Saratoga Springs

Heaping Helpings: Saratoga Springs restaurant owners find success, hit stride via ghost-kitchen model

Shelley and Mike Spain with fresh traditional pierogis with potato, caramelized onion and farmer cheese, which they have on the menu at their restaurant Seneca in Saratoga Springs
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Shelley and Mike Spain with fresh traditional pierogis with potato, caramelized onion and farmer cheese, which they have on the menu at their restaurant Seneca in Saratoga Springs

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many area restaurants to close temporarily, and some permanently, Mike and Shelley Spain, chefs and owners of Seneca in Saratoga Springs, decided the time was right to launch a second eatery, but this time out of a ghost kitchen.

“When the pandemic hit we saw a huge spike in takeout orders and no-contact delivery, so we wanted to tap into that market and launch a takeout concept,” Mike said about the ghost-kitchen model — a restaurant without a dining space that utilizes a third-party app to fulfill online food orders.

“Pierogis were huge sellers on our menu at Seneca and we felt they would travel well.”

The couple opened the Pierogi Shoppe in December out of the Seneca kitchen and teamed with DoorDash to bring their pierogis to residents throughout the Spa City.

“We had never worked with DoorDash before and had to rely on them to pick up the food in a timely fashion so it’s still hot and fresh when it’s opened,” Mike said. “As soon as we opened, we had a lot of orders. It was great.”

Every day, Mike and Shelley make homemade pierogis, including the standard baked potato pierogi as well as specialty flavors such as Buffalo chicken, short rib and sweet potato.

“The general idea is to create comfort food and put our own twist on it,” Shelley said. “Every once in a while we ask people on social media to offer flavor suggestions of things they’d like to see. We try to have fun with it and keep it exciting.”

A lesson in food
It was social media that helped the couple get the word out about the Pierogi Shoppe.

Sarah LeFevre, who launched the Taste of Toga Instagram account in March 2019, said she couldn’t wait to try the Pierogi Shoppe after seeing it on social media.

“I heard about them through Instagram and I’m a huge fan of pierogis, so I was super-excited to try them,” she said. “I tried every single flavor they offered and they were all amazing.”

During the pandemic, LeFevre said, she encouraged her Instagram followers to patronize local businesses.

“When the pandemic started I tried to take advantage of my platform to encourage people to order takeout from local restaurants if they were able to,” she said. “A big reason why Saratoga is so great is because of all the food options. There are so many amazing restaurants owned by great people who work so hard to keep their businesses running and successful.
“I love having the ability to show everyone what’s out there.”

According to LeFevre, the ghost-kitchen concept has become very successful throughout the pandemic.

“It’s a smart move to open a ghost kitchen if a restaurant is looking for extra business in addition to their dining and takeout hours,” she said. “People get so intrigued when there’s an unfamiliar place on the DoorDash app, and they’re excited and willing to try something new.”

Pierogis are anything but new for Shelley Spain, who has been making them since she was a child.

“My grandma taught me the recipe and my mom had to learn how to make them when she married into my dad’s Polish family,” she said. “It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, and it’s a way for me to bring something I enjoy to this area where there isn’t this type of cuisine.”

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Shelley, who also added stuffed cabbage leaves to the menu, said she also plans to add other Polish specialties at the Pierogi Shoppe.

“I’ll do a few new specials weekly, but mainly I’ll stick to the Polish cuisine,” she said. “It’s our job to keep people excited and educate them about food in a way that doesn’t stray too far from their comfort zone.”

‘One hell of a team’
Mike and Shelley Spain began cooking together 13 years ago and worked at Druther’s Brewing Company before opening Seneca on Division Street in August of 2019.

“We have slightly different cooking styles but we make one hell of a team,” Mike said. “Once we matured as chefs we wanted to take it to the next level and do our own thing.”

According to Shelley, her husband is extremely creative in the kitchen and enjoys crafting new trends.

“He’s always looking to push the envelope and he’s so passionate about cooking,” she said. “Though the days are often long, hard and stressful, he enjoys it and he’s always having fun.”

Mike echoed Shelley’s sentiments by saying he loves how organized and hardworking his wife is.

“She gets up every day and gets it done,” he said. “She took charge of the dessert side of the restaurant and though she didn’t go to school for baking, she taught herself and she’s a really good baker.”

Making a quality product is Mike and Shelley’s way of thanking the customers who have supported their restaurant ventures so far.

“We want to put out the best product we can to reward those who have come out to support us,” Mike said. “The pandemic has definitely given us perspective on how fragile this industry is and makes you not take for granted the strong customer base we’ve had.”

A true ghost kitchen
As orders flooded in for the Pierogi Shoppe, Mike and Shelley decided to move out of the Seneca kitchen and into a separate commercial space in Saratoga Springs.

“Once Seneca gets busy it’s tough to operate both in the same space and we want the Pierogi Shoppe to grow,” he said. “It’ll be a true ghost kitchen.”

Deciding to open a ghost kitchen was an easy choice for the couple, as it costs less to operate due to the elimination of a dining room and supplies, including silverware and dishes.

“There are fewer moving parts, and with a ghost kitchen you can slim down the menu and really focus on a few menu items,” Mike said. “Plus the convenience is nice with DoorDash taking care of the delivery.”

Mike added that while he does see more ghost-kitchen operations launching, he’s not worried about the market becoming saturated with them.

“I see ghost kitchens sticking around as long as the quality is there and it’s a great concept,” he said. “On the business side, your rent is lower because you don’t need as much space, so it’s a great opportunity.”

Moving forward, the couple is hoping to build brand recognition with the Pierogi Shoppe and eventually offer frozen pierogis for customers to purchase and heat at home.

“If our reputation gets bigger, we’ll look at different avenues to make it more accessible to our customers,” Mike said. “Hopefully there will be more avenues in the future.”

For more information, visit Pierogi_Shoppe on Instagram.

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Categories: Food, Heaping Helpings, Life and Arts

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