By Jill Nagy
Chris Patten, the new owner of the Rockhill Bakehouse Cafe, received approval from the Glens Falls Planning Board when he presented plans to enlarge and renovate the property.
He plans to add two apartments above the cafe, expand the cafe itself, and do a “full gut renovation” of the inside of the building, he said.
Meanwhile, Matt Funiciello, who founded the cafe and operated it for 15 years, plans to move his bread baking operation from its current location in a Moreau strip mall to an old brick former Nabisco warehouse in Glens Falls and add a vegan cafe. He is moving into the Shirt Factory, at 18 Curran Lane. Rockhill’s neighbors in the building will include a distillery, a bike shop, and Pies on Wheels.
The Rockhill Bakehouse Cafe, at 19 Exchange Street, lost money for the first time last year, Funiciello said. In addition, he said, the area had “gotten pretty busy on the food level,” including additional venues for music and art presentations, and his operation was no longer unique.
In order to thrive, the cafe needs extensive renovation, expansion of its lunch-only operation to at least two meals a day, and acquisition of a liquor license. He said he has neither the money nor the heart for such a change. Patten, on the other hand, has both property and renovation experience and the capital to undertake the project.
“I am not in synch with the city plan,” Funiciello said. “I don’t want parking garages, I want parks.”
He also wants to see old buildings with character preserved and repurposed. He sees his new location, a short distance from the city core, as more sympathetic than the Exchange Street location or his current bakehouse location.
Patten, on the other hand, is prepared to put some $150,000 into the current cafe. He has already started work on outside renovations.
“I go there in the evening with a bucket of paint,” he said. Working weekends and evenings, he has already refinished floors, done some painting, and completed some exterior work. He expects to close the cafe in late spring or early summer to do the renovation of the inside. The restaurant will reopen in January 2020 as The Exchange.
Former chef Mark Colvin is back and Patten expects him to stay. “He is the number-one talent there,” Patten said.
The menu and the staff will also remain unchanged, at least initially, and Patten plans to feature Rockhill Bakehouse products in the Exchange as well.
The change in ownership came about fortuitously. Funiciello announced his intention to close the cafe by the end of March, hoping, he said, that someone would come along and offer to take it over. Patten, who was developing the nearby Mikado building and lunching regularly at Rockhill, came forward within days of the announcement. A
Funiciello had wanted to transition to a vegan operation. He noted, “good breads are already vegan,” made of only flour, water and salt. Only two varieties will have to be discontinued when he goes completely vegan. For about four months, all of Funiciello’s pastries except for the biscotti have been vegan.
When the new cafe opens, it will have vegan cheeses, seitan, and other products. Funiciello will continue to indulge two of his other passions: vinyl records and used books.
“To say I am an avid reader doesn’t begin to describe it,” he said. He also plans to continue Thursday evening open mics.
The new bakehouse location will be about the same size as his current location, Funiciello said. It will have new ovens powered by electricity instead of natural gas, possibly using solar power. He said that electric ovens are now the norm in Europe and, since bread is baked by indirect heat from the walls of the oven, the switch from gas to electricity should not affect the baked products.
Funiciello plans to move in May. Architect Gary McCoola is drawing up the plans for the new Bakehouse. Once they are finalized, Funiciello will ask for bids to do the renovation work.
Both wholesale and retail sales of his baked goods will continue to be the mainstay of Funiciello’s business.
By Jill Nagy