Bayou Café will expand into Malta this summer as its founder embraces nightlife outside Albany and searches for a way back to his Louisiana-style business roots.
Ralph Spillenger opened Bayou Café in Glenville in the late 1990s and a sister site in Albany in 2001. But just last year, he left Albany in a bit of a huff, disgruntled after his bar Jillian’s closed down after 13 years on North Pearl Street. Downtown Albany had changed, he said, with businesses picking up and leaving en masse and the night crowd becoming increasingly chaotic.
So he sold the nearby Bayou Café to a friend — who just last week changed its name to The Hollow Bar & Kitchen — and he and his son, Shane, turned their attention toward the fast-growing town of Malta. Spillenger lives in the town and had long had his eyes on a building at 2639 Route 9, just a mile off the Northway. For a long time, it was home to a bar and then the Malta Home Design Center. But in December, Spillenger noticed it was empty.
“It’s just a beautiful building,” he said, citing its high ceilings and roomy feel. “I live up here, so I’ve been watching this building, and it’s just spectacular, especially as I try to get back into the business model that I have in Glenville, which is more of a neighborhood restaurant/tavern.”
Spillenger will act as general manager, but it’s his son who owns the place and will run the day-to-day operations of the new Bayou Café.
“It’s what I’ve known my whole life,” said Shane Spillenger. “I’ve grown up in restaurants and bars, and it’s just what I know. It’ll be nice to be close to my parents’ house, and I’m excited to get back to basics.”
The younger Spillenger said he has a budget of about $75,000 to $100,000 to work with on renovating and opening the 7,000-square-foot building. But before he can even get contractors in the building to paint, he needs to work out sewer and water hookups for the operation. That in itself is a big decision, he said, since he expects the town to install sewer lines along the Route 9 corridor in a few years’ time, given the rapid commercial and residential growth driven by semiconductor manufacturing giant GlobalFoundries.
“We’re a little befuddled with how much money we should sink into this right now,” he said.
They also still need to secure a liquor license, but the Spillengers are banking on a tentative June opening for the new Bayou.
And while Ralph Spillenger once would have bemoaned the busy developments that have encroached on the small town of Malta, he now views the transformation in a different light.
“Well, it’s a growing area, and obviously GlobalFoundries is a big part of that,” he said. “I remember thinking there was never a big enough population around here to support me opening a bar in my hometown. But that’s all changed. It’s kind of a realization of a dream to be able to open a place in my own neighborhood.”
He’s excited to join the small but growing roster of entertainment and nightlife options in town. Last fall, the Albany-based Recovery Sports Grill opened its sixth Capital Region restaurant in Malta.
The new Bayou will stay true to its Glenville roots, said Spillenger. He’ll keep the same Cajun theme, as well as the jazz, rock and roll and Zydeco music. But for this location, he’s mulling a name change that would pay homage to the town’s leading employer.
“The name of this place is going to be Bayou Nano,” he said, with a pause and then a chuckle. “Well, it might be the name. I should get some feedback first before making that permanent.”