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Landmarks: Diners at East Galway pizzeria feel at home in former hotel

Landmarks: Diners at East Galway pizzeria feel at home in former hotel

There’s no telling just what fomer hotel owners Mr. York or Nelson Enos would have thought of a pizz
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There’s no telling just what Mr. York or Nelson Enos would have thought of a pizza place in their little community, but as Sandy Foster says, people seem to warm up to the Village Pizzeria & Ristorante pretty quickly.

“You come in here as a customer and you leave feeling like a member of the family,” said Foster, who along with Joe Guerrera owns and operates Village Pizzeria & Ristorante in the Saratoga County hamlet of East Galway. “I know that line’s been used by other people, but that’s really the way we are.”

On Route 29 in the town of Galway where Jockey Street comes in from the south and Benzal Road from the north, Village Pizzeria has become a focal point in the community since Foster and Guerrera opened up the restaurant in 1988. It offers its customers an authentic experience of Italian food and wine, according to Foster, which certainly couldn’t be said of the place during its first two centuries.

Early settlers

“It was the Scots who first settled Galway itself back in 1774,” said town of Galway deputy historian Tom Cwiakala, “and there was a hotel there in East Galway even before 1800. [East Galway] was called York’s Corners, and there was a Mr. York that operated a hotel there.”

The name York’s Corners survived into the 20th century, and the hotel there was run by several different people and had a variety of names, including the East Galway Inn, the East Galway Hotel, the Franklin House and the Glendale Hotel. In 1927, when Nelson Enos was running the place, it burned to the ground but was quickly rebuilt. Two years later, people were once again boarding there.

“I found rent receipts from 1929, and at that time I think it was a small, five-room hotel with a little taproom downstairs,” said Guerrera. “It cost $9 per month to stay in a room.”

There was a post office and a general store at York’s Corners, but nailing down when exactly Mr. York put up his hotel is hard to determine. Cwiakala guesses it was soon after the American Revolution.

In the wild

“From 1780 to 1783 most of the inhabitants of this area headed to the safety of Schenectady, and then after the Revolution it stayed pretty wild for a few years,” he said. “The town was called New Galloway back then, but it got changed because of a typographical error. Jockey Street — it was originally Jockey Road, had its name because there were so many horse dealers along that road from Charlton up to East Galway. I’m sure there were a lot of deals made in Mr. York’s hotel.”

When Guerrera and Foster first moved to East Galway in 1985 the place was called the Glendale Hotel, but it seemed to be in its last throes.

“I can remember it being open when we first moved here, but it was the kind of place where you might stop for a beer and shoot a game of pool,” said Guerrera. “Then it closed and stayed that way for about two years. It was up for sale a few times but I guess they fell through. We just happened along one day, and we had been making pizza at our farmhouse. Our friends told us that we should open up a pizzeria.”

Guerrera had been in the scrap metal business in Waterbury, Conn. Foster was a hairdresser, but knew her way around a kitchen very well.

“What intrigued me about the place was the Coca-Cola cooler that was out on the front porch,” she said. “Inside, the place was a nightmare. We didn’t have any experience running a restaurant, but I grew up in an Italian-American family in an Italian-American neighborhood, and I had a passion for Italian food and wine. We’d have friends over for pizza and they would tell me, ‘You ought to open your own pizzeria because there’s nothing like this around here’. So, we did.”

These days, pizza is only part of the package at Foster’s place. The menu offers quite a selection, and while she doesn’t do that much cooking herself, she still oversees everything that goes on in the kitchen.

“We still use the best-quality ingredients, even with the economy being what it is,” she said. “We don’t cut corners that way. I feed people like I feed my family. We don’t skip on quality. That’s something you learn in Italy.”

Wine wisdom

Foster has also learned a lot about wine in Italy, and she and Guerrera now have around 4,000 bottles in their wine cellar below the restaurant.

“We go to Italy once a year and we’re hosted by the wine makers themselves,” she said. “Tuscany is my favorite part of the country, but this year we went to Alba way up north, and we went to their White Truffle Festival, which was very unique. We’ve learned a lot about wine on our trips, and we’re very proud of our wine cellar here.”

The Village Pizzeria & Ristorante has a few little nooks and crannies that can allow guests a degree of privacy, while also available is a small dining area upstairs, an outdoor patio and a bocci ball court. The entire dining area, including upstairs, can seat around 120 people, and the outdoor area has room for another 150.

The takeout part of the business accounts for about 35 percent of their total business, and it used to be even more before New York enacted its ban on smoking in public places.

As Foster will tell you, the law helped her make the Village Pizzeria & Ristorante a much more family-friendly and date-night kind of establishment — a place where people would look forward to dining.

“When they passed the no-smoking law, I was thrilled,” said Foster. “We had a bar, a tap room, and that’s why some people came. Other people used to come here to eat, and while we did everything we could to eliminate the smoke, it still was there. When they passed that law, we did some major renovation work, and that really changed things for the better.”

Originally, Foster was worried about the small rural community of East Galway being able to support her restaurant.

“They say, ‘Location, location,’ but we certainly weren’t in a great location,” she said. “We had to go out with a hook and pull people in, but once they come in here they’ll come back.”

They come from the Saratoga Springs area (about 10 miles to the east) and from Amsterdam and Gloversville (about 20 miles to the west), and they come from the village of Galway, just a few miles to the southwest. The place also draws customers from nearby Burnt Hills, Charlton and Ballston Spa, and one husband and wife regularly make the trip all the way from Clifton Park.

“You know how many pizzerias they have to pass between here and Clifton Park?” said Foster, laughing. “People come quite a ways, and sometimes it’s only for takeout.”

Applause for kitchen

For Joe Minarski, who works in Ballston Spa and lives in East Galway, less than a mile from the restaurant, the trip is a short one and most enjoyable.

“Every time I eat there, I have to go into the kitchen and start clapping,” said Minarski, “because it’s so phenomenal. I had an appetizer the other day, some kind of sausage-fish thing, that was heaven. When you put their food into your mouth, you can just tell it’s very good. It’s really unbelievable.”

While their venture into the restaurant world has worked out well for Foster and Guerrera, she wasn’t always so sure.

“It was difficult at first because I don’t think people in a small community wanted people from a big city to come in and take over,” said Foster. “I can’t tell you how many nights I sat over there in the corner, after scraping wallpaper for hours, thinking to myself, ‘What have I done?’ It was an awful lot of work.”

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