servers were differently arranged and split between both sides - cold and desserts on one side and hot on the other - with the grill in the middle. Another immediate difference was that we were told to seat ourselves - something that we have never been told in the many Ryans that we have been in. The decor was basically the same and at first glance the food was basically the same. Oh, and there were signs all over for "Steak, Steak, Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp" with Fire Mountain and the Ryans name small at the bottom. So, the Old Country Buffet owners of this corporation had spread their influence here- and, sadly, were featuring the "why bother?" feature. Here the feature is seven nights a week - at OCB it is only six nights.

We sat ourselves and the server came over to collect our receipt, see what soft drinks we ordered, and ask if we would like a basket of the same rolls that are served on the buffet table - just like at Ryans.

The layout of the buffet servers was different - as I said, but it was also smaller. Where at Ryans there are servers that are three trays deep and double-sized, here (at this location at least) the servers were two trays deep and single-sized. Hmm, less serving space - less to serve? Actually, yes. As we began to select entrees and sides we noticed that many of the items that are standard on the buffet at other Ryans (and we have been to these at all different nights of the week) were missing. Where the taco bar at Ryans is always next to the grill - here it was on an end of one of the hot servers taking space that would have been filled with more food items at Ryans. There is usually a baked potato bar with toppings - none here (there were baked potatoes and you could certainly find toppings at the salad bar - but there was a definite difference. I rarely have a problem finding a large selection to choose from of meats and prepared hot dishes, but here at Fire Mountain, while there was a generous assortment, it was not Ryans assortment given the missing items. A minor example - usually there are French fries - here none. Usually, there are garlic mashed potatoes - here just regular mashed potatoes. Usually, at the grill there is smoked sausage - not here. All that was on the grill was steak. Now, the steak was up to Ryans standard and very good. Both pieces that I had were properly cooked and very tasty. There is usually a noodles dish - or several, here none, with the exception of spaghetti.

The salad bar and soups were the same and there was the same good assortment as is found at Ryans.

The bakery/dessert area had less as well. Ryans usually has two different chocolate cakes - here none. There were several cakes, hot desserts, cookies, fruit, soft serve and the same candy toppings that Ryans puts next to the ice cream section. There are more cakes and pies at Ryans.

This all seemed to be a mini-Ryans or a pseudo-Ryans. It was good, but it needed more on the hot buffet. So is the difference between the two names a difference of what is offered - or how much is offered. The price seemed the same - though this varies by Ryans locations - though this restaurant may have been a dollar less. I would rather pay the extra dollar and get the larger assortment.

As to the layout of the restaurant, my wife wondered if this had once been a Golden Corral because the dining room layout was very similar, The grill area was distinctly Ryans, though, and I feel that this was Ryans or Fire Mountain built. Looking at a Golden Corral since dining at this Fire Mountain, I am still not sure.

There are not many Fire Mountain restaurants - and they are listed interchangably with Ryans on the same Ryans website. We were in South Carolina and found a Fire Mountain listed and went there only to find that it is now named Ryans -and it was very much like other Ryans that we have been to. If you have a choice head for Ryans. If Fire Mountain is what there is where you are at the moment then it is the next best thing - just a smaller good thing.

4 comments:

Robert A said...

***UPDATE***

I went back to the Fire Mountain in Mechanicsburg, PA to give it another try. I found myself in that area again and sometimes a passable buffet meal is better than no buffet at all. So - The offerings were more limited. A change has taken place since my last visit which actually was about a month and a half ago - now the silverware in in bins on two of the buffet servers - not next to them, but in them - taking away several spaces that once held food. No longer does the hostess seat you with your silverware placed on the table. (This is now distinctly like Old Country Buffet.) Getting your own silverware is not the problem - but taking food space away is in this buffet with a fewer buffet servers than most. Both my wife and I had problems finding not only entrees but also side dishes to eat. Even desserts were limited in selection.

There was no labeling on anything now and everything was a guess. Food trays when empty were not refilled in a reasonable amount of time, if they were refilled at all. Only at OCB have I experienced this - never at Ryans or Golden Corral. Remember Fire Mountain is Ryans - and now it too is owned by OCB.

Having been to a few Golden Corrals on my journeys between visits to the Mechanicsburg Fire Mountain, this restaurant definately had been a Golden Corral at one time - the interior architecture is the same as Golden Corral - and unlike Ryans.

I had said that this is a smaller good alternative to Ryans in my original article - I have to say now that no, it is not really. I wish I had driven the extra twenty five miles or so further south to the Ryans in Chambersburg, PA. It would have been worth the extra mileage.

Anonymous said...

Oh the downsizing of workers at ryans is a part of Old Country Buffets plans to turn Ryan's into A profitabe business.

and about the Fire Mountain brand was Ryans trying to change their Brand Image.. Which OCB had also tried With The Hometown Buffet Name but failed

Anonymous said...

We have been to the Fire Mountain in Mechanicsburg, PA several times, and each time I say I will never go back. A coworker keeps telling us it's better now, and we go back to same crap, the last time we were there it was like getting to the party late - food all over the floor, serving trays empty, or food all chopped up like kids were having a food fight - a bit disgusting. It is one of the the worst buffets we tried. The buffet by the hotel in Lancaster, Harvest View? was another not so good place, and the Golden Coral in Waynesboro wasn't a lot better. On the other hand we like the Golden Coral in Lebanon, love Yoders, Hershey Farm restaurant, Shady Maple, Dienner's Country Restaurant, and the Mountain gate in Thurmont, the Mountain Gate in Waynesboro is not as good for us, although it is just as nice a building.

Robert A said...

It is not surprising that this Fire Mountain has gone down hill with Buffets,Inc. ownership now and Old Country Buffet style management. I was there in mid-2008 and it was just marginal at that time.

The Harvest View in Lancaster was closed permanently in 2008. A new restaurant may be moving into that building - though I have had no word on that.