East Chatham Food Company: The Firemen’s Dream Come True
By Elizabeth Hartley
If you ever drove through East Chatham in years past, you were no stranger to The Cottage, a folksy low-slung eatery on the edge of town. For years, this popular spot served simple diner-style food and fresh-baked bread to locals and downstate travelers. Change eventually caught up with The Cottage and its owners retired some five years ago.
Several new owners tried their hands, but none seemed able to get the traction needed to survive, let alone thrive. After its last failed incarnation, the place sat shuttered for 15 months. In stepped Rick Newton and Dave Shea, a couple of volunteer firemen from East Chatham, who bought and renovated the place and recently rolled out their own new eatery, the East Chatham Food Company, a whimsical take on their alter-identities in the East Chatham Fire Company.
“Once you go through a few house fires together, you know whether or not you can work with a guy,” Newton says. Shea laughs and agrees. Trained as a chef at the CIA, Shea ran the respected Applewood restaurant in Brooklyn before moving full time to East Chatham a few years ago. He joined the fire company in 2012 and is now a lieutenant. Newton, a construction supervisor, moved to rural Columbia County as a kid. Also a lieutenant, he joined the fire company in 2008 and is its current president.
Dave Shea and Rick Newton.
There’s no denying the trust that develops among men who have each other’s backs — and we mean that literally. Newton says, “We’re the two knuckleheads you see on the roof in a fire.” Their bond, it turns out, helped the two men transcend much of the normal stress associated with launching a business.
“Dave’s got the ability to do the food and I had the construction skills, and we respect each other’s expertise,” Newton says. Once the purchase was final in May 2016, he got right to work on overdue structural and cosmetic improvements: new lighting and flooring in the dining room, a new handicapped-accessible restroom, new HVAC system, all-new plumbing and a totally re-configured kitchen, as well as a handsome new bar (built by the local Hooper Cabinet Company), even correcting traffic bottlenecks in the main hallway, bar and kitchen. ECFC opened to the public in October 2016 with a clean new look and exciting menu, while retaining much of the familiar comfort of The Cottage.
“We both really wanted to make the restaurant a community place, to be with the people we know and enjoy being around,” Newton says. “Finding the right staff happened for us quickly because we knew the whole fire company community.” That word — community — at ECFC begins with family; both men’s teen-aged children (five between them) welcome customers, bus tables or do kitchen prep. The restaurant became a family affair, with many hands attending to its decor, training, menu creation and other aspects of its progress.
There’s a special for each night; Saturday night’s is prime rib with baked potato and salad. Photos: East Chatham Food Company.
“We follow the same general model as The Cottage and welcome the local community,” Shea says, but the emphasis at ECFC is on fresh and local ingredients (the owners even encouraged the farmstand in the parking lot to reopen) and a hipper menu. He buys from local purveyors as much as possible — easy to do with so many farms nearby. Grass-fed beef comes from Cynthia Creech’s Artemis Farm in New Lebanon, eggs from Feather Ridge, and most vegetables from Dick Klingler at Whistlestop Farm. Even libations are local; the bar features locally brewed beer from Chatham Brewing and S & S in Nassau.
The menu is sophisticated but family-friendly, with the usual fish and chips, burgers and grilled sandwiches (BLT, Reuben, goat cheese and roasted peppers, open-face roast beef) balanced by excellent salads (Caesar, Greek, roasted beet, wedge). The appetizer sampler, with a shrimp skewer, fried mozzarella and chicken tenders, is perfect for adults and their small children to share.
“You know, you often don’t know you want to do something until you do it,” Newton says. “Now, I can’t imagine my life without the fire company or the restaurant.”
East Chatham Food Company
1267 Rt. 295 (just outside the hamlet of East Chatham, NY)
Open daily except Tuesday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Reservations recommended for parties of 6 or more.