Stone Pony finds success

Photo by Dion Ogust

Stone Pony is a large, immaculate and profitable delicatessen located on Kings Highway between major companies like Fehr Brothers Industries, Northeast Solite Corp. and Markertek.

But among Saugertiesians, it seems the Stone Pony is either a regular destination or an unknown. Owner John Livermore is trying to change that.

“I’ve never done any print advertising, but I’m buying the Clear-Channel-owned billboard for six weeks, October 17 through the end of November,” said Livermore.

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That’s going to cost him $550 a month, but after ten years of steadily increasing sales, he’s plateaued on regulars and he’s eager to see some new faces come through the door.

To entice new customers, Stone Pony will give a cup of coffee to people who mention the offer which will be emblazoned on the billboard near 212. But to further jump-start new business, Livermore’s also promising a free hot coffee – any size – to Saugerties Times readers who mention this story, as he reads the paper and also sells it.

Livermore runs a tight ship, which is probably why he’s the caterer of choice for many larger Ulster County companies. For example, Stone Pony caters Markertek’s annual company barbecue picnic, and also provides the workers with their perk of a company-paid bagel breakfast every Friday morning.

“We do a huge catering business, upwards of 500 people sometimes,” said Livermore, who has pharmaceutical companies as clients in addition to Precision Flow Technologies and those in Tech City.

John also runs the Saugerties Little League Baseball’s concession enterprise, a two-location endeavor which has generated over $15,000 in profit since Livermore took over the operation three years ago. Not only is league president Greg DeCelle a buddy of Livermore’s since kindergarten – DeCelle’s also the vice-president of marketing at Markertek.

“We’re using the concession profits to buy fencing, uniforms, a lighting project and a press box,” said DeCelle. “John’s turned everything around for the concession business financially. Last year he added a slushy machine and a sausage and pepper sandwich [to the menu],” said Greg.

The first person in his large Saugertesian family to graduate from college (SUNY Cobleskill), Livermore has a background in institutional food service management, running the cafeterias at hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care centers.

He was introduced to that occupation at the age of six by his grandmother Fannie Livermore, who “did all the cooking for Cahill Elementary, and then in the afternoons, she also cooked for the priests and nuns at St. Mary-of-the-Snow,” said John.

While commuting past the unoccupied building which now houses Stone Pony, Livermore decided in November 2001 to make the leap into owning and operating his own business, receiving some financial help from his father.

“I think I’m the only deli owner around here who actually owns his building,” said Livermore, adding that buying the property has proved to be an excellent investment. The three and one-half acre property came with two residential rental properties situated behind the store, and he’s been blessed with quiet, reliable long-term tenants.

He named it Stone Pony because it’s next to a horse farm and across the road from Solite. Stone Pony was also the name of his favorite watering hole in college.

Last year, Livermore, who was once 160 lbs heavier than he is today, suffered a serious back injury which actually stemmed from a congenital weakness in his spine. Paralyzed for 12 days and in the hospital for eight weeks, he had to have many vertebrae fused.

Unable to work for six months, his four loyal employees – most especially his chef Jose Bravo – together with his wife Katie, a ninth-grade math teacher, kept the deli running smoothly until John’s return this March. Jose’s basically only ever worked at Stone Pony, beginning in his teens as a dishwasher.

The back-surgery experience made Livermore re-evaluate his financial situation. He’d hoped to retire at age 45 – four years from now – and enter Saugerties politics, wherever there was a void he thought he could ably fill. But that’s not going to happen. Perhaps he’ll be able to realize that dream at age 50, Livermore said.

He’s bullish on certain pieces of Saugerties real estate and two years ago built his dream home on Lighthouse Drive, where his parents and two of his three siblings also reside. Ironically, given its name, Stone Pony sees no seasonal bump from the HITS crowd.

 

On the menu

Stone Pony only uses Boar’s Head meats and cheeses and Hellman’s mayonnaise, said Livermore. While in the morning he sells a lot of breakfast to commuters, people who work nearby comprise his lunch crowd.

There’s a hot lunch special offered every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., averaging $5 to $8.

But Stone Pony’s best known for its Saugerties Signature Sandwiches, all of which are named after friends and relatives of Livermore. Lighter appetites can enjoy the same unusual mixes of top-quality made-fresh ingredients in a wrap for about $1.50 less.

Stone Pony sells beer and soft drinks – Budweiser and tea drinks are the fastest-moving cold beverages, but Livermore also sells Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda, a hard-to-find delicacy from Brooklyn dating from 1898, which costs $1.59 plus tax and bottle deposit. Each week Stone Pony also sells about $300 in lottery tickets, but Livermore refuses to sell tobacco products.

Every year at the garlic festival, Stone Pony recruits a few new customers who get hooked on the Garlic Chicken Wrap, which features homemade chicken cutlets, mixed baby greens, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella and garlic mayo for $6.95.

“Every ingredient contains garlic in that one except for the baby greens and the cheese,” said Livermore, adding that it’s one of his best sellers.

Regular customer Ed Litteral, the environmental health and safety officer at Precision Flow Technologies, usually works out of Kingston. But whenever he’s in Saugerties, Litteral makes a point of having lunch at Stone Pony because it’s clean and spacious. He likes the air conditioning, too.

“The food’s good and the people are nice,” said Litteral, an avid kayaker who’s lived in the area since 2002 and been a Stone Pony regular for about 18 months.

The ink drawings of area wildlife and landmarks adorning Stone Pony’s walls are made by Dave Campbell, who also does maintenance work for Stone Pony and is one of Livermore’s neighbors on Lighthouse Drive.

What’s the secret of Stone Pony’s success?

“I believe in quality,” says Livermore. “In everything I do. That and I have an uncanny ability to remember numbers.”

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