off to the Chef: Ric Orlando surveys the Bistro’s kitchen.
You Want to Run a Restaurant?
restaurateurs spill the beans on what it takes to put food
on the table
was a “soft opening.” Ric Orlan do’s return to Albany, the
New World Bistro Bar (300 Delaware Ave.), quietly welcomed
its first customers this week. On the first day, Orlando buzzes
about the kitchen, tasting and correcting the sweet potato
mash, streamlining the pantry prep station, sharing a taste
of his signature menudo (a tripe and posole stew).
An electrician works in the middle of the kitchen, fixing
the steam table’s outlet.
course I have time to talk to you,” Orlando insists.
Running a restaurant is a peculiar dream, misunderstood by
the many who succumb to the charm of good food and hospitality
without glimpsing the ferocious behind-the-scenes work. Many
years ago, when I was cooking professionally and trying to
assemble enough money to replace a dead car, I hitchhiked
to work and back. Every other person who picked me up reacted
to my destination by saying, “You know, as soon as I retire,
I’m going to open a restaurant.” I hope for their sakes that
the madness passed.
But thank goodness that there are talented, determined individuals
who nevertheless pursue that dream. Three of our finest area
chefs have opened (or will open) in the Albany area recently,
and they shared their advice and experiences. Of course, I
was talking to hospitality professionals, none of whom were
going to say anything remotely negative about the business,
other restaurants, or you.
Orlando made a local reputation at Justin’s, and then opened
New World Home Cooking Co. in the Woodstock area 15 years
ago. He’s long talked about opening an Albany branch, and
is now able to do so in partnership with Spectrum Theater
co-owners Annette Nanes and Scott Meyer.
They bought the site of a plumbing supply store when it closed
in 2003. “We always believed that the Spectrum should have
a full-service restaurant and bar to complement the Spectrum,”
As to the actuality of getting such a place up and running:
“It was more complicated than I would have thought,” she says,
“especially as we’re concurrently running another business.
I thought I was good at multitasking, and keeping six or seven
projects going simultaneously. Now I can do twice that number.”
Orlando has been commuting from his Woodstock home while working
on the new New World, and, to him, the difference between
the areas is striking. “Going from a smaller, easier-to-manage
country market to a city market has been a challenge,” he
says. “Here they do things by the book, which isn’t a bad
thing. But I’ve gotten used to an atmosphere that’s more laid-back.”
Orlando notes the other restaurants and food-supply places
on Delaware Avenue and insists that it makes the location
perfect. “This is going to be the new Cambridge,” he says.
Location, not surprisingly, is a vital concern. When David
White and Mark Burgasser, who own and run many area restaurants,
decided to add an upscale eatery to their family business,
they already had a good location: Stuyvesant Plaza, where
they built Creo in place of one of their other units, Mangia.
They brought in chef Andrew Plummer and general manager Paul
McCullough from McGuire’s, creating a lot of anticipatory
were fortunate to have a lot of buzz in the beginning,” says
Plummer. “And the location is terrific. We opened three and
a half months after the Mangia building was torn down, so
that was a pretty quick turnaround.
were problems, of course. Two weeks before we opened, the
floors were still too wet to lay the carpet, so we had to
move our training program to another location. For me, it’s
been the contrast of going from a staff of four to a staff
of 34, from ordering two cases of heavy cream a week to twelve.”
For Dale Miller, who opens his eponymous restaurant on 30
S. Pearl St. in Albany at the end of April, the location was
discovered almost by accident.
been planning this since September. Jim Linnan, who’s been
a loyal customer over the years, approached me with the idea
of opening a place, and we started scouting locations. We
were looking at one that wasn’t going to work out when I got
a call from a friend asking if I knew of anyone who might
want to go into the Omni Plaza. We were just a short walk
away. I’ve missed this city. I love it here.”
Among his many distinguished accomplishments, Miller ran the
Stone Ends Restaurant for several years, served as executive
chef at Jack’s Oyster House, and most recently was executive
chef and general manager at the Inn at Erlowest on Lake George.
Yet, with all that experience, he stresses the importance
of research. “Things change quickly in this business. What
worked 20 years ago or even five years ago has probably been
replaced by something more efficient. It’s been a wonderful
challenge. The most important thing is to keep planning everything
down to the smallest detail, so when you get thrown a curveball,
you can deal with it.”
went out and researched a lot of places,” says Orlando, “especially
looking to see what Albany doesn’t have.” Every trip to another
city also became a notes-taking mission. “We looked in Montreal,
Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles.
And what we’re seeing is a great undressing of restaurants
as places get more and more casual.”
Research at Creo included learning how to construct an energy-efficient
building. “That was part of David and Mark’s concept from
the beginning,” says McCullough. “So this place is green from
the grass on the roof to the recycled carpeting on the floor.
We spent a couple of months looking at restaurant concepts
that we think are fresh and new, especially in Atlanta, where
I worked in the business for 12 years.”
McCullough and Plummer ran the floor and kitchen of the acclaimed
McGuire’s in Albany for several years, “so we already had
a customer base there, as well as Andy’s following from the
Allegro Café. And David and Mark have built up customers from
their other restaurants, so our opening was pretty explosive.
But loyalty goes only so far in this business. They’ll come
in, they’ll support you, but you have to keep on consistently
delivering your product.”
That’s where a good team comes in, and that was the third
necessity stressed by everyone.
compiled a tremendous management team,” says Miller. “We have
Phil Papineau, who taught at the Culinary Institute for 15
years and was Dean of Dining Room Services there. John Wisniewski,
our bar manager, is a longtime area fixture—he was at McGuire’s,
Mezza Notte and many other places. Maura Linnan, Jim’s wife,
is our general manager and Tom Lilly, who ran the wine program
at Provence and Milano is now doing it for us. We’ve already
opened the banquet facilities here, and its busy. I must be
a glutton for punishment, trying to open a restaurant at the
same time. But it’s been a wonderful ride.”
McCullough echoes that thought. “We lucked into a terrific
crew,” he says. “What they may have lacked in expertise at
first they made up for in their eagerness to please.”
got a great team here,” says Orlando, “and it’s been important
to impress upon them that this isn’t a downtown white-tablecloth
restaurant. This is a hip, global, soul food kind of place.
We’re not keeping up with the Joneses here. We are the
Adds Nanes, “It’s a vision fulfilled. It’s great to see.”
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Capital Region Wine Festival at Proctors,
dubbed “Romancing the Grape,” takes place this
weekend (Feb. 27-28) at the theater in Schenectady
and includes the onsite participation of more
than 70 wineries. The festival kicks off at 7
PM on Friday with a lavish dinner prepared by
Yono Purnomo of Yono’s Restaurant, who will present
a menu that features his award-winning French-Indonesian
specialties paired with Joseph Carr wines by sommelier
Dominic Purnomo. The cost for dinner is $125 per
person, and reservations are required. The festival
continues on Saturday from noon to 4 with the
Grand Tasting, during which participating wineries
will present hundreds of wines alongside culinary
delights from some of the area’s best restaurants
($50 per person). Also offered on Saturday will
be a series of seminars: The One-Hour Wine Expert
with Kevin Zraly, Sherry and Tapas with Andy Seymour,
Cheese and Wine Pairings, The New Renaissance
in Tuscany, and A Wine and Food Romance with Yono
and Dominic Purnomo. Seminars require a $25 paid
reservation. For more info, visit proctors.org
or call the box office at 346-6204. . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland.