The New Bohemians
“New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York City has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city.”
— Patti Smith
Counter Cultural Beer Culture
Dan Suarez is tired. So tired, in fact, that he doesn’t look older than his 32 years; he looks younger. He’s wearing a hoodie, his hair is sticking up and, when he rubs his eyes, he looks like a little kid. Suarez and his wife, Taylor Cocalis, are juggling their toddler Enzo after a day spent bottling beer by hand at Suarez Family Brewery in Livingston. A lot of people might question why Suarez is not sitting in a Brooklyn brewery office, overlooking an automated bottling line.
Suarez’s resume predicts that outcome. He worked at Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery before moving to Vermont to open Hill Farmstead Brewery under Sean Hill. In beer terms, Suarez’s experience has the weight of a Harvard MBA: This is a brewer who could go big. But, like many young entrepreneurs in the Hudson Valley, Suarez has no dreams of world domination. You won’t catch this guy sucking up to the venture capitalists on “Shark Tank.”
Currently, Suarez Family Brewery self-distributes its beers, which means that one of the brewery’s five employees—and that number includes Suarez and Cocalis—makes the weekly two-and-a-half-hour haul into Brooklyn to beer temples like Tørst. The remaining 50% of Suarez’s beer can be found in the brewery’s tasting room and at some of the best restaurants and bars in the Hudson Valley. If Suarez signed with a distributor, his beer could be on exponentially more taps.
There are other anti-commercial choices that Suarez and Cocalis are making. In a world of increasingly extreme beers—hoppy, sour or infused with doughnuts à la Evil Twin Brewing—Suarez is doubling down on the subtler pleasures of Pils. Suarez ferments with natural yeasts, ages in oak barrels, and conditions his beers in the bottle. This creates cash flow challenges because, once brewed, these beers can take six months to mature. Then there is the Suarez marketing strategy: There is none—Suarez employs no salesmen. Instead, the couple distributes their beers among industry friends, albeit very elite ones.
While he is careful not to diss any particular brewery, Suarez has been around long enough to fear the sacrifices that come with growth. “When you’re growing by 200%–300% per year, it’s the classic pitfall. I feel like that has happened to more breweries than it hasn’t. You go to drink their beer and you’re like, it tastes totally different—what’s going on? I want to think of this brewery from a more quality-driven standpoint.”
Suarez and Cocalis are content with a modest enterprise that satisfies the couple’s desire to live in a rural environment and evolve in their craft. “We’re very aware that we don’t want to become a megabrewery,” Suarez says. “We probably could grow, but we want to be mindful. I started a brewery because I wanted to brew—and if we grew at a certain rate and to a certain size, I would write myself out of the story. I would become a manager.”
The Rewards of Dropping Out
At Revenge BBQ in Irvington, Jacob Styburski and his wife, Catherine Sun, are elbow deep in dead animals. They spend long days (and nights) rubbing spices into meat, loading the rotating smoker, and then testing the results for fat render, texture, and flavor. Revenge is different from other barbecue emporia. Not only do the couple use carefully sourced meats—unusual for barbecue restaurants—but Revenge offers no beer, no sports television and no loaded Tater Tots. Revenge is a shrine to Texas barbecue craftsmanship.
He’s too young to have had a past life, but he did. Styburski was part of the Frog Design team that developed the Disney Magic Band, a bracelet that permits wearers to keylessly enter Disney hotel rooms and bypass lines for rides and restaurants. More recently, Styburski was senior director of global consumer design for PayPal, crafting the online experience of users on multiple continents. He spent a lot of time on whiteboards figuring out digital ways to touch customers. He likens that experience to “trying to hug something that’s not there.”
As a barbecue hobbyist, Styburski—who quotes Buddha, Steve Jobs and David Foster Wallace interchangeably—attended “Camp Brisket” (an immersive barbecue course) at Texas A&M. He then apprenticed with Russell Roegels of Roegels Barbecue Co. in Houston, Texas, before trading in an excellent paycheck for the vicissitudes of restaurant ownership. The change was, as Styburski observes, “equal parts exhilarating and just completely horrifying. All the stock grants go out the window once you walk away. But, at the end of the day, the question is: How much enrichment are you getting on a day-to-day basis? How connected are you? And what’s of value to your life?”
