(Editor’s note: Woodstock is often accused of being an aging community of staid boomers. Coming home/staying home is a continuation of a series we began called Growing Up Woodstock, a series of stories about people who were raised locally, and those who have, for one reason or another, decided to stay around or to return. In this edition, Rachel Marco-Havens, who grew up here and has remained in town to raise her child, found a few others based around the local pizza shop.)
There is a gentle hum in the new bar in the recently expanded Catskill Mountain Pizza. It’s not quite dinner hour yet, but a table of five college-aged guys laugh over a pie and some local beer. If you sit at the bar, you can sneak a peek at what’s happening behind you in the mirror. The decor is simple and warm; barstools more comfortable than they look, a custom locally-built white oak bar with pleasing curves. Cable music blues tunes are playing on the flat screen above the bar, one that awaits its first Superbowl. It’s easy to see where in the room some musician might perch, a quiet solo or a jazz trio. You can also imagine the room tightly packed Christmas Eve after Santa comes to the Green. The kinks of full table service are still being ironed out, cups are being moved, new shelves will be put in over there, maybe the menus should go over here…
Rosie Flanders is tending bar tonight, and she has a knack for making you feel at home. Maybe it’s because she’s recently returned to Woodstock after 25 years and really appreciates that she’s landed back here. She says she knew what she was missing while she was away, and she is going to ensure those qualities stay a part of her life. Her smile is inviting and her attention to detail is apparent; looking over my shoulder just enough to be up on what the guys behind me need, she polishes glasses and chats me up. The Catskill Mountain Salad beside me is inviting and a local elder stopped to comment on its beauty.
Rosie’s memories of Woodstock are of her teen years during the 80’s, sharing time between her New York City home and her Woodstock getaway. With her father retreating here often, while her mother mostly stayed in Manhattan to establish and run Details, a successful magazine. But Rosie considered herself a Woodstock child; bopping about from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie Day School to Neher Street and back, from seventh to tenth grade. When her parents sold the house on the Millstream, she was off to school in Paris, and then back to the city life for a few years. In the early nineties, she moved to Puerto Rico where she met her husband Brendan. They spent seven years in Vieques before returning to Los Angeles, where Brendan was doing quite well in liquor sales and Rosie worked as a hostess and party planner for Bread & Wine Catering.
So what would brought them to Woodstock, twenty-two years later?
“Brendan and I decided that what’s important in life is to be around the people and do the things you love. We came back for a visit, felt the vibe, it felt like everyone was moving back to Woodstock so we did too.”
Rosie has been connecting with old friends, riding horses in the Shawngunks, and providing a really bright smile wherever she goes. When Bryan Roefs hired her to tend bar at Catskill Mountain Pizza they hadn’t met, but have since come to find they have many friends in common.
The new bar at Catskill Mountain Pizza could turn out to be a likely haunt for the “thirty-something” crