BALLSTON SPA — Esperanto restaurant is taking its Doughboy to the next level, with a new name and a new commercial kitchen where the popular snack will be baked for distribution to other retail sellers.
The chicken and cheese snack will now be known as the Oboy. The Saratoga Springs restaurant, where well over 200,000 were baked up last year, will be supplemented by the new bakery in Ballston Spa, where co-owner/co-founder Will Pouch hopes to double or even triple production.
The Milton Avenue bakery is wholesale only, with no storefront and no direct sales to the public. Instead, the Oboys baked there will be sold to the public by other retailers, including Stewart’s, which had a very successful test run selling Doughboys at select locations starting in 2017.
Pouch said the name change was a practical decision. Customers can still ask for a Doughboy at Esperanto restaurant, but for the more widespread distribution he hopes to achieve, that name presented a few challenges: Its eight letters were hard to cram into a simple, instantly readable logo; the term conjures up deep-fried gobs of dough at a carnival; and there are already trademarked national applications of the word “doughboy.”
The Oboy starts as raw chicken breast. It is cooked, shredded and chilled, then mixed with cheese, scallions and a secret blend of seasonings. The mixture is formed into cylinders that are wrapped in pizza dough and baked until the inside is warm and creamy and the outside lightly crisped and lightly browned.
There’s also a vegetarian version. Both are $4 apiece at Esperanto.
It’s a locally famous product with the potential of gaining wider recognition with the increased production and marketing.
“It’s easy to say and hard to do in some cases,” Pouch said of the public supporting local ventures such as this one. “But with this product and price point and uniqueness, it’s not so hard.”
The Oboy Finder on Esperanto’s website will help with that. Currently, it stands at just two locations: Esperanto itself, at 4 Caroline St., and SPAC, which is closed for the season.
Pouch and his crew opened the bakery to the media Wednesday. Celebrity bakers included Crickett Thomas-O’Dell, regional director of the Capital Region Workforce Development, which assisted with employee training, and the area’s two representatives in the state Legislature: Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, and Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville.
The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership also provided business and technical assistance with the project. The economic development organization’s president, Marty Vanags, said it is the type of home-grown, community-oriented small business that is the heart of the Saratoga County economy — “a great local success story.”
Pouch said he was grateful for the assistance and support. “A lot more things have lined up than I ever expected.”
He also marveled more than once at the enduring popularity of the Doughboy, now Oboy, a preparation that they stumbled upon when Esperanto opened in 1995, and which people now wait in lines around the corner to purchase on the busiest nights.
“We’ve got a great product,” he said. “It drives people crazy. It’s some of the most boring ingredients on the planet, but when we put them together a certain way, it never stops surprising and hooking people. … I’m humbled and we’re really excited. We can’t wait to get started.”
Pouch suspended external sales of the Doughboy this summer, selling them only at Esperanto so they could focus efforts on getting the bakery built, equipped and into production.
With that accomplished, the operation is looking for external vendors — first at Stewart’s shops, then at places like sports and entertainment venues, college dining halls and other convenience stores.
Many of Esperanto’s 25 employees have been involved in the expansion and additional help has been hired — including some who made the original Doughboys in the 1990s, Pouch said. The grant supplied by the Workforce Development Institute was mainly focused on training these employees on the rigorous food safety procedures and protocols required of a wholesale facility where perishable prepared food is made.
Pouch said anywhere from two to six people will be working in the 2,700-square-foot bakery on any given day, and he hopes to eventually get to a total staff of 10 to 15 people.
Commercial production and the first shipments to Stewart’s locations will begin as soon as the U.S. Department of Agriculture performs its inspection.