SCHENECTADY – From the Mr. Luigi statue outside inviting people in, to the beer bottle caps lining a few of the walls and zebra print reddish booths, Ambition Coffee & Eatery’s decor stand out as much as its food does.
Some of the pieces in the place have been collected over the years, have come with the place like the safe and others, like the Coca Cola cop man were provided by owner Marc Renson’s mom.
The business opened in April 2000 after Renson’s now-husband Greg Salomon sold his business and bought the Jay Street location.
Almost 23 years later the restaurant is still a popular place along Jay Street to grab a bite to eat, including for some famous faces like Bradley Cooper, Ben Folds, Kelsey Grammer, Ryan Gosling and Barbara Eden.
“I love food, music and Hollywood and I’ve invited all of that into this restaurant,” Renson said.
The food also represents Renson’s personality and love for the arts and food with menu items like Stacey’s Mom, which is grilled turkey, cheddar, tomato and garlic mayo on sun-dried tomato ciabatta bread sandwich.
Renson said his go to is actually the Ragin Cajun, which is cajun-spiced grilled chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, mayo and muenster cheese on sourdough bread.
“I like the gooeyness of the cheese with the spicy mayonnaise and the smokiness of the bacon–I love all those flavors together,” he said. “That’s my go to, but the more inappropriately named sandwiches are popular also.”
One of those sandwiches is Jeremy’s Package, which is grilled turkey, apples, bacon, tomato, cheddar, cranberry pesto and a balsamic reduction on pretzel bread.
While the business is doing well, the years haven’t come without challenges.
“When you talk about State Street being ripped up twice, when you talk about Proctors going under construction, when you talk about all the manhole fires, when you talk about the building that got burned down here eight years ago, when you talk about Covid, when you talk about 9/11, when you talk about the banking recession, we’ve seen quite a bit, yeah.,” Renson said.
There’s also been more competition over the years as new businesses open up.
But Renson said his ability to market himself and keep himself relevant is what has helped him and the business weather the obstacles over the years.
“I love what I do, so there’s passion in it and when there’s passion there’s a spark and when there’s a spark it turns into a flame,” he said. “With all of our challenges whenever Ambition has gotten knocked down, she’s gotten back up on one knee and then she came back on two feet and then she came back stronger than ever.”
Take for instance during Covid when restaurants shut down. One week prior to the pandemic hitting Renson said he had this idea to take his bread pudding mix, make it a muffin and add Baileys Irish Cream to it–creating a boozy muffin that would go viral during the shutdown.
“People were buying these muffins and they were shipping them all over the country–Tennessee, Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, California–they were going everywhere,” he said, fighting back tears as he recalled the memory.
That idea was recently recognized by the state Restaurant Association as a 2022 Restaurant Industry Spotlight on Excellence Award winner. Renson was recognized for being the most innovative. He now does various other flavors of boozy muffins.
Renson said he thinks people keep coming back because of the atmosphere of the restaurant–which also speaks to his own personality.
“We’re very casual, we’re very inviting,” he said. “I allow my staff to not wear uniforms, so they’re allowed to be who they want to be which is more inviting to people too because there’s more personality that comes out of a wait staff when they’re not in uniform and they’re allowed to be who they are.”