A Schenectady couple wants to open a family-friendly restaurant at the former Rupsis Tavern, a longtime Carrie Street hangout for Union College students and Northside neighborhood residents.
Mayra and Frank Then, owners of Cousin Deli Grocery on Van Vranken Avenue, own the building at 1549 Carrie St. and are seeking a variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals to operate a restaurant on the first floor.
Although the first floor was once home to a tavern, the building reverted back to its original residential zoning after the tavern had been closed for a year.
“Union College students and staff come into my parents’ store all the time asking for her subs, and she makes this really good pork and other small food items,” said Darlene Then, the couple’s daughter. “They have actually mentioned that they would love her to open a restaurant in that neighborhood because they could just walk across the street for lunch.”
The Thens moved to the Capital Region about six years ago from New York City, where they ran four corner stores at once, Darlene Then said. They moved to Clifton Park to be with Mayra Then’s sister and began searching for a city where they could not only open a corner store, but own the building. They searched Watervliet, Cohoes and a few other places before discovering Schenectady.
“My dad thought it was the perfect spot to open a store,” said Darlene Then. “He opened up the store and started buying some houses in the neighborhood because he wanted to fix them up and rent them out, make the town look better bit by bit.”
A few years ago, they bought the two-story building that housed the Rupsis Tavern for 65 years and began renting out the apartments upstairs.
Anthony and Helen Rupsis first opened the Carrie Street tavern in 1940. It became famous for its roast beef sandwiches, made from the best round roasts from Wasserman’s Meat Market on Broadway. Anthony Rupsis died in 1970, but his widow kept at it with other family members, running the place until 2005. Locals who frequented the tavern remembered her for her motherly entreaties — whether it was urging customers to get a haircut or to watch their language. She died in 2011.
The Thens tried to open a corner store there last year, but the city denied their application, citing the crime that corner stores tend to attract. Darlene Then said her family soon learned another corner store was not what the community needed anyhow.
Instead, they decided to pursue the restaurant, without a bar, because there are so few in the neighborhood. The restaurant they’re proposing would serve affordable food, possibly Latin American cuisine, and nonalcoholic beverages.
“We noticed that the neighborhood doesn’t really approve of the alcohol and the smoking that comes with the bars,” said Darlene Then. “A lot of people complain about people out drinking, making noise and causing a ruckus. And a lady on Hattie Street always complained about the trash and graffiti that comes with corner stores. So we want it to be like a family-friendly restaurant that isn’t disruptive to the neighborhood. We want to make the neighborhood look better, basically.”
Several years ago, they were robbed at gunpoint in their Van Vranken Avenue store. Instead of scaring them out of the city, the incident prompted them to put down more roots in the community. They moved out of Clifton Park and into the apartment above the store, and began buying several buildings in the neighborhood, fixing them up and renting them out.
A restaurant would also improve the neighborhood, said Darlene Then, by giving residents and college students, many of them lacking cars, a place within walking distance to sit down and dine.
If their application for a zoning variance is approved, she said, her parents would renovate the floors and repaint before opening the restaurant. Mayra Then’s sister and brother-in-law would manage day-to-day operations.