Stephen Paul Mancini, in his Own Write

At the risk of being inflammatory, let EDP tell you what city foodies think about Westchester diners. They assume we dine at 6pm on country club fare a few decades past trendy, washing down our filet mignon with Appletinis served by skinny-necked high-school students. Oh, folks, how those City folks sneer as they sit on uncomfortable chairs in unmarked bars, congratulating themselves in their hipness as their skinny jeans cut circulation below low-rise belts.

Knowing this, I was charmed by Stephen Paul Mancini’s letter to the New York Times’s Sam Sifton, where he explains to a Manhattan-centric audience his reasons for heading “North”. Of course, the letter was published in May, 2010, and we know the end to the story: Stephen paired up with Chef Eric Gabrynowicz to open Armonk’s fabulous Restaurant North.

We asked Mancini to do a follow-up to his “Diner’s Journal” letter. Here’s what he sent us: hope you enjoy.
—J. Sexton

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About 35 Minutes from Manhattan
Stephen Paul Mancini
So, it’s only about 35 minutes north of New York City—what’s the big deal, right? I mean, when I lived and worked in NYC’s Gramercy Park area, my zip code was 10010 and now it’s 10504. How much different could it be? Leaving the Danny Meyer Empire in NYC and opening a restaurant in Westchester, specifically Armonk, was at times very different from big city life and at times very much the same…how could that be? Give me a second and I will tell you.
One of the most amazing things about the hospitality industry is that it’s built in humanity, built in a system of people, for the people by the people. It’s a business that can only be as good as the people who partake in the business. The restaurant industry is based in empathy: to be empathetic to one’s co-workers and to the guest, to care. Danny Meyer refers to it as one’s “emotional skills” and it is this emotional skill that is most important in the hiring process.
At Union Square Café, we would actually play this game: We would ask ourselves if we would have this interviewee to our house for dinner, meaning how did we feel around this person. Did they really care about the restaurant, me, and the work environment? If the answer was yes, then it would be a step in the right direction.
At North, we spend anywhere from eight to 16 hours a day with our co-workers, as is the restaurant business. It is important that we work with people we love, whom we feel comfortable being around, and whom we care about. Six months into our project here at North, one of the aspects of the business that I am most proud of is our staff. What an amazing team we have built. We are a family that comes to work every day to strive for excellence, to learn, to push our boundaries, and, most important, to care for others. North reminds me a lot of the restaurants I worked at in New York City.
On the other side of the coin, while some things are similar, others can be dramatically different. Growing up in Westchester never prepared me for the relationships that we have forged with local farms. Local farms in Westchester? I would have said, “Come on!” Growing up, I always thought that these places were hours north of Westchester, not literally 10 minutes from the door of the restaurant. We have been able to achieve amazing local farm relationships at North, leaps and bounds greater then I ever could have dreamed of. Yes, there was an amazing farmers’ market in Union Square—one of the best in the country actually—but a farmer’s market will never compare to the farmer showing up at your kitchen door with vegetables picked about an hour previously.
The Westchester County Land Trust and Slow Food Westchester have been some of the most amazing additions to my personal and professional life; it is something that I was never able to feel in New York City. At the Westchester Land Trust headquarters in Bedford Hills, Chef Eric and I attend meetings monthly. Sitting in a room with amazing farmers, like those of Amawalk Farm (Katonah) or Amba Farms (Bedford Hills) and chefs like Matt Hutchins from Birdsall House, talking about farming practices, the possibilities of an RSA (Restaurant Supported Agriculture), is an amazing communication. I feel like I’m right at the source. In the city, no matter how hard we tried to be on the same level, there was always a certain amount of disconnect. Yes, my friend Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern is one of the greatest farm-driven chefs in the country and, yes, he knows and loves all of his farmers. But what Chef Eric and I have at North is just different. There are thousands of acres in Bedford Hills, Yorktown Heights, South Salem, and Katonah, all of these places just about 10 to 15 minutes from our front door at North; you can’t get that in New York City.
Opening a restaurant has been a unique and spectacular learning and life experience. Being a native of Westchester, I am honored to call these farmers my neighbors. The joy that has come from developing a relationship with the Westchester community is indescribable and I look forward to the journey in the coming years here at North. What’s more, there are adventures and stories that come from working at a 20-year-old New York City restaurant, like Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café, and there was always something to be learned every day. In this infancy stage at North, I can’t wait to share all of those experiences with our guests and friends.

Pictured Above: Summer’s Soft Shell Crabs at Restaurant North

 

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