Author Archive | Katharine Millonzi

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Everything is Transformed

A new era for Bartlett House

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROY GUMPEL

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“You should never sit comfortably in business; you must always be keeping alert, keeping current.” Lev Glazman snaps closed his eyeglass case and reaches for his sunglasses. When Glazman and Alina Roytberg opened their first neighborhood shop selling beauty products in 1991, neither imagined they would go on to grow the then Boston-based apothecary business into Fresh, a global beauty brand.

Flash forward to 2013, Kennebunkport, Maine, where a friend introduced Glazman to Damien Janowicz at a party. “The world shuddered!” Janowicz laughs. This fateful meeting connected two men both ready to merge their strengths into a mutual vision of hospitality. Glazman was impressed with what Maine Magazine aptly called Janowicz’s “polished ease,” a characteristic that had graced guests during his management of the properties of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection. “We discovered that we viewed the world in the same way, and we share a desire to act on our passions.”

Now all three business partners, Glazman, Janowicz and Roytberg, are a modern trifecta bonded by a sense of curiosity and inspiration, each one contributing expertise to their concept, taking the art of hospitality to a whole new level.

Should the word “hospitality” conjure up sterile hotel management courses or marketing acumen, think again. The team started out by spending a year developing personal mission statements and core values that drive their high-level concept. Before they found a physical space for their venture, they rooted themselves, and their business, within an intentional operational structure that demonstrates integrity, accountability and spirit.

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The bakery at Bartlett House

Historic Decision

Bartlett House, a four-story utilitarian brick building built in the 1870s along Route 66 in the town of Ghent, had operated as a railroad hotel for the New York Harlem and Hudson and Boston Railroads until about 1948. After the rail line was abandoned, the crowds disappeared and the hotel fell into many years of disuse. This national historic site had sat vacant for 11 years before Glazman, Janowicz and Roytberg laid their eyes on it. The building, complete with central location and 19th-century charm, was a perfect venue to house all of the components of their vision: a bakery, a dining room, offices and an apartment for team members. “When we saw Bartlett House, we saw our dream come alive,” says Roytberg. “It’s our hub of creativity, collaboration and companionship.”

Glazman’s eyes light up when he describes the experience of doing business together as a family thus far. Under Janowicz’s genial stewardship, business decisions are made according to what guests want. This approach is working—since opening in July 2016, there has been a line out the door for the straightforward but sophisticated, well-prepared food served out of their state-of-the-art kitchen and in-house European style bakery and café. The space is exceptionally warm and inviting and walks that line between country chic and rustic opulence.

If the promise of contentment does lie in the details, not a single one was overlooked during the complete redesign-build project undertaken in 2015. No corner was cut, and no compromise made during the revitalization of the rectangular, terracotta-colored brick landmark building. While the interior was gutted and restored to original quality, a quote from Antoine Lavoisier, an 18th-century French chemist, printed on the scaffolding cover read: “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed,” assuring passersby of the good things to come.

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The three house visionaries: Damian Janowicz, Alina Roytberg, and Lev Glazman

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The aesthetic of Bartlett House feels instinctive and immediate. The team has designed the new elements to feel as if they were in the building all along. The visuals knit together eclectic furniture and light fixtures in a way to re-create a landmark feel to the place. The colors of the Bartlett House exterior, brick, off-white and black, dictated the color palette for the interior, and the classic late-19thcentury American typeface lettering on the building is a recurring motif. To create the dining room wallpaper, Peter Fasano, a printmaker from Great Barrington, assembled a collection of vintage silkscreen blocks. Among them was a botanical design that was re-scaled and re-colored as the central element of the print. To deepen the texture of the environment, another wallpaper in the back of the café, this one made from recycled newsprint, adds a level of personality to the room and serves as a suitable background for an antique Dutch wall phone and the early century copper sconce. The ceramic tile used on the café counter brought a notable visual design code to life; the blossom print is utilized on in-house packaging and labels. The result is a space in which each piece of the puzzle has a rich individual tale grounded in the collective human story and history of the area. The tenor of the dining room and café is high; the quality of the materials provoke discussion and invoke travel.

The community is as proud of Bartlett House as the team is. People come to the Bartlett House as a weekend ritual, bring their guests and their families and leave feeling emotionally charged by the experience. “Like a love affair!” exclaims Glazman. Supporting the social and economic growth in their immediate community is a core principle of the company and taps into something the team feels strongly about: reciprocity. In hospitality, you take care of those you need, a demanding but ultimately enriching undertaking. The journey of bringing the building back to life was met with a very strong community welcome; one woman even came in with flowers to thank them for their thoughtfulness in reviving the structure and simply for being there.

