What is Making Us Happy

left: barista; right: sandwich

WHAT IS MAKING US HAPPY

Warm Vibes of Oriole 9 and Yum Yum in Woodstock

BY BETHANY SALTMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JENNIFER MAY

The first few times I went to Oriole 9 in Woodstock, I was stunned by the food. A salad that consisted of a giant bowl of arugula with nutty Parmesan, olive oil and a lemon wedge perched on the side. Utterly simple, but astoundingly good. The same could be said for a pressed pork Cuban sandwich I shared with my family, as well as a near-perfect cup of French-press coffee and the freshly baked croissants served with a little Chinese soup spoon full of accompanying jam. Damn precious and delicious.

So after countless visits, I knew the food was top notch. And I then heard about Project Roots, Oriole 9’s collaboration with Woodstock Day School, a community garden that supplies the kitchen with some of their produce, and is a way for the local kids to participate in the local economy. My adoration was growing. Then I read about how Oriole 9 received two stars this past January from the Green Dining Association for adhering to the best practices in environmental awareness. And over the years, I have seen the menu at Oriole 9 evolve, changing its approach and flavor with the seasons, and yet, remaining remarkably consistent. I had also found the service refreshingly relaxed, but still alert enough to seem happy, lacking in the standard too-cool-for-this-job attitude often paired with forward-looking food. In other words, I knew that Oriole 9 was more than just the sum of its parts—it was a great, and fully realized, restaurant.

It wasn’t until I started spending more time at Oriole 9 on a regular basis, though, that I discovered something even more exceptional and unexpected. This is a place to truly hang out, where one single cup of tea is a good enough reason for an extended stay, laptop plugged in, conducting business, meeting friends, what have you. And if you get hungry, there just happens to be an artichoke stuffed with truffled scrambled eggs in waiting. It’s what Starbucks wants to be, but will assuredly never manage to pull off. And it’s not just because Starbucks food is wrapped in cellophane and at best subpar. It’s that no matter how hard a corporate-sponsored home away from home might try to replicate that elusive sense of place, real live, heartfelt hospitality is unmistakable, and so much better. And that’s what Luc Moeys and Nina Moeys-Paturel, owners of Oriole 9, have been bringing to the Hudson Valley since 2004. They say they do it because it’s “what makes us happy.” All I can say is, I’m happy they’re happy.

Worlds Collide

Nina and Luc both come from food families, and parents who understood the value and appeal of a well-executed meal. Luc, who was born and raised in Holland, learned about food from his father who was in the agriculture business. His mom, a French teacher, also worked in restaurants and cooked at home. His family regularly enjoyed long meals together of, say, a grilled leg of lamb or big bowl of mussels cooked in white wine, leeks and garlic, placed in the middle of the table, with bread to soak up every last bit of the broth. He began cooking at 18, and was then classically trained in both the French and classic Italian traditions and worked with master chefs throughout Europe.

Nina grew up in Woodstock restaurants. Her parents ran Café Espresso in Woodstock in the 1960s, which was one of the original coffeehouses of the area, hosting locals such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez back in the day. They also started the Bear Café and Gypsy Wolf. Nina remained in Woodstock, working in restaurants and as a weaver at the local shop Loominus, until George W. Bush was reelected president in 2004. Because of the developing political climate here in the States, she decided to take advantage of her Italian citizenship originating from both her parents, which allowed her to live in Europe. So she went to Amsterdam.

Almost immediately, Nina’s job search in Amsterdam took her to a restaurant/club called the Chocolate Bar, where she met Luc who was running the kitchen. That was May 2004. Five months later, the couple moved back to the U.S., married soon after, and then opened up Café With Love in Saugerties in 2006. Their son Mila was just a baby, but that didn’t stop them from opening another, more ambitious venture, Oriole 9, in Woodstock, named after the original phone exchange for Woodstock (679=OR9). As restaurateurs, Nina and Luc are fearless. When they say things like, “we’re not here just to take your money, we’re here to serve you,” they mean it. Their goal is to bring hospitality back, for its own sake. In fact, Nina says, “When we stopped worrying about making money, everything fell into place.” And Luc adds, “It became fun again.”

The Moeys-Paturel modest empire sold Café With Love in 2007 (which has since closed), but in 2010 added Yum Yum Noodle Bar in Woodstock, a pan-Asian noodle house, with chef-operator Erica Mahlkuch. The team will open another Yum Yum Noodle Bar in Kingston in January 2012, as well as Yum Yum On Wheels, which is essentially a portable noodle party. With 48 hours notice, they will deliver a noodle-fest to your venue of choice. All things considered, it sounds like the kind of life that would put a lot of pressure on even the most even-keeled restaurateur, and yet Nina and Luc seem utterly relaxed.

Feed by Example

Nina and Luc are the first to admit that their staff is the key to their success—and to their ability to have a life outside their multiple work obligations. They trust their team to take on many of the responsibilities of running the restaurant. Everybody does a little bit of everything, from making sure the food is served as the customer desires, to less desirable tasks like maintaining the bathrooms. In hiring, “we totally ignore resumes,” Nina says; instead, she believes that when they hire the right person with the right attitude, “they’ll figure it out.” Unlike the setup in most restaurants where there is a very clear (and often contentious) split between the kitchen and servers, the waitstaff is instructed not to rely on the old “the kitchen will fix it” routine. Instead, the staff is routinely trained in problem solving, going over the variety of concerns that can arise in a shift, and taking a post-factum look at what the server did to fix the problem and how the process could have been improved. Beyond a simple platitude like “the customer is always right,” Nina and Luc strive to create an empowered workplace where employees are well paid and happy. And that appears to be the theme of their success: happiness.

As we all know, the restaurant business is tough and debilitating, and the rates of success are pretty gloomy in any economy. Maybe it’s an inherent Woodstock thing, to be able to sit down with the two people who have beat the odds big time, and to talk an inordinate amount of time about how to harness and trust the good kind of energy. The other day I was in Oriole 9 when a rush hit, out of nowhere. Luc came out from the kitchen and started bussing tables and seating guests. When I asked him about it later, and why he thought they were so busy on a random Wednesday at 11:00 a.m., he said, “I don’t believe in God, but it’s a blessing.” Whatever it is, it’s working.

ORIOLE 9
17 Tinker Street, Woodstock
oriole9.com

YUM YUM NOODLE BAR
4 Rock City Road, Woodstock
yumyumnoodlebar.com

“This is a place to truly hang, where one single cup
of tea is a good enough reason for an
extended stay,
laptop plugged in, conducting business,
meeting friends, what have you.”

coffee

Yum Yum Noodle Shop

“When we stopped worrying about making
money, everything fell into place.”

noodles
The inviting warmth of Yum Yum Noodle Shop,
just across the street from Oriole 9.

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