Sarah Suarez September 2015
Photo by Jessica Chappe
Where are you from and what led you to the Hudson Valley?
So I actually grew up in the Hudson Valley, on the other side of the river, Orange County, in Middletown and Warwick, NY. But I lived most of my life in Brooklyn and Manhattan then went to school in Boston. My husband, Nick, grew up in Westchester, CT. When we started talking about opening up our own place we knew we wanted to do it outside the city, where we could make a home and escape the craziness. We started looking at the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and the Berkshires, always leaning towards to Hudson Valley. Once we started to get to know Columbia County and Duchess County specifically, that was how we decided - just all of the amazing people that we met.
How did you decide to open Gaskins?
I’ve worked in restaurants since I was sixteen, always front of house, initially as a waitress, a busgirl, and a hostess – I’ve done every kind of front of house job you can do in a restaurant. I went to school for journalism and thought I would write about food but as soon as I got a job at a magazine I missed being in restaurants and interacting with people. I love taking care of people, feeding people, making drinks, and learning about wine. I knew I would have my own restaurant. When I started dating Nick he was a super talented chef and cook but had no professional training. He was considering going back to school for cooking. His mother was a chef, and he grew up in a culinary focused house. So when we started thinking about our future, we talked about having a business, a restaurant or some sort of food business. Nick went to cooking school and started a catering company. I wasn’t quite ready to leave my job managing a bunch of small family operated restaurants in Brooklyn: Diner, Marlow & Sons, Roman’s, Marlow & Daughters, Reynard. It was tightknit community, I loved the people I worked with, and it was a great company to work for. They took care of their employees - I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else really after working for them, except working for myself.
And that led to opening Gaskins?
Yes, Nick was doing the catering company and then we hit that moment where we said “Ok! We’re ready.” We knew we wanted a more sustainable lifestyle and to try and buy a building. It was the year we were getting married and we operated Nick’s catering company outside the city while we researched. We lived temporarily in Connecticut in a little town for the winter, we looked at real estate, and we figured if we could still love this area after looking at buildings in January, then we’d be ok. We found Germantown early on. We were considering Hudson, Rhinebeck, and some of the bigger towns and cities. We looked at Chatham, at Great Barrington, and up in Phoenicia. In Hudson one day and we ran into some friends from the city at Bonfiglio and Bread. They just started renting a house in Germantown and said “you should go check it out!” And we were like, where’s that? We then had lunch at Otto’s, saw this building was for sale, took a tour, looked at it, and fell for it hard. We continued to look, but it had all of the things we were looking for. We wanted somewhere we could live. Nick and I knew if we were going to buy the building that would tap us out, so we needed somewhere we could move in right away, and not have to do a ton of living space renovation. We moved in two months after we bought it. Nick and I wanted to be in a downtown, not a total destination, which we still kind of are, being in Germantown. But the notion that there is a small community of people who live here, who walk here, who frequent the other businesses, we really liked that idea.
Photo by Mikael Kennedy
Can you tell me about the name of the restaurant?
I’m Sarah Suarez now, because Nick and I got married last year. My maiden name is Gaskins, and that’s what everyone in the restaurant business called me. We were thinking of a name, and we were having a really hard time. We wanted a name that felt easy, comforting, casual, and personal. It’s so funny to name something. We had different ideas, would get really into one, and then discard it because of whatever reasons or someone’s reaction to it. We still didn’t have a name, we were starting to do events for the spring, and we needed a name! Our friends, who interior designed the restaurant, said why don’t you call it what we refer to it as? “Gaskins!” And it stuck. It was hard for me to get around it at first because it’s my name, and I had just given it up after trying to decide whether I would or not. So it was perfect!
What about the location? Does it have any historical significance?
This building is from 1890 and there was a fire in downtown Germantown, in the 1920’s. There are only a couple of buildings that have been around as long as this building. Over the years it was a bunch of different businesses but mostly it was a grocery store kind of deli. It was an IGA originally, an owner operated IGA’s, the Steer IGA. The Steer family still lives in Germantown; they bring us like old pictures of the kids in the baseball uniforms standing in front of the store.
What is your current favorite dish on the menu?
It’s a hard question, but I think my instinct is always the burger because it’s super comforting and we put a lot of effort into trying to make it perfect. Nick makes the buns from scratch, that’s a big part of it and we make the special sauce.
What is the special sauce?
The special sauce is a secret. It’s not really a secret but you know it’s a play on the special sauce. It’s mayo, ketchup, pickles, and some other things. The grass fed beef from Kinderhook, one of our favorite farms, is a big part of the reason we started looking in Columbia County. We met them in the city when I was working with Diner and Marlow. They hosted us for a weekend at the farm and invited a bunch of young people that they knew in their attempt to lure us. I think they’re a little sad they we’re in southern Columbia County, still not too far. But then for the hyper seasonal things, I think my favorite thing on the menu that Nick’s been doing is this simple pan roasted bluefish with cucumber yogurt and tomatoes and basil.
Photo by Mikael Kennedy
I know that you source a lot of your food from local farms and farms stands and that your menu changes seasonally. How do you think your menu and suppliers will changes in the winter?
Right now we’re kind of excited for the change, because we love tomatoes and corn and peaches and peppers and all of the summer things, but I love fall cooking. It’s a little more nuanced. In the summer you don’t have to do much, everything is so fresh; you can serve it really simply. Whereas the winter you get a little more of the roasted flavors, like slow braising. So I think we’ll still work with a lot of the same farmers through the fall and early winter. Most of them now are growing squash, some root vegetables are starting, and leeks and apples. We have a new dish on the menu with Montgomery Place apples and pears, some fennel and celery, and cheese. I think we’ll still work closely with the same farms through the fall. It’s going to be hard in January, there’s not a ton of stuff. Maybe we’ll have to get a little shipment in from California during the winter. I always like to have a little citrus in the winter to keep things a little bright. But we’re excited to see what the winter brings us.