It’s hard enough to make it in the restaurant business. Combine that with English not being your native language and a restaurant location off the beaten path and the challenge is even harder. But that didn’t stop Genaro Garcia and his family from creating two successful restaurants. Garcia and his family own and operate Gaby’s Café locations in Ellenville and Rhinebeck.
Perhaps the key to Gaby’s Cafe success is the welcoming atmosphere and how much Garcia and his family enjoy the social aspect - talking with the guests and making sure they are enjoying their meal. “It is just like when you cook for company at your home. You want them to give rave reviews and when you use good ingredients they know you really care about them. You want them to have nothing but the best,” says Garcia.
Born in Mexico City and raised in Piaxtla Puebla until the age of 13, Garcia moved to NY and lived in Corona Queens and Jackson Heights. Back then, he went from restaurant to restaurant working and learning all he could about cooking and the restaurant industry. He learned a little bit here and a little bit there and spent time in all kinds of restaurants learning so many different techniques and styles: French, Italian, Mexican and Spanish. In the years to come, he got married, had children and as life changed he found he was getting bored and wanted to make changes in his career path. He was tired of living paycheck to paycheck and decided he wanted to own and run his own restaurant. In 2008, his family upstate called him and told him about a restaurant that was for sale in Ellenville. He saw it as an opportunity to fulfill his dream of owning a restaurant of his own. “My wife and I wanted to have some sort of business, specifically in the food business. We like going out, but we really like making the food and sharing it with people. We feel really satisfied when people enjoy what they are eating,” shares Garcia.
Ellenville is a small town but Garcia liked the feel and the idea that his kids would have space to move and play in the country, so he decided to buy it and make the move. They opened Gaby’s Cafe in the late fall of 2008. Garcia says, “It was really tough. Not only was the economy down but the first winter was rough due to weather. We had big hopes and just kept chugging through the winter and then when the summertime came so did the customers and they really liked it.”
“We have a great following with the locals but we also get a lot of tourists. People come to the area to take advantage of the great outdoors, biking, hiking, fishing, canoeing, camping, hang gliding, etc. We get a lot of people who come up from the city for the day to take advantage of all the Hudson Valley has to offer. That has been really important in building the business. People really enjoy what we offer and post positive reviews on the internet and social media, which has really helped build our business.”
Social media was, and still is, a big part of getting a constant flow of new business. Visitors often Google places to eat, and with a slew of positive reviews from travelers, Gaby’s Cafe attracts a lot of visitors, especially from the city.
As the restaurant took off, they began to set their sights on a second location in Dutchess County. Garcia says, “We knew what we had worked well in Ellenville, but we were curious to find out if our food and concept would translate and be as popular in a location that is known for great food. With the CIA and the wide amount of talented chefs opening businesses in that area, how would our food fare? We wanted to know how good we were when competing with the best.”
In 2010 they got notice of a place that had been closed for a while and had a history of restaurants not making it in that location. Although it was right in the center of Rhinebeck, it was hidden on the back side of the main street. The location was far from ideal and the landlords were even skeptical that the location would ever attract the amount of customers needed for a restaurant to be successful there. But Garcia was game for the challenge, “We opened up and people came and checked out our food and they were convinced. We have been busy ever since.”
Garcia is a true restaurateur who take great care in providing his guests with a personal dining experience. Of everything he does, he most enjoys carefully selecting the products and meticulously choosing ingredients, especially when it comes to fresh vegetables. The region’s local farms provide beautiful vegetables and Garcia prefers supporting the local farmers.
As if owning two restaurants wasn’t enough, Garcia now has his eye on buying a bakery. This past December when longtime owner of the iconic Cohen’s Bakery, Bill Tochterman, fell on hard times, Garica offered to jump in and help keep the business open. In Gaby’s first year it had been Tochterman, who had given Garcia the much needed support and encouragement to stick with it and not give up when times were very tough. So when Garcia learned that Tochterman had closed the bakery due to financial difficulties, Garcia offered resources and financial support and the doors of the popular bakery reopened. Today, Garcia is negotiating to take over the mortgage and keep this icon in the community. He plans to continue offering the traditional bakery offerings at Cohen’s as well as enlisting the baker for the restaurants to start offering traditional South American baked goods.
As for the food at Gaby’s, as the social media reviews suggest, you won’t be disappointed. They offer a large selection of traditional Mexican fare along with many nontraditional items, including Italian specialties and other specials inspired by Garcia’s journey through the restaurant industry. On the day I was there, specials included a veal chop with cherry peppers, mushrooms, onions and fingerling potatoes, and a pork rib eye with a chipotle garlic sauce.
Garcia’s most popular dishes are definitely the enchiladas and on the more upscale side of the menu, crowd favorites are the paella and mariscada (similar to a zuppa di pesce). They also serve grilled rack of lamb and filet mignon with Gaby’s famous tequila sauce. Gaby’s bar touts over 100 kinds of tequila. And they take great pride in their handmade guacamole, created right at your table side while you watch.
While you’ll find the same menu at both locations, the specials on any given day may vary.
The staff is happy, upbeat, personable, and professional. Inside the restaurants you will find a great place to kick back and relax. As far as the atmosphere, every effort has been made to create a fun and friendly dining experience that is well wor