There was a time, Tony Centi recalls, when Crystal Ristorante hummed with activity from people jostling to get drinks at the horseshoe bar or grabbing a sandwich or two before heading back to work or home.
This was when Amsterdam had a huge manufacturing base and played host to corporations such as Mohasco, whose sprawling complex was right across the street from his bar, Esquire Novelty and Coleco.
The businesses are gone now, their massive mills partially filled with smaller companies, standing derelict or replaced by parking lots. But at one time, the factories employed more than 7,000 people. When hungry workers wanted something to eat, their destination of choice more often than not was Crystal Ristorante on Lyon Street, which was within easy walking and driving distance.
But like the companies it once catered to, Crystal Ristorante will soon be gone. The third-generation, family-owned restaurant, which has sat at the same site for 67 years, is going on the auction block in early May. It is being sold to satisfy a $200,000 debt owed to BLX Capital LLC.
BLX foreclosed on the property last year after Centi stopped making payments. He had borrowed approximately $1.2 million to add a banquet hall onto the bar and restaurant in 2004 and secured the loan with the property.
“I tried to renegotiate my loan with them. My interest rate was 10 percent, and I told them I could not do 10 percent when everyone else was doing 5 percent or less,” he said. The issue remained in limbo for months and then BLX contacted him by letter and asked he make a balloon payment. “The payment was way out of my league,” Centi said.
BLX officials were not available for comment.
Centi said the building and business are worth about $1.5 million, but he doubts it will fetch that price, at least not in Amsterdam.
He also owes the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency about $100,000, as well as $15,000 in back taxes to the city, school district and county.
Centi borrowed the money from the IDA to refinance unsecured debt and provide “working capital to allow better cash flow to expand the business opportunities,” according to IDA records. The revolving loan was made in order to retain the equivalent of 20 full-time positions within three years, a goal it met. Centi said the business currently has 40 full- and part-time employees.
When he opened the banquet hall, he said he thought he was doing something that was needed in the city. Instead, he opened in a weak economy, which only got worse. “Things weren’t the same after Sept. 11 ,” he said.
“The economy got worse and the population [in Amsterdam] kept going down. We are not seeing anything positive happening here, as far as people and industry moving in. I would never had invested $1 million in this place if I knew how bad things would be,” he said.
Until the auction, tentatively set for May 7, Centi said he intends to remain open and will honor outstanding certificates and coupons. “I do not want to go out of business owing money to people,” he said.
He remains concerned about his employees, some of whom have been with him for years. “All those people will be on the street, looking for jobs,” he said.
As for himself, Centi said he “is too old to work for someone else and too young to retire.” He might open a pizza parlor somewhere in the area, or he may write a book recounting the stories about the restaurant and its clientele. “When it comes close to [the auction], I may make a book and I would not have to work,” he said with a laugh.
Centi’s grandfather, Anthony Sr., opened Crystal Ristorante in 1945. “He came here from Italy and worked on the Erie Canal. He started tending bar on the South Side at Carl’s Tavern, and he turned around opened his own place on Lyon Street,” he said.
The restaurant got its name from the fact that in the original building, the bar was built on crystal tiles, Centi said. The bar can seat 30 people along its perimeter.
Gabe Centi, Tony’s father, took over the business in 1958. Tony Centi and his wife, Carol, took it over 25 years ago. Their son and daughter, the fourth generation, had planned to take over the business, but Centi’s financial troubles have eclipsed that plan.
Asked whether his children will try to buy the restaurant at auction, Centi joked again, “I don’t pay them enough.”