hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues June 2022


A rebirth fueled by food?

An eclectic dining scene reflects broader changes in a former industrial hub


A sign beckons visitors to Byte, a pizzeria with a Turkish flair on John Street in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. photo by Joan K. Lentini


A sign beckons visitors to Byte, a pizzeria with a Turkish flair on John Street in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. photo by Joan K. Lentini


Contributing writer


On a Friday afternoon in early May, the heart of Hoosick Falls was stirring with people seeking — and making — good things to eat.

At Hoosick Provisions on Church Street, shoppers were stocking up on locally produced foods and fresh-baked French pastries. Across the way on John Street, the wood-fired pizza oven was being stoked for the evening at Byte. Just up the block, customers stood in line for lattes and chai at Iron Coffee Co.


Baked goods, artisan cheeses and other regional food products are among the attractions at Hoosick Provisions, which opened two years ago in downtown Hoosick Falls. Joan K. Lentini photo


Baked goods, artisan cheeses and other regional food products are among the attractions at Hoosick Provisions, which opened two years ago in downtown Hoosick Falls. Joan K. Lentini photo

Not quite ready for customers yet was the more nocturnal Bistro 42, whose French chef has made it a fine-dining destination on Classic Street. And a few blocks away on Center Street, Unihog was gearing up for a night of live music and its signature smoked-in-house barbecue.
At first blush, Hoosick Falls might seem like an unlikely place for a thriving culinary scene. The village grew into a prosperous manufacturing hub in the late 19th century, but many of those industries are long gone, and its population of more than 7,000 in 1900 has shrunk to about 3,300 today.

Seven years ago, the village made headlines after tests revealed its municipal water supply was contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, an industrial chemical that was used for decades in manufacturing nonstick coatings like Teflon. A new filtration system, installed in 2016, made the water safe to drink again, though the village’s reputation took a bit longer to recover.
But Hoosick Falls still has many classic multi-story buildings in its downtown core and large old homes from its prosperous heyday. And in the last few years, its affordability has made it attractive to newcomers and entrepreneurs.

The village’s setting in the rolling hills along the New England border also has made it a magnet for artists since the days of Grandma Moses, whose paintings included scenes of Hoosick Falls. Moses spent her latter years in the village and was buried at Maple Grove Cemetery.

Longtime resident Ric DiDonato, a former village trustee, recalls that only a few short years ago, there wasn’t a single restaurant to be found in the center of downtown.

“It’s great to have new blood coming here and doing good things for the community,” he said. “Hoosick Falls is in a really good place right now.”

DiDonato and his wife, Suzanne, moved to the village 30 years ago from downstate to raise their family in a community where everything from schools, doctors’ offices and the community pool are within walking distance.

“It’s an incredibly welcoming community,” he said. “It’s just a really unique environment where there are no airs and it doesn’t matter if you’re white- or blue-collar.”

Since the pandemic hit in 2020 and set off an exodus from major urban areas, DiDonato and others say real estate in Hoosick Falls and the surrounding area has been selling briskly, with homes increasingly snapped up almost as soon as they’re listed. And an influx of new residents is helping to provide a market for the village’s expanded dining and specialty food offerings.


Repurposing vacant buildings
DiDonato traces the beginning of the village’s current resurgence to 2015, when Albany businessman Jasen VonGuinness took on the daunting project of transforming the long-dormant St. Mary’s Academy on High Street into eight spacious luxury apartments.

“It was in rough shape,” said VonGuinness, who had spent years rehabbing and flipping properties in Albany. “I thought, ‘If I can put this back together, no one can ever take that away from me.’”

Halfway through the two-year restoration process, he decided he had to sell his home in Albany to fund the project’s conclusion. For VonGuinness, it was a fateful decision: He ended up liking his handiwork so much that he moved into one of the apartments here.

Once he became a village resident, VonGuinness bought two more local properties. The first, at 53 Classic St., he renovated for apartments on the second floor with a ground-floor retail space that became a boutique wine store.

VonGuinness’ most recent venture is his most visible: the barbecue pit and live music venue known as Unihog. He saw the former warehouse on Center Street as a renovation challenge with a twist: the opportunity to add music promoter to his roster of skills.

“I wanted to draw customers from beyond Hoosick Falls — for the music and the food,” he said. “We crush it on Taco Tuesdays and with the smoked barbecue on Thursdays and Fridays.”
DiDonato said VonGuinness’ work helped to inspire confidence among other entrepreneurs that Hoosick Falls was a worthwhile investment.

Since VonGuinness began his makeover projects, several other businesses, all with a gourmet bent, have cropped up downtown: a French restaurant, a pizzeria with a Turkish flair, a Parisian-style bakery, specialty food and gift market, and a dog-friendly coffee house.


The French chef Dominique Brialy, above, stands in the main dining room at Bistro 42, the restaurant he opened in 2020 on Classic Street in Hoosick Falls.


Fine French cuisine


When the French chef Dominique Brialy opened Bistro 42 in 2020, his fans breathed a sigh of relief. Joan K. Lentini photo

When the French chef Dominique Brialy opened Bistro 42 in 2020, his fans breathed a sigh of relief. Joan K. Lentini photo

In the Albany area, the native of St. Tropez, France, had built a loyal following through the flavorful fare he created at such venues as The Century House and the former Epicurean Bistro & Wine Bar in Latham.

Although his new venture had the misfortune of making its debut just as Covid lockdowns began, he was determined to make it work.

“A friend told me the property here was very affordable,” he recalled. “I came and fell in love with the village. I wanted to bring something new.”

Now, for likely the first time in its history, Hoosick Falls has a restaurant whose offerings range from escargot in puff pastry to boeuf bourguignon, three-onion soup, steak frites, blanquette de poulet, and berry-filled crepe coulis. The dining room, which overlooks the Hoosic River, seats 42, and there’s a private banquet room upstairs.

“If you open the windows, you can hear the river,” Brialy said.
Brialy’s takeout food truck — something he set up out of necessity when Covid shut down indoor dining — proved so popular that it still operates Mondays, Tuesdays and weekends behind his restaurant. Customers line up for crepes, sandwiches, frites, poutine and “les hot dogs.”
Brialy shrugged when asked what the customer favorites are.
“People love everything here,” he said.


Pizza, art and lodging
The John Street building that once housed the M. Lurie & Co. department store (and later the Ruditis department store) is now home to Byte, the brainchild of Yucel Erdogan.

The creative director for a New York City advertising agency, Erdogan has breathed new life into the once-dormant three-story building. His heritage and his imagination are interwoven in his multi-purpose reuse of the historic structure.

Half of the street-level portion of the building is Byte pizzeria, which serves wood-fired pizza, calzones, light desserts, craft beer and a selection of wines from his homeland.

“Have you ever had Turkish pepperoni?” he asks a first-time visitor, showing off the densely red discs of meat atop a bubbling hot pizza. “It’s 100 percent beef and made with cumin.”
When he’s not working remotely for the ad agency, the self-taught pizza maker divides his time between welcoming diners and creating paintings for Third Eye, his art gallery, which shares the building’s ground floor with the pizzeria.

He also takes Airbnb reservations for the spacious studio efficiencies on the building’s second floor.

“I get travelers from all over: Boston, New York, Australia,” Erdogan said.

He said he became smitten with Hoosick Falls more than a decade ago while passing through on the way to Vermont. Soon he bought the old Ruditis building and began methodically repurposing it.

For now, the pizzeria is open only on weekends. Erdogan also has plans to further market his frozen 10-inch pizzas, which he currently sells through the retail store at Berle Farm, an organic farm in the town of Hoosick that’s known for its artisan cheeses and dairy products.


Local cheese, baked goods
Hoosick Provisions and Zwicklbauer Bakery sit side by side, separated by a partial wall; which one to visit first might hinge on the nature of one’s craving on any given day.

The bakery’s black-and-white checkered floor and long, gleaming bar evoke a bygone era with displays of plated galettes, cupcakes, coconut macaroons and bright-gold lemon bars.

Just a few feet away is the provisions store, which owners Marianne Zwicklbauer and Clifford Belden opened two years ago after being inspired by a gourmet gift store they encountered on their travels.

The couple, who moved to Hoosick Falls 20 years ago, saw an availability gap where locally produced food was concerned.

“We noticed Berle Farm cheese was available in Albany but not here,” Zwicklbauer said, noting that she would routinely drive south to Stephentown and north to the Adirondacks to obtain other artisan cheeses. The couple opened the retail store in large part to help their neighbors enjoy more of the region’s bounty.

