On the very day of the World Trade Center attacks in New York City, restauranteurs Marc Propper and his wife Michelle Silver were expecting their second child.
“Our son was actually due on 9/11, but fortunately he was born a couple days later, and after that, we started thinking about slowing down, and possibly starting something new upstate.”
Two years later in May, the couple opened the doors of Miss Lucy’s Kitchen (named for their first child) in Saugerties, and have been counting their blessings ever since.
“In the city we had a French American bistro in the West Village at Bleecker and Grove. We called it Grove, and had a big garden in the back,” Propper says. “Up here in Saugerties, we’re much more relaxed. We offer a kid’s menu, a lot of local produce and products from the Hudson Valley; our eggs and butter are from Vermont, and our duck, chicken, burger and sausage are all local.
“We had a great run in Manhattan, but up here is where we were meant to be. And we just rang in our 15th anniversary.”
In this week’s Q&A with the Recipe for Success blog, this 25-year Boxerbrand customer shares his insights on success in the hospitality business.
Q: Please tell me more about your migration upstate.
My wife Michelle and I are from the city and we’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time. We got a lease in 1993 on our restaurant Grove in the West Village, and we lived on the Upper West Side. We loved it. But after we had our daughter Lucy, we started taking trips upstate. And eventually bought a weekend house in Saugerties.
We spent a lot of time looking at houses, and when we saw the one we eventually purchased it wasn’t available and needed some work. But we knew it was “the house” and when we got the opportunity, we bought it.
It wasn’t until after 9/11 that we started to think seriously about moving out of the city completely, slowing down, and changing our vision for a restaurant up here.
Q: What is the vision behind Miss Lucy’s Kitchen?
We’re both high-end and casual. For example, we have vintage aprons hanging in the window instead of curtains, and no tablecloths. But our food is really upscale.
We’re farm-to-table and locally sourced as much as possible, and we’ve received rave reviews in the press, Zagat’s, and food magazines. We just won another prestigious award, but it hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t reveal it.
We have a great working relationship with a long list of local farmers, who we feature on our website. And our mission is to simply prepare great food with great ingredients, making sure it’s fresh, and an example of the finest produce our local farmers have to offer.
Our seasonal market menu changes every day. We serve local, all-natural and antibiotic-free meats whenever possible. And we also serve sustainable seafood caught in an ecologically sound manner. For example, most restaurants use calamari harvested from Thailand. Ours is from Rhode Island. And our dairy is from Ronnybrook Farm.
The fresh herbs, flowers and many vegetables on the table are grown in our own gardens. And all of our desserts, ice creams and sorbets are made from scratch.
Q: Nothing good happens easily. What’s your biggest obstacle?
We have a great vision, but we’re still a business and we have to maintain our margins.
Margins are traditionally kind of thin in restaurants, so any increase in costs is an obstacle. In New York state, waiters and servers are all going to a mandated $15 an hour plus tips. So, it will be much harder to afford labor, but we have to have full staffing because otherwise, service suffers. The expense of payroll and insurance and credit card fees are challenges we face constantly. To overcome them, we’ve switched payroll insurance and find other ways to cut costs in order to maintain our margins. We also save by not doing any advertising. Our business is all word-of-mouth or through press coverage.
We make most of our money in the summer months, because there’s not as many travelers here in the winter. We’ve found a great market with Millennials who are coming to us for weddings—this is a real plus.
Q: How important is the chef in all this?
There’s a shortage of really good chefs out there.
It’s one thing to have a great culinary education, but until you’ve done the grind for 10 years, you don’t really know what it’s like in real life. You’ve never been slammed, or had to struggle to find ingredients, and get out to meet the farmers and source the produce.
Because sourcing and retrieving ingredients is so time-consuming, we’ve found a new farm-to-table iPhone app that allows you to choose ingredients in the morning and have them delivered later that day. This is a real savings on time and labor.
Q: What advice do you have for budding restauranteurs?
Don’t do it! I’m kidding. If you work hard and really stay dedicated to quality and consistency, but flexible to change with the times, it’s a great career! And I’d like to add that we’ve been using Boxerbrand for 25 years. I discovered Boxerbrand when we had Grove in Manhattan and have been using them ever since. — Miss Lucy’s Kitchen, described by Zagat’s as a “homey, upscale place for comfort food” where “nothing disappoints” uses Boxerbrand’s Deluxe Café Covers in its table presentation.