Second restaurant slated to open in Altamont amid pandemic

— From Jackie Silvestri

In May 2020, Jackie Silvestri turned a pandemic-induced job loss into a silver-lining opportunity, as the Berne resident started her own cookie company, Downtown Dough. Silvestri recently announced she is opening a restaurant in Altamont, the Farmhouse Tap + Tavern.

ALTAMONT — If Jackie Silvestri wanted to rent a car to travel home to Long Island, the Suffolk County native would be assessed a fee for being young. And yet, ambition is ageless for the 24-year-old from Syosset as she sets about to open her third business, a restaurant, the Farmhouse Tap + Tavern in the heart of village. 

Like her soon-to-be Main Street neighbor, Curry Patta, Silvestri is opening her restaurant amid a pandemic. Silvestri’s tavern will be housed in the building formerly occupied by Veronica’s, which closed during the pandemic. Curry Patta is across Main Street from another COVID casualty, the Home Front Café.

But, much as for Nadia Raza, the owner of Curry Patta, the pandemic was the nudge Silvestri needed to start pursuing her dreams. 

In May, she lost her job due to the pandemic, Silvestri said, which is when she started her cookie business: Downtown Dough. She’s working out of a commercial “ghost kitchen,” a restaurant without a dining room with delivery-only meal service, and her sister comes up from Long Island every other week to help her bake.

“At the end of the day, it’s closer to what I want to do,” she said of her cookie-baking business, “but it’s not what I want to do — a restaurant is ultimately what I want to do.”

The Victorian building she'll occupy at 186 Main Street, for decades an A&P grocery store, was remodeled for Mio Vino, a wine bar that had a reputation for being “pompous and expensive,” according to the man who bought the business and rebranded it Veronica’s Culinary Tavern in April 2017, which suffered its own criticism for its “uneven attempt at fine dining,” according to one review. 

Veronica’s closed in August of last year.

Asked about opening amid the pandemic, Silvestri told The Enterprise by Facebook messenger, “I think everyone is a bit worried about opening a business in general, not just during the pandemic. But, the pandemic hasn’t increased my worries. I have no doubts that this restaurant will succeed!”

Asked if she had a cause for concern because the two restaurants that previously occupied the space had not lasted, she said, “Not necessarily,” each person has their own way of running their own business — which isn’t to say one way is better than the other, but it’s a learning process. 

Silvesti said that she felt her restaurant “definitely caters to the community,” and that it could be more of a local hangout spot once the pandemic subsides.

She put her marketing degree to good use last fall as she began taking the temperature of the Altamont community, asking members what type of restaurant they’d like to see opened in the village.

“What kind of food would you like to see in the Altamont area?” Silvestri wrote in a Nov. 15, 2020, post. “Pub food, breakfast options, to-go lunch, bakery, etc.?”

She told The Enterprise, “So, I really wanted the community involved in, kind of, the creation. I knew before [receiving community input] that it was going to be a tavern and it was going to have good beer and it was going to have good food,”

Silvestri thinks what the village needs is a restaurant that is reasonably priced — which had been a criticism of Veronica’s, it was rather pricey — that offers tasty everyday comfort food: burgers, chicken sandwiches, wood-fired pizzas, and wood-fired wings.

As for the menu specifics, she said, those have yet to be finalized. 

But rest assured, Downtown Dough fans, there will be a cookie dessert on the menu. 

As for the aesthetics of the restaurant itself, Sivestri said it will be getting a cosmetic makeover, with some new paint and barnwood on the walls, for a more rustic feel.

Silvestri has filled out the necessary paperwork she needs to open, she said, and was set to meet with village Building Inspector Lance Moore on Tuesday, Feb. 2. She will need a special-use permit from the village planning board, which next meets on Feb. 22, in order to open her restaurant. 

Planning board agendas don’t usually come out until a couple days before the meeting, so it’s not yet known if Silvestri will be before the board this month — however, going into her meeting with Moore, if she has all of her ducks in a row, it’s likely she will appear on the February agenda. 

“My goal is to open as soon as I can,” Silvestri said.

 

A serial entrepreneur 

Silvestri said that her father started his own landscape-construction business when he just was 18 — so entrepreneurship, it would appear, is a family trait. 

In February 2019, she started 518 Foodies, a Facebook group that’s geared toward people who want to review local restaurants; ask for recommendations; post where they are dining; and just share their favorite local foods, Silvestri said.

“It was created to kind of discover hidden gems,” she said.

The group currently has about 39,000 members.

Early on, she said, she partnered with local restaurants — about 140 are now members; people can buy an annual membership for $25 to get discounts at the partner eateries that range from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Silvestri graduated from the University at Albany in 2018 and moved back “to the island” for a year, she said, but her fiancé, Harrison, Edwards, still lived in the area and she moved back in October 2019. The couple lived just outside the village during their last year of college, on Township Road, near Lewis Road. 

They currently live in Berne, she said, “right up on the Hill.”

“It’s a big year,” Silvestri said. She’s getting married, she and her fiancé bought a house, and she’s opening her restaurant.

Silvestri appears to be the exception among her pandemic-ravaged age cohort. Over half of young adults — people 18 to 29 years old — now live with their parents, which surpasses the previous peak, during the Great Depression. Youth unemployment — workers between 16 and 24 years old — tripled during the nadir of the pandemic, from 8.4 percent in spring 2019 to 24.4 percent in spring 2020. And the marriage rate is at an all-time low

Asked about doing so much at such a young age, Silvestri said that it had been her dream since she was a “little kid” to be in the food industry. 

“I was hit with that choice when I was 17,” she said, when she was making a decision about college — whether she would take the traditional four-year route to a bachelor’s degree or go to culinary school. No one in her family was in the restaurant industry, Silvestri said, so they didn’t have the appreciation for the business that she did, and encouraged her to get a more traditional college degree.

She has quite a bit of hands-on experience.

She started working at Friendly’s restaurant on Syosset when she was 16, scooping ice cream, she said, and eventually moved onto waitressing. She worked at the restaurant throughout college, eventually moving into a management position, she said. “I learned basically every position in the house,” Silvestri said.

Asked about concerns she has opening her restaurant, she said, “It’s all going to be a new process,” so there will be a lot of unknowns. “I’m not stressing about it — I’m trying not to stress about it,” Silvestri said, because she knows she has to be able to tackle those unknowns calmly in order to figure them out.

When pandemic restrictions have been lifted and the restaurant is able to operate at full-capacity — with seating for about 86 — Silvestri said that she anticipates hiring about 15 people.

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