A longtime catering and pop-up restaurant operation in Rensselaer County is building a permanent restaurant in downtown Schenectady.
The team that owns and operates Old Daley Custom Catering is busy converting a former Yates Street taxi garage into Daley’s on Yates, a neighborhood-style restaurant serving food ranging from casual to formal.
If construction doesn’t fall behind schedule — there have been a few unexpected delays with things like water lines — the soft opening will be in mid- to late August, and the official opening will happen in early September.
“We’ve been dipping our toes back into the restaurant business for three years now,” said Steph Pettit, co-owner of Old Daley, which has been heavily focused on catering since the decision to close the original Old Daley Inn in Troy in the late 1990s.
The turning point came when she and husband Jim Pettit purchased the Crooked Lake House in Averill Park and turned the historic but faded restaurant into an event venue. They opened a January-and-February pop-up restaurant to keep revenue flowing and staff busy when the wedding business is slowest. But the offseason venture took off.
“We do a really nice business,” Steph Pettit said. “It's both lucrative and telling — that it was time.”
While looking for a space to open a permanent restaurant in Jim’s native Troy, the right opportunity came up in Schenectady, where both Pettits had attended Schenectady County Community College’s culinary program. Partnering with the Pettits on the project, which will cost $1 million to $1.2 million, are Gene Coletti and Marty Keary.
Downtown Troy is experiencing a renaissance of its own, and the couple still plan a restaurant there someday. But they were blown away by the changes in downtown Schenectady since they attended school there.
“I think, from an outsider's perspective, you’re kind of shocked when you see the main street corridor,” Steph Pettit said.
Daley's on Yates is a pioneering operation in more ways than one: Old Daley hasn’t really reached Schenectady with its catering business, so the market is new to the Pettits, and downtown redevelopment hasn’t really reached Yates, a short, narrow street connecting Union and Liberty streets.
The Pettits are excited about being the biggest thing on the block.
“It’s one city block deep — and not a long city block,” Steph Pettit said.
A large, illuminated sign facing Liberty Street will alert downtown pedestrians and motorists to the new restaurant's presence.
The project has not received any financial assistance, though it will benefit from Yates Street lighting, pavement and sidewalk upgrades recently funded by the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority. Metroplex officials view Yates as a strategically placed walkway with a lot of potential, as it forms a route between restaurants on Jay and Union streets on one side and entertainment on State Street on the other side, with surface parking lots sprinkled around.
Michael Anthony, who will be the general manager of Daley's on Yates, said all the new activity in the city — not least of which is the Mohawk Harbor project and Rivers Casino & Resort — forms a “perfect storm,” making this the right time to open a new restaurant.
“It’s really going to meld in terms of the Schenectady experience,” he said.
The new use for the circa-1890s building will mix formal and industrial decors, he said: The brick and wood of the former taxi garage and auto parts store will be preserved, with artwork to add some polish to the warehouse look.
A 3,000-square-foot patio will have fire pits and sectional couches; two 20-foot elms have been transplanted to create a canopy of shade in the summer months.
The food will be varied in scale and style.
“It’s a neighborhood venue [at which] you can find both casual and formal,” Steph Pettit said. Choices will range from “small plates” for a quick bite after a workday that ran late to full sit-down meals for families.
She said there won’t be a single dominant ethnic style of cuisine.
“French influences without being French” is probably the best label, she said.
Making it all happen will be Executive Chef Elliott Vogel, who currently works for Old Daley Custom Catering, and at the age of 29 will bring some new perspective and ideas to the menu.
“He’s a breath of fresh air when it comes to working with a creative partner and a chef,” Steph Pettit said.