This desire for connection was also one reason why Matt Campbell left elite New York City cheffing jobs (at Craft, The Marrow and Marlowe & Daughters) to open a nose-to-tail, whole-animal butcher shop in Dobbs Ferry. It was a risk. Not only was Campbell giving up a regular paycheck, but he’d have to persuade busy locals who shop at Whole Foods and DeCicco’s to make a special trip for meat.
But working in restaurants, Campbell had become increasingly interested in the ethics behind meat production. He felt that the slim profit margins of most restaurants prevented him from sourcing meat in the way he wanted. Campbell felt stymied by his lack of contact with customers. As he notes, “Every once in a while, in a restaurant, you can find that captain or a server who really knows about food, but that’s pretty rare. And chefs are dependent on these people to represent their work.” At his shop, Campbell not only controls how he sources his meats, but he also controls his outgoing message. “When someone wants to order 10 hanger steaks for a party, I can explain: There is only one hanger steak in a cow and we feel it’s important to buy whole cows.”
Evolve or Bust
Ceramicist Connor McGinn is an early refugee from a business degree; he bailed after college to join the Peace Corps. McGinn learned enough about himself there to ditch business entirely. “I didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk and not interacting with people,” he says. He thought he might like cooking, so he knocked at the kitchen door of Restaurant North in Armonk. Miraculously, four-time James Beard Award–nominated Chef Eric Gabrynowicz hired him with the warning: “Don’t fuck up.”
McGinn rotated through North’s kitchen stations, also tending bar and serving. But when Stephen Mancini and Chef Gabrynowicz were searching for hand-thrown platters for their new venture, Market North, McGinn spotted an opportunity. He’d done pottery in college (“as reprieve from stats classes”), so he persuaded Gabrynowicz and Mancini to commission him to make plates.
Nowadays, McGinn is creating ceramics for Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Twisted Oak, Jesup Hall (in Westport, CT) and for Chef Diego Garcia, recently named Food & Wine Magazine’s “Best New Chef.” Restaurant relationships being what they are, Mancini stocks McGinn’s business card at Market North. On his end, McGinn covers kitchen shifts when North is shorthanded.
Right now, McGinn co-designs pottery with each customer. He could seek experience in larger, more profitable production runs, but he enjoys making one-offs. “I like the idea of constantly being creative. Like, when a restaurant has the same menu all year round, you don’t really have a chef back there—that’s just someone executing recipes. The most successful chefs—the happiest chefs—are constantly pushing themselves. Changing the menu. Bringing in new sources, and continuing to evolve. That’s what I want to do with my pottery.”
Think Locally (and Maybe Don’t Act Globally)
Jesse Camac comes with a family history of making questionable choices. In 2001, his father bailed on a lucrative career running large IT consulting firms when he fell in love with the restaurant industry. He pulled a rising chef named Zak Pelaccio from Brooklyn’s Chickenbone Café to open 5 Ninth. That partnership evolved into Fatty Crab and Fatty ’Cue with outposts in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.
Camac, who is just 32 now, was starting out in real estate when Fatty Crab was launching—but he was also hitting those restaurants every night, getting seduced. He ditched real estate to work his way from busboy to the director of operations for the international group of six Fatty Crabs and ’Cues. While still in his 20s, Camac managed 200+ employees.
Now, Camac is in Wappinger’s Falls overseeing the construction of Heritage Food and Drink, his new farm-to-table restaurant cheffed by Shawn Burnette, formerly of Husk, Del Posto and The Breslin. Burnette had already fled the City and was working at Hasbrouck House in Stone Ridge, sourcing 95% of his product from within a 30-mile radius of the restaurant. Meanwhile, independent of Burnette, Jessica Gonzalez had made the move up to Beacon.
Gonzalez, who was head bartender at Manhattan’s Bar at NoMad when it won its James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, was also one of the original bartenders at the fabled Death & Co. She’d had a child and no longer wanted to bartend until 4am. Says Camac, “She wants the country life, fresh air. Space. But she also wants to do her craft.” The coincidence of this talent migration felt like divine providence to Camac, who immediately hired Gonzalez. “We’ve got this incredible team of people who all came up here for different reasons.”
With this team in place, it would be reasonable for Camac to start thinking chain like Fatty Crab. “Maybe I got a little soured by Fatty Crab,” he says, “but I’m not a big believer in rolling out identical restaurants anymore … I’ll be honest, it got to the point where we were on Fatty Crab number 7 and it became stale. I lost my passion.”
But Wappinger’s Falls? “New York City isn’t the be-all and end-all of food anymore,” Camac says. “To make a name? Maybe. But I wouldn’t tell anyone to open a restaurant in New York City anymore.” Camac cites all his New York City restaurant friends who have fled for more sustainable lifestyles. “Everyone is having more fun, they’re smiling and they’re breathing fresh air.”
The History of Turning On, Tuning In and Dropping Out in the Hudson Valley
- 1903 Byrdcliffe, the first Hudson Valley art colony, opens below the south face of Overlook Mountain in Woodstock. Eccentrically dressed students scandalize locals with their nude figure models—outdoors.
- 1914 Artist Hervey White, disillusioned by Byrdcliffe’s structure, opens the utopian Maverick Art Colony in Hurley Pattentee Woods. It stresses socialism, intellectualism and freedom. The local newspaper publishes lurid reports of pagan rituals and nude bathing in the Sawkill.
- 1937 African-American folk luminary Leadbelly—recently freed from prison—performs for Maverick members in Zena.
- 1950s When folk singer Pete Seeger is blacklisted by HUAC for his political beliefs, he finds a home (and a living) playing music at Camp Woodland in Phonecia.
- 1963 Oil money scions William, Tommy and Margaret Hitchcock donate their 1912 Millbrook estate to Dr. Timothy Leary after he is fired by Harvard University for giving psilocybin to an undergraduate. Leary uses the 38-room mansion as a research base for his studies in psychedelic drugs until his eviction in 1968.
- 1963 Albert “The Baron of Bearsville” Grossman (a Manhattan-based entertainment manager) buys a vacation house in Bearsville, and brings like-minded pop acts to visit. These include Joan Baez, The Band, Van Morrison, Todd Rundgren, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, who spends months living in Grossman’s house.
- 1965 Bob Dylan purchases Hi Lo Ha, an 11-room Arts and Crafts mansion on Camelot Road in Woodstock, for $12,000. The building was once part of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony.
- 1966 Pete Seeger and his wife, Toshi, found a nonprofit organization that eventually launches the sloop Clearwater in 1969. Its mission is to protect the Hudson River and surrounding wetlands from the environmental challenges posed by industry.
- 1967 Bob Dylan and The Band record the album Basement Tapes in a salmon-colored house at 56 Parnassus Lane, West Saugerties. They also compose music for The Band’s landmark studio album, Music from Big Pink, there.
- 1969 Feeling increasingly vulnerable to obsessed fans (and psychotics), Dylan moves with his wife and children to another Arts and Crafts mansion, The Walter Weyl House, situated on 100 acres off Ohayo Mountain Road in Woodstock.
- 1969 Promoter Michael Lang calls his epic festival “Woodstock” to capitalize on that town’s cachet, even though the actual site of Max Yasgur’s farm is 43 miles away in the Bethel hamlet of White Lake.
- 1979 Todd Rundgren produces Meatloaf’s chart-topping Bat out of Hell (1979) and the Patti Smith Group’s Wave (1979) in Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Studio at 293 Tinker St. Renamed Utopia Soundstage, music by Chrissie Hynde, Blues Traveler and Phil Lesh (among many others) is subsequently recorded there.
- 2017 Michael Lang, the original force behind 1969’s Woodstock festival, announces that Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary Concert will be held in Bethel in 2019.