New York City’s restaurant scene has been forever changed by the current crisis. As some restaurateurs figure out how to pivot to delivery-only models or expand onto the streets with social-distanced outdoor dining, others are calling it quits. With no hope for rent relief underway and no vaccine roll-out plan, some restaurants can’t afford to stay open and fear putting their employees at risk and complicating their unemployment benefits should they need to close again this fall, when the virus, some experts say, may come back with a stronger vengeance.
The precariousness of the restaurant industry right now is one of the many reasons so many New Yorkers like chef Molly Levine have chosen greener pastures upstate, at least temporarily. During the pandemic, Levine launched a farm-focused food truck she’s calling The Pony Stall in Tannersville, New York, out of which she’s been selling homemade fresh bread loaves, flatbreads, fresh ricotta, chili oil, spreads and more weekly-changing picnic-y bites. The Pony Stall is one of several new upstate pop-ups and food trucks that have launched during the pandemic, finding alternatives to communal dining within new framework. Elsewhere in New Paltz, Baba focuses on plant-based Italian bites out of a colorful food truck. Meadowbloom is a new flower-focused farm stand in Hillsdale, New York. Hudson favorite Lil' Deb's Oasis has transformed their restaurant concept into a backyard cookout at nearby Rivertown Lodge. New Catskills natural wine bar Sunshine Colony is hosting food pop-ups on its lawn throughout the summer. And there are so many others figuring out how to get creative with hospitality.
“I never imagined I would run a food truck and I’m really just so grateful to have lucked into it and be able to feed people right now. I am very much still figuring out the platform. I want to be able to provide a service that creates communal space in a safe way in lieu of restaurants not being able to right now, but also I want to provide meal pick ups, and pantry, and value added goods from the farm,” Levine tells Time Out New York, adding that she has plans to also sell some non-food items like botanical dyes out of it, too. “[The name] Pony ‘Stall’ felt right. It’s a small space (literally the size of a horse stall) that you could just saunter up to and find joy!”
Levine moved to Tannersville in March for her partner to start work as a farm manager at Fromer Market Gardens. “I am one of the lucky ones—my partner is a farmer, we live on a farm—you don’t get closer to your food source than that,” she says of sourcing, living in a house on the property and using the ingredients for her new mobile kitchen. For the past 10 years, Levine has spent time in professional kitchens at spots like Chez Panisse, has helped open Carissa’s, a popular Long Island restaurant and hosted pop-up dinners at farms; so much of her work is rooted in connecting with local produce. What she can’t get at Fromer, she sources locally: the flour for the bread comes from Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners, lamb from Bluestone Hill Farm in Red Hook and chickens from Yellow Bell Farm, also in Red Hook.
“This [food truck] is a perfect vehicle (pun intended) for COVID times. The truck does offer a way to feed people without them having to come inside, or feel pressured to sit in a maybe too crowded outdoor space that they aren't yet fully comfortable with. And, yet, they can come and partake in an experience that hopefully scratches the itch we all are feeling in the absence of restaurant dining, as well as support the industry and local agriculture,” Levine says.
“It’s also important to me that customers know when they are supporting my business they are supporting a queer, woman-owned business. They are supporting local farms, the local economy and in turn the environment. They are also supporting other groups and Black Lives Matter,” she says. Since opening, she says she has donated all of her tips to the National Black Food Justice Alliance. “I never want The Pony Stall to just be about Molly Levine. I want it to be about community and support those who need uplifting. I am going to pick an org for the next few weeks that is focusing on land loss prevention for Black farmers or supports Black farmers trying to gain access to land,” Levine adds.
Follow The Pony Stall to learn more about where it will be popping up next. For now, you can find it at Deer Mountain Inn every Thursday evening through the end of this month and it’s parked at the farm on Saturdays from 9-2pm during their farm stand.
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