Photographs of the Bartlett House by Walker Evans, the famed mid-century photographer and photojournalist, in the 1930s depict train tracks just meters in front of the front doors, telling of the town’s earlier days as a place shaped by the railroad and the traffic it brought. Ghent is a town with a visible sense of history, but what the revival of the Bartlett House has ensured is that functional yesterdays will have a beautiful future. Certainly from the food perspective, the central stopping place is better than it’s ever been.

Ghent is a town with a visible sense of
history, but what the revival of the
Bartlett House has ensured is that functional
yesterdays will have a beautiful future.

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Woolen blankets provided during the colder months for those that want to dine on the porch

Bread and Butter

Sitting empty for many years was good advertising for the Bartlett House. Word spread of the revived eatery, as irresistible aromas of baking traditions, including exquisite breads, and reimagined pastries, such as the pear rosewater muffin, began wafting out onto the streets of Ghent. Bartlett House has quickly become a destination for breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch. With a particular focus on sourcing locally, the establishment serves skillet dishes, soups, salads and sandwiches. Coffee and tea are an essential aspect of the Bartlett House experience. Dedicated to serving the best coffee beans they could find, the team selected to work with Sightglass, a San Francisco–based company specializing in sustainable harvests that ships freshly roasted beans weekly. A selection of 18 fine organic teas brings classic Japanese tea rituals to life, and makes for dynamic, aromatic moments.… Read More

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Decamping to Points North

Gaskins lands in Germantown

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Owners Nick and Sarah Suarez standing before their labor of love, Gaskins

PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTINE ASHBURN

Promptly upon completion of an MBA at New York University, Nick Suarez enrolled in night classes at the French Culinary Institute. Nick’s love of food was inspired by family vacations and by his father, a 1980s commercial tabletop film director (those who provided images of milk bouncing off of bowls of cereal on TV commercials). He followed this love of all things epicurean and took a job in the tasting department at Wine Spectator. Not only fun, this job was also handy for charming his new sweetheart, Sarah Gaskins, with nice bottles of bubbly. When the two met in 2009, Sarah’s résumé was formidable, stacked with hefty management experience in Brooklyn’s top restaurants—Beer Table, Franny’s, Marlow & Sons and Diner. Her sights, set on becoming second- in-command in restaurateur Andrew Tarlow’s dynasty, changed when she met Nick. With few to no overlapping nights off, dating life as two people in the restaurant industry became impractical, and the now married couple soon realized that the only way to have a sustainable life together was to start something together—out of the city.

Seeing that even big names in the industry could barely afford New York City rents, the couple realized that opening the mom-and-pop joint they envisioned for themselves would mean owning their own building.

“I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 16, it’s the only kind of job I’ve ever really had. Was I sure I had it all down?!” Sarah laughs, and looks over at her now husband and business partner. “But,” Nick chimes in, leaning over the table, “nobody trains you in where to put the stove so the kitchen flows. And nothing prepared us for Day One.” Opening night as head chef in his own restaurant was Nick’s first night as chef anywhere. “Scariest day of my life! Sheer fear.”

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It seems people reach a certain point in the lives
when they want to figure out what they need
to do in order to make themselves happy—
the creative, craft-based surge we are witnessing
here is the result of that moment across
a particular generation

Window Shopping

Before they even laid eyes on what would become Gaskins, their commanding blue-painted restaurant in the center of Germantown, the couple spent a year of Tuesdays and Wednesdays (their weekend) searching for a place. They peered into closed midweek windows of many upstate eateries, ate at many others and schemed and dreamed about a satisfying post-Brooklyn chapter of their lives. They cast a wide net; after considering Portland, Maine, the Berkshires, the Catskills and Western New York, they zeroed in on the Hudson Valley. The corner building they bought met all of their criteria: on Main Street, with accommodations (they now live above the restaurant), in a town with at least one peer business (which they found in Germantown’s beloved food market Otto’s), close to the Amtrak station and in an untapped zone between already restaurant-rich Tivoli and Hudson, Germantown really needed and wanted a restaurant: a perfect match. “Ironically, now we are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays!” says Sarah. “I see people peering in through our windows, and I think of where we were just a couple of years ago.”

The hardest decision? Naming the place. After hearing many a suggestion shot down, one of the designers proposed they go with the title of the contractor’s job ticket—Gaskins. At first hesitant, Sarah then agreed that using her maiden surname, Gaskins (which she changed to Suarez after marriage) would act as a sweet homage to her father, a gourmet himself who passed away when Sarah was young. “I was a picky eater, and I wanted to work. So my father got me my first job at a little French restaurant, saying he would only let me work there if I ate anything they cooked for me. I did.”

