The opening of the Saratoga Raceway Thursday means more revenue in Saratoga Springs, and after two summers of disruption due to the pandemic, the city’s businesses are poised for a much better season at the track.
Visitors to Spa City can expect some new restaurants with more staff, shopkeepers with fewer masks and what will likely be a general feeling of less fear.
Restaurants, hotels and shops are welcoming guests with open arms after tourism plummeted during the 2020 and 2021 horse racing seasons as COVID-19 and its variants destroyed livelihoods around the world.
One of the newest additions to the dining scene is Rhea at 389 Broadway, which added more dining room seating and installed a new outdoor patio for the season.
“There’s no better indicator of how your business is doing than eight weeks of track season,” said head chef Peter Hamm.
Rhea started as a small pop-up shop selling noodle dishes, wontons and dumplings at the other restaurant next door she owns, Seneca. As Noodle House grew in popularity, the pop-up transformed into an all-Asian-influenced restaurant for dinner and drinks.
“Track season is where you get a lot of big fish from places like Manhattan and New York who want to spend big money. On Broadway, you can go to a burger joint or a steakhouse, both of which can be very expensive. There’s nothing wrong with those places, but what makes Rhea unique is that we hold our own with all these menus with our drinks, food, desserts – and you won’t feel like you broke the bank when you leave Hamm said.
To prepare for the track season, Hamm focuses on maintaining a positive mindset.
“If you’ve been through the track, it’s stressful and you’re grinding bone to bone every day. There is no such thing as days off because it will never be slow. … The key is to progress your preparation every day and stay organized. My job in the kitchen is to make sure everyone on the line is prepared and trained,” Hamm said. “To be a part of something brand new in the middle of Saratoga Raceway, you couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.”
At the Adelphi Hotel, which is heading into its 148th season, both of its restaurants – Morrissey’s Lounge & Bistro and Salt & Char at 365 Broadway – will be well equipped. The historic downtown landmark, which has hosted guests such as Vanderbilt, Carnegie and Theodore Roosevelt, expects to have 240 employees on staff, up from 140 last year. Rooms can cost more than $1,000 a night during peak season, while in the off-season they range from $300 to $500.
And now diners can find an Adelphi restaurant right on the runway, said Patrick Toomey, Adelphi’s director of restaurants.
“Last year we saw a lot of last-minute cancellations because of COVID. This year we finally get a full track season. I can feel it already,” said Toomey, who spent six years at Adelphi. “This will be a unique season. I think it will be very busy.”
Toomey was born and raised in Saratoga Springs and spends most of his time working at the hotel. “We open at 7 a.m. every day and don’t leave until the guests do,” he said.
“We never closed during COVID. No one has missed a shift,” he added. At the height of the pandemic, Morrissey’s prepared 200 to 300 three-course takeout dinners a day at $15 each, Toomey said. “We have a valet that can take 10 cars out front to do a ride service. We made the most of what we had. The boss had a vision and gave it the green light and it was fun.
The restaurant sent 1,000 meals to the Wesley Community Nursing Home during the pandemic, and now that goodwill—call it karma—is finding its way back to the restaurants.
“Since we’ve done this, we’ve created so many new customers just based on the offering we did during the pandemic. We didn’t make any money, but we made a lot of friends,” Toomey said. “Many of those people have since come back and still talk about what we did. That’s a big reason why we’re as busy as we are now every day.”
On August 27 and 28, the Travers draw will be held at the hotel, which is undergoing a multi-million dollar expansion expected to be completed in late 2023 or early 2024.
As Adelphi charts a growth path, retailer Hat sational! consolidates its locations after the pandemic.
“We closed our only store during COVID” after business came to a halt, owner Joyce Locks said, but on the other hand, “We survived.”
The challenge with the hat business, Loucks said, is that “hats are something you have to try on, so it was difficult.” The year-round store at 506 Broadway supplements its business with online shopping and delivery. “There’s a lot more that goes into wearing hats than people think. Someone’s height, the fit of the hat and your clothing are all ways to tell which hat is best for someone,” Loucks said.
Tailgate and Party Shop moved to Phila Street and Putnam from Caroline Street and relied on more foot traffic. The Little Thrift Store sells a variety of party games, decorations, supplies, gift bags and activities for holidays or small gatherings. It opened its doors two years ago in the midst of the pandemic. The owner, Kirsten Lambert, had to wait to open until the COVID regulations were lifted.
Store hours will be extended to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday during the season, and the store will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, Lambert said.
Another operation that has extended its hours for the season is The Bourbon Room Nightclub and Soundbar at 8 and 6 Caroline St.
“The main thing about track is it just throws so many people out on the street,” said Brian Miller, marketing director. “The other 40 weeks or so is where the bills are paid and the profit comes from the track.”
Soundbar, an indoor tiki-inspired lounge, will add Thursday to its regular Friday and Saturday schedule.
“There are so many things. You have SPAC, the No. 1 music venue in the country, right around the corner,” Miller said. “There have been times when, for example, when American Pharoah was the only horse to win the Triple Crown and the Travers — no one had — and on the same day, Zach Brown sold out the SPAC. They limited it to 55,000 people at the track, 40,000 people at the SPAC, and there were another 100,000 people just coming into town to be a part of it. That’s what Saratoga does.
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