The state of dining: Hudson Valley chefs share successes amidst pandemic

·3 min read

This past year hasn’t been easy for the dining industry.

From shutting down during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to running on short staff, chefs and restaurateurs have had to jump hurdles to keep going this year.

But it hasn't all been bad.

Business "tripled" during the height of the pandemic for personal chef and on-site caterer Stefan "Chef Stef" Fraundorfer, based in Fishkill. With restaurants closed during much of the spring, many turned to his business for a restaurant experience within their own homes.

Cook Mirian Tecún rolls out pasta dough in the kitchen at Wildfire Grill in Montgomery on November 17.
Cook Mirian Tecún rolls out pasta dough in the kitchen at Wildfire Grill in Montgomery on November 17.

“When COVID hit and restaurants shut down, the demand for on-site caterers grew,” Fraundorfer said. “As someone already established in that field, I started getting much more interest.”

Fraundorfer has been in business since 2013, offering personal chef services and catering to the Hudson Valley area. He’s been so busy lately that he’s even booked weekday weddings.

The demand for catering is growing in the Hudson Valley, Fraundorfer said, and he expects many restaurants to start offering more options within that realm as people have become more comfortable staying home.

The dining room at the Wildfire Grill in Montgomery.
The dining room at the Wildfire Grill in Montgomery.

“We were positioned well enough when this came about that we were already established,” Fraundorfer said. “I have restaurant owner friends who would be out of business now without takeout and curbside. The community has really stepped in to support the restaurants.”

Community support is something that has positively overwhelmed chef Krista Wild of Wildfire Grill in Montgomery.

When the pandemic began, she had to close her restaurant to in-person dining and instead was only able to offer takeout.

"The community supported us so much," Wild said. "There were a lot of unknowns, but the community really pulled together."

Krista Wild of Wildfire Grill in the dining room in Montgomery.
Krista Wild of Wildfire Grill in the dining room in Montgomery.

Including Orange County Ironworks owner Dan Teutul who purchased dozens of dinners from Wildfire Grill to donate to frontline workers, including nurses, during the pandemic

Wild has seen an uptick in business lately, but is still experiencing staffing shortages going into the holiday season.

"Business is up, but people are not coming out to work," Wild said. "We have to be careful and limit the amount of reservations we take because we still want them (the customers) to get good service. We’re doing the best we can with what we have."

A glass of Falesco Vitiano at Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville.
A glass of Falesco Vitiano at Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville.

When the pandemic hit, chef Marcus Guiliano of Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville did the same — the best with what he had. When outdoor dining was allowed; he offered outdoor seating; takeout? He did that, too.

"We opened for whatever we could at the time," Guiliano said. "The pandemic was a situation where a lot of places had to dig deep and go all out."

With the pandemic in full swing, Guiliano realized that there was an opportunity to provide food to people that they could prepare in their own homes. He started a market out of things he typically uses at the restaurant like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, yeast and wine.

Wildfire Grill in Montgomery.
Wildfire Grill in Montgomery.

"Chefs have access to things people can't find in Hannaford or Shoprite," Guiliano said. "We have access to hard-to-find, quality foods. The first week of the pandemic, we sold 550 pounds of wild-caught Alaskan salmon."

Between the market and serving takeout, Aroma Thyme Bistro was bustling.

With vaccination rates up and COVID infections decreasing, more people have returned to in-person dining. Guiliano is getting so many requests for reservations, that he's now actually forced to turn people away.

So overall, how was business during the pandemic?

"It was so good I wrote a book on it," Guiliano said. "I want to help restaurants go through similar things. 'Everybody Still Has to Eat - Recipes for Surviving a Pandemic and Beyond' will be out by the end of the year."

Kristen Warfield is the food and business reporter for the Times Herald-Record. Find my stories here. Reach me at kwarfield@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Hudson Valley chefs share successes amidst pandemic