Open Doors

Nick and Sarah’s story may not sound unique these days, for those of us familiar with the perceived culinary exodus from NYC—a young, entrepreneurial couple in food moves to the Hudson Valley in hopes to make their own way, and to have a life on their own terms. Undeniably, the valley abounds with signs of the movement. Nick and Sarah Suarez are of it, and they are successful examples of it—but their success should not be seen as inevitable. Rather, it is the result of two hardworking individuals who, through their desire to be in service to farmers and to hospitality, have created a formula whereby their restaurant coaxes and promotes the good out of the human and natural environment around them.

The two are motivated by the challenge of how to continue to open themselves up to their customers, by how they can truly become part of a community. The couple began their Hudson Valley lives by operating an events company called Backyard Catering, which allowed them, during the yearlong design-build process of Gaskins, to share their name and vision through neighborhood and civic events. They cooked for the fire department fund-raiser and sponsored and entered the Hudson Valley Bounty Chili Contest (they came in second). They invited friends to come help scrape floors of their yet-to-be-opened restaurant. This considered approach to outreach and promotion made Gaskins a hub before it even opened, and, they believe, established a more inclusive dynamic than the practice of keeping the windows papered until opening night.

Savvy, yes, but most of their efforts, Sarah explains, arose out of their simple newfound pleasure of not working nights. “We actually had time to meet people! Before the community could have a reaction to the restaurant or food, people could react to us. The creation of community for ourselves and for the restaurant was simultaneous, and that was a true luxury.”

Having done their time in the competitive New York City restaurant industry, they were encouraged by the enthusiasm they met among the Hudson Valley business community. The two are dedicated to a vision of a rising tide lifting all boats. Beyond the necessity of running a business in the black, they aren’t interested in necessarily setting themselves apart from the wave; they understand the social phenomenon that they are part of, and, Sarah says, wholly embrace it. “It seems people reach a certain point in their lives when they want to figure out what they need to do in order to make themselves happy—the creative, craft-based surge we are witnessing here is the result of that moment across a particular generation. I don’t think it’s Hudson Valley specific. We wanted to have personal health and happiness—including (gasp!) vacations in Ecuador where Nick’s family is originally from—to count as part of our success. That is harder and harder to do that in all cities, not just New York City.”

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A plate of golden tilefish from Montauk
with fennel and carrot puree

Market Driven

As they adapt to the valley’s pace, Nick and Sarah strive to retain key values and standards of their big city mentors, at a scale adjusted for a small restaurant. While some dreams, such as whole animal purchasing, aren’t yet possible due to space and processing capacity, what is attainable is a network of intimate relationships with farmers and suppliers.… Read More

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Betting the Farm

Making agritourism the flavor of the Hudson Valley

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Illustrations by Lucy Engelman

As an imagined source of refuge, and remediation, “the countryside” has long gripped our collective imagination. Indeed, the idea of the country underpins the historic popularity of agritourism, the practice of touring farms and participating in farm activities, which dates to the late 1800s. As cities and their correspondent woes grew, urbanites fled to recuperate among rural relatives. In the 1920s, with the invention of the automobile and an expanded road network, New Yorkers took up travel to rural areas with gusto, especially as other forms of re-creation dwindled during the Great Depression and World War II.

Today, we continue to fill the 19th-century prescription to “take some air” as part of our recuperative agendas. We believe that farms help us reaffirm our bond with the natural scheme of things. Against refrains of alienation in an increasingly digital world, the current surge in agritourism reflects our dogged impulse to re-ground. Suddenly, we not only want to know where our food comes from but also just how the field biology of our CSA relates to our inner landscapes. We want to talk about sustainability, yes, but more so to know how it sounds, smells, feels and tastes. Even if it’s dirty and unglamorous. And we are willing to pay to find out.

Over the past year, interviews with over 30 agritourism entrepreneurs in the Hudson Valley have revealed compelling findings. The particular incentive that jumps out is the one shared by visitors to farms: the desire to reconnect. Apparently, we go to work, or stay or eat on farms seeking a connectedness that we sense has been lost. We are hungry to step out of our daily lives and experience different and, we imagine, better ways of being. We tell ourselves that if we “get away” for a little while, we might be OK, maybe even flourish. If we go someplace where the air is clean, and the living cleaner, perhaps then we would come to our senses, by activating our senses.

PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION

There are many pursuits categorized as agritourism in the Hudson Valley. Traditionally, these enterprises include: outdoor recreation (fishing, hunting, wildlife study, horseback riding); entertainment (harvest festivals or barn dances); and on-farm direct sales (pickyour- own operations or roadside stands). However, the emerging agritourism ventures tend to show more rigor and intent in a different way, with a focus on: educational experiences (skills workshops/classes); hospitality services (farmstays, guided tours); on-farm weddings (venue rental); and culinary tourism (farm dinners, tasting events).

The new agritourism paradigm is an entrepreneurial merger of the hospitality, educational, and agricultural sectors—three sectors just getting to know one another in many ways. The type of farm where this occurs is marked by a communications approach that synchronizes the tourism sector with the craft–oriented aesthetic of sustainable agriculture. The character of this aesthetic reflects simplicity, authenticity and abundance. This type of emerging agritourism also mirrors environmental values and land-use management practices; according to research done at Glynwood in Cold Spring, over 60% of the farms offering guest experiences in the Hudson Valley are found on ecologically managed properties, revealing an ethos of sustainability and the sort of practices that lure city folk and the like away from their urban experience.

The principle of the new agritourism is participation. Moving away from the entertainment-based “hands-off ” approach (e.g., visiting a corn maze) and gravitating toward on-farm hosting, agritourism ventures in the Hudson Valley are shifting to programs that promote sensory education. As a crossroads of artistic, scientific and physiological knowledge, farms grow more than food; they also cultivate an experiential reality people crave. New agritourism caters to a new brand of agritourists—engaged, conscious eaters that want to learn while they habituate. In a world of instant fixes and self-proclaimed experts, farms, and farmers, offer an antidote: a substantive life rooted in time, craftsmanship and soil.

RECIPROCITY

For the group of lawyers who recently signed up for Stone & Thistle Farm’s “Farmer for a Day” program, the upshot of their search for reconnection was entirely expected. Upon the group’s arrival, farm proprietor Denise Warren informed the men that the day’s activity was to assist in castrating young piglets. A standard farm duty, perhaps, but this formative visceral experience of their pork dinner shook the young city lawyers to the core. “You should have seen the look on their faces!” laughs Warren. “Especially when they remembered that they were paying for it!”

Generally speaking, agritourism allows farmers to diversify their operations, spread financial risk and, in many cases, keep family farmland in production. The majority of hosted activities rely primarily on family members to operate. While only a supplemental source of income for most farms, agritourism supplies important seasonal income—on average it could amount to a third of a farm’s total revenue. For many farmers, the hospitality component of their businesses, even something as simple as farm tours, has become sufficient enough that it “is impossible to stop doing.” Farmers also consider the nonfinancial benefits of agritourism integral to the overall viability of their enterprise, as it raises awareness as well as regard for the farming enterprise. Most farmers say that opening their doors makes the farm feel like a vibrant center of reciprocity, rather than an isolated entity.

Farmstays, when individuals are hosted right on the farm with room and board as well as an expectation to join in the effort, offer guests the opportunity to expand their educational day on the farm into a weekend or sometimes a week. Farmstays are the most underrepresented areas of agritourism, though this niche has great prospects.

East Coast farmstay pioneers in on-farm accommodation, such as Kinderhook Farm and Sprout Creek Farm, enjoy full occupancy rates each season. Lodging type and luxury level range from high-end farmhouses, such as Mud Creek Farm in Livingston, New York, to renovated barns, to “glamping” tents, such as those available to guests at Stony Creek Farm in Walton, New York. Their tagline, “Let your family free range” says it all. Farmstays in the Hudson Valley are available for nightly or weekly stays at average prices of $150 to $500 per night and $1,500 to $3000 per week.

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Alongside investment,
the new expression of
on-farm hospitality requires
new sets of skills, which is
often a stretch for those
more accustomed to
dealing with livestock
rather than tourists.

AG AND MARKETS

Ten years ago, The New York Times called the Hudson Valley the Napa of the East. The region is replete with entrepreneurial farmers making high-quality artisanal foods and, in turn, receives lots of tourism press. The majority of Hudson Valley farms interested in hosting guests have the advantage of proximity to a large metropolitan area with multitudes of potential customers, as well as the personalities for promoting their business. Agritourism contributes toward goals of land conservation, environmental education and even food security as it fills empty tourist beds, contributes to on-farm livelihoods and translates the region’s best natural assets into the regenerative economic ones. While hardly a panacea for the complex food and farm viability issues we face, agritourism can supply a path toward sustainable, regional economic development.

Yet, despite such a range of benefits to farmers and tourists alike, the sector remains noticeably underdeveloped, this is partially due to the investment needed, as it is not enough to just open your doors to the public.… Read More

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