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


News & Issues February -March 2020


Bakery, cafe unite in urban retrofit

Rock Hill’s restaurant side rises again in new space at Shirt Factory complex


Matt Funiciello, the owner of Rock Hill Bakehouse, removes several loaves of bread from the oven at the bakery’s new home in the Shirt Factory complex in Glens Falls. Joan K. Lentini photo


Matt Funiciello, the owner of Rock Hill Bakehouse, removes several loaves of bread from the oven at the bakery’s new home in the Shirt Factory complex in Glens Falls. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


On a frigid Wednesday morning in January, Matt Funiciello finally realized a dream nearly 30 years in the making: uniting his artisan bread bakery and a cafe under one roof.
Since the early 1990s, Funiciello has been baking loaves of sought-after sourdough, rye and more than a dozen other varieties of European-style bread at his Rock Hill Bakehouse. Until last month, the bakery was housed in a strip mall in the suburban town of Moreau, across the river from Glens Falls in Saratoga County.

And until the end of 2018, Funiciello also ran a cafe in downtown Glens Falls for 15 years, offering meals that showcased his breads – and a gathering place that reflected his sense of activism. (Funiciello was an outspoken supporter of Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns and twice ran for Congress on the Green Party line.)

He had long envisioned his bakery and cafe coexisting in the same space, but just how to make that work was unclear; the available spaces he’d seen weren’t the right fit.

Enter Eric Unkauf, owner of the Shirt Factory. The sprawling brick complex on the east side of Glens Falls was actually a place where workers made shirts for much of the 20th century, but in the past two decades it’s been transformed to provide workspaces for more than 70 artists and entrepreneurs – everyone from gallery owners to food purveyors to yoga and holistic health practitioners.

Aware of Funiciello’s desire to combine a bakery and cafe at one location, Unkauf showed him the cavernous interior of the Shirt Factory’s annex building on Curran Lane.

“I had no idea this building was even here,” Funiciello recalled.
And despite the tractor, bicycles and various objects of architectural salvage from the Shirt Factory that were stored in the annex building, he found himself envisioning the end game.
“A lot of people would not have looked at it as a beautiful space,” he said. “But I did.”
So began an intense 10-month process of converting the storage space into a bakery and cafe.


Vision to reality
When Funiciello sold his former downtown cafe to Chris Patton last year, he said his intention was for Rock Hill to go back to being strictly a wholesale baking business.

“But after Eric showed me the space, I couldn’t sleep that night,” he added. “I knew I had to do it.”
Unkauf said that when he acquired the property, the annex building was essentially “a roof and four walls.” It had been used as a storage warehouse for a paper recycling company.

“The only requirement for the building,” he explained, “was dry, cold storage for the paper.”
The renovations needed to transform it into a bakery and cafe took a few months longer than Funiciello had expected, and 15-hour workdays were the norm throughout the project. But in the end, the elements of his vision were laid into perfect alignment like jewels on a crown.

The new Rock Hill Bakehouse and Cafe is at 18 Curran Lane, just south of the main Shirt Factory building. The location includes a large parking area near the entrance, which is actually on the side of the building.

The cafe itself is compact: a smattering of glossy wooden tables, a lending library, and an upright Steinway piano and small stage for open mic events. There’s also a wooden crate filled vinyl LPs for sale, and works by local artists lining the walls. By early February, there will be counter service for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But the piece de resistance is the window that allows cafe visitors a panoramic view of the bakery and the bread-baking process.

Funiciello said the sale of his former downtown cafe, which now operates as The Exchange Cafe, helped to pay for the new location. He estimates he spent a total of $125,000 on renovations and moving costs.

“We also spent approximately $75,000 more on equipment upgrades and on our own labor to get this thing done,” he said.


Opening day
On the day of the cafe’s “soft opening” in January, Unkauf surveyed the line of customers at the counter.

“I think Matt’s going to do great here,” he said.
Then Funiciello approached with a warm loaf of Pane Paesano bread, wrapped in the bakery’s signature paper bag.

“I want you to have one of our first loaves,” he told Unkauf.
“Now I don’t have to go to the supermarket anymore for this,” Unkauf said with a grin.
Customers streamed through the door until nearly every table was occupied. Those milling around the counter for loaves of bread or cups of fair-trade coffee were a mix of bread-lovers, longtime patrons of the former downtown cafe, and a smattering of activists for whom the old cafe was always a hospitable gathering place.

Rock Hill shares the Shirt Factory’s annex with several other businesses: Glens Falls Distillery; Adirondack Rustic Rose custom furniture; Dakine Cuisine, a maker of specialty condiments; and Freedom Machines NY, a nonprofit that refurbishes bicycles for recovering addicts.
Frank Snyder, who owns Adirondack Rustic Rose, said he was delighted to have Funiciello’s cafe reborn as his neighbor.

“His breads are the best,” Snyder said. “My favorites are cinnamon raisin and sesame semolina.”


Business built on bread
Rock Hill’s breads have won multiple Zagat awards and have been hailed by food writers far and wide, including Mimi Sheraton of The New York Times, who said Rock Hill makes “the finest Jewish rye east of the Mississippi.”

Although the bakery is temporarily short one oven at the new location, Funiciello said production will average 15,000 loaves per week, with a high of 20,000 at peak seasons. A refurbished Bongard oven was installed in the weeks before the new location opened, but a second oven at the bakery’s former location was in too much disrepair to be moved.

Within six months, Funiciello said, he hopes to have a new Bongard oven from France installed.
“It’s the Cadillac of ovens,” he said.

Another planned investment is in solar power. Funiciello said a 6,000-square-foot array for solar panels – capable of generating enough electricity to power the bakery and cafe -- will be installed on the roof in the near future.

Wholesale orders account for 80 percent of the bakery’s sales. Rock Hill breads are distributed to supermarkets and specialty stores from Lake Placid to the southern Catskills and eastward to southwestern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts.

Funiciello said the bakery’s success wouldn’t be possible without the work of its loyal staff, including head baker Jack Diffee, who started 22 years ago at age 17, and Amber Lannutti, who is the retail manager and Funiciello’s life partner.


A menu goes vegan
Funiciello became a vegan several years ago and said he subsequently decided, mainly for environmental reasons, to make the cafe’s menu entirely vegan.

“Many people don’t know that good bread is naturally vegan, made of flour, water and salt,” he said. “When I started eating healthier, I ate a lot of our eight-grain, three-seed bread. It’s one of my favorites, and good enough to eat toasted dry.”

Future plans for the cafe’s expanded menu include vegan cheeses, products made with seitan (wheat gluten), mushroom-quinoa “meatballs,” lentil-based soups and stews, and Funiciello’s personal favorite: vegan pizza.

After much trial and error crafting pizzas at home for his family, Funiciello said he concluded that shredded vegan cheese doesn’t have the proper flavor and texture to mimic melted mozzarella. So he uses a vegan version of mozzarella that’s the brainchild of Albany-based “vegan alchemist” Joey Berben of the vegan deli Berben & Wolff.

“The key is not to compare it to traditional mozzarella.” Funiciello said. “If you take it on its own merits, it’s pretty good.”

The cafe’s pizzas will include toppings such as artichokes, mushrooms, seitan and pesto made in-house.

Lannutti said Funiciello’s switch to veganism was related to his longtime focus on environmental issues.

“Matt and I became vegan on the same day after watching the documentary ‘Forks Over Knives’ four years ago,” she recalled. “Matt has always wanted to be involved in making a difference, and when he learned that meat production adds more pollution to the planet than factories, it really changed his mind.”

Lannutti notes that better health was also a driving factor in their new food choices.
“As soon as I stopped eating meat and dairy, I felt better,” she said. “We’re not just vegan, we’re health conscious and care about the food we make.”

But flavor is an undeniable part of the equation, she added.
“I thought I would be so bored just eating fruits and vegetables,” she said. “But seasonings are everything. We actually eat more of a variety of food than ever, thanks to our spice cabinet.”
Funiciello and Lannutti said they hope the cafe’s vegan menu fosters a little experimentation as well as conversation among customers. And they want the new cafe, like the old one, to be a gathering place for artists and activists.

“I didn’t know there were arts and progressive communities in Glens Falls until I opened the cafe in 2003,” Funiciello said. “I believe in being an active citizen, in being outspoken and allowing others free speech, which includes all political persuasions. We’ve had events in the past with Libertarians, Working Families Party, Democrats and Republicans -- also quilting groups and model train aficionados.”

He plans to continue that tradition of inclusion.

“The new cafe will be a hub for music, art and great food,” Funiciello said. “And we will still have progressive and radical and learning experiences happening on an ongoing basis.”
For more information about Rock Hill Bakehouse and Cafe in Glens Falls, visit www.rockhillbakehouse.com or call (518) 743-1627.