“There’s a farm in Berlin that grows lettuce year-round, a great bread baker in Schenectady, award-winning cheese in Warrensburg, and amazing milk products in Salem,” said Zwicklbauer, who spends her days off making far-flung pick-up excursions to keep the provisions store stocked. “We want to save people time and have all these things in one location.”

In addition to gourmet groceries, the store offers a daily menu of sandwiches, some of which include meats, cheeses and produce from local sources.

Each of the owners brings their own passion to the business. Zwicklbauer stays vigilant about the origins of her giftware, stationery, condiments, candy and novelties. Whether it’s Christmas ornaments from Germany, cookie cutters made in Rutland, Vt., or boxes of Hopscotch chalk from Portland, Maine, she ensures it’s all made by small family-owned companies, “and not in China.”
“There are families working real hard to make a good product, and that’s who we buy from,”

Zwicklbauer said.

For Belden, a favorite focus has been perfecting the bakery’s macaroons and croissants, which he painstakingly crafts for the weekend crowds.

“The biggest compliment is when people who have been to Paris tell me that ours are better,” he grinned, noting that they sell out every weekend.


Mike Milliron, right, started roasting coffee beans six years ago at his Iron Coffee Co. at the corner of Main and John streets. Joan K. Lentini photo


Mike Milliron, right, started roasting coffee beans six years ago at his Iron Coffee Co. at the corner of Main and John streets. Joan K. Lentini photo


Coffee and more
Mike Milliron can often be found behind the counter at his coffeehouse and roasting company, Iron Coffee Co.

As afternoon customers trickle in to order lattes, espresso and cups of fragrant chai, Milliron’s two dogs lounge quietly near the counter, and the self-taught barista and coffee roaster reflects on the past six years.

He credits his friend VonGuinness with attracting him to the village with the promise of affordable real estate. It turned out the price wasn’t the only thing that Milliron found appealing about Hoosick Falls.

“There’s a real sense of community here and a collaborative spirit amongst business owners, the town board, and the residents,” he said. “When the village residents wanted the right to own chickens, we got unwavering support from the town board.”

Milliron bought the two-story building on the corner of Main and John streets and started roasting coffee. He soon had a following for his clean, robust coffee beans.

Though he recently opened a second location in Albany, Milliron says his heart is in Hoosick Falls, where he not only welcomes dogs of all sizes at his coffee house, he names coffee drinks after them.

“Some mornings we have 12 dogs in here, and they all get along,” he said.
In addition to a range of coffee and tea drinks, he offers a breakfast menu that includes locally made bread for the sandwiches and local cream for the coffee drinks.

Milliron says he can’t imagine being in business anywhere else.
“When I moved here, the streets weren’t as busy,” he said. “But now, almost every storefront on John Street is filled, and there are new families from Brooklyn, Boston, even Australia.”


A changing scene
There are many other elements to the Hoosick Falls food scene, including Hoosick Nutrition on Main Street, which offers teas, protein drinks and fruit-based beverages, and the Sand Bar on Lyman Street, a sports pub that features a full comfort-food menu.

Outside the village limits, there also are longstanding eateries including the Falls Diner, where locals and travelers alike have been gathering for breakfast for decades, and Jean’s Place in North Hoosick, which offers home-style breakfast and lunch menus.

And VonGuinness stressed that people are coming to the village not only to eat but also to live.
“My apartments all have waiting lists, and I hear there’s an actual shortage of real estate now,” he said. “There’s a special vibe here and a very supportive one. … It reminds me of the saying, ‘A rising tide lifts all ships.’”

For longtime residents like DiDonato, the village’s transformation in the past few years seems impressive.

“I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in 30 years, but I’ve never been as enthusiastic as the up we’re in now,” he said. “It’s great to see the village this way. It will keep the next generation going strong.”


Bistro 42 is at 42 Classic St. in Hoosick Falls. Visit www.bistro42.net or call 518-205-5679.
Byte is at 15 John St. Visit www.bytepizzany.com or call 518-205-5641.

Hoosick Provisions is at 15 Church St. Visit www.hoosickprovisions.com or call 518-205-5030.

Iron Coffee Co. is at 9 Main St. Visit www.ironcoffeecompany.com or call 518-231-9306.

Unihog is at 2 Center St. Visit www.unihog.org or call 518-205-5607.