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NARROWSBURG, NY — Gerard Manzi and Joanne Snow-Manzi are still in the process of bringing their vision to life, but it’s coming together quickly. Despite all the work ahead of them, they said people can stop by for an affordable and delicious homemade meal by the end of April.
Gerard’s Cafe is opening in what used to be The Whistle Stop. The building has been Narrowsburg’s diner spot since the ‘90s, and the community has been lacking that casual, day-time eatery for a while.
In a town that offers, on one hand, a high-cost fine dining experience and, on the other, Chinese food and pizza, Gerard’s Cafe wants to “bridge that gap,” as Joanne put it, by offering good, homemade food at a reasonable price.
“I’m a pop, she’s a mom!” — Gerard Manzi
Since closing the River Grill in 2016, the lively Mongaup Valley-local and long-time executive chef has grown restless: “I’m bored. I took a short break, took a respite, and now I’m chaffing at the bit to be back in the restaurant business.
“I [became] Gerard Homemaker for a while,” he admitted with his classic hearty laugh. “But this is what I do! Restaurateuring is what I do. I mean, I’m a chef, a cook, a server—I do everything, and I’ve been doing it most of my life.
Before opening Gerard’s River Grill, Gerard ran Pop-in’s Pancake House and Ice Cream Parlor for 20 years in South Fallsburg. “[It] was very busy. We had 40 people on staff there, and it wasn’t much bigger than this room,” he said, gesturing to the space that’s becoming Gerard’s Cafe. Imagining his days of operating an ice cream parlor, and recalling how he paraded around the River Grill to show off his artichokes and say hello to guests, I suggested he would have more fun in this family-orientated, casual setting. “I think so!” he agreed.
When I met with the restaurateuring duo, the space was a work in progress. Tools were scattered on tabletops and resting in corners, and chairs crowded the center of the room. The freshly reupholstered booths were pulled from the wall in preparation for rebuffing the floor. The stools at the counter were also reupholstered, but they’re waiting on three more. “By this time next week, we’ll be much further along,” Gerard said. “I just want to get it done!”
They also plan to freshen up the deck for outdoor seating. “I want to clean up the bank leading to the railroad tracks and plant some crawling flowers, so it’ll be pretty to sit out there.” Joanne said.
In their vision, the cafe is open for breakfast and lunch, opening at 7 or 8 a.m. and closing at 3 or 4 p.m. Once a week, they hope to have a pre-fixed, reservation-only dinner service for people who miss Gerard’s dinners.
Patrons will be able to order classic, traditional diner food—eggs, waffles, paninis, sandwiches and soups—along with a few not-so-typical options like Eggs Benedict. With fresh-cut fries and homemade salad dressings, sauces, pancakes and desserts, “It’s not going to be a basic diner—it’s going to be a step up, but affordable,” Joanne said. There will be optional add-ons for people to upgrade their meals; for instance, offering real maple syrup with an order of pancakes for a small up-charge.
Of course, they’re still working on the menu. “Maybe I’ll slip in eggplant or chicken Parmesan,” Gerard said.
“I’ll be doing the baking,” Joanne added, “So we’ll have my homemade desserts, made with local products. We’re going to use as much local stuff as we can.”
Gerard began, “If you start out with low-cost this, pre-made that, you’re really limiting your ability to serve a good meal—
“and that’s not his philosophy,” Joanne finished.
Taking in the bright red stools, triangular low-hanging lamps and the Coke-a-Cola refrigerator, I noted that everything looked retro. Gerard grinned proudly: “We think so too!”
The look, though still unfinished, already fits their vision. They want to take people back to “a traditional hometown diner from before everyone just wanted everything too easy, where things were homemade and made-to-order. Like the true mom-and-pop places—“I’m a pop, she’s a mom!” Gerard interjected.
“And that’s true.” Joanne agreed with an amused eye-roll. “When I was growing up, most places were like that. Now diners are buying everything prepackaged and frozen—they’re not mom-and-pop anymore, they just became too commercialized. We want to go back to that.”
“Everybody in town is talking about it,” Gerard enthused. “I am so astounded that there are people I’ve seen time and time again, they used to say hello, but now it’s, ‘Oh, so glad you’re opening,’ ‘We need a good, affordable place for breakfast.’
“This is our town, and it should have a comfortable place where everybody can afford to go that produces good stuff—because good stuff’s all I know how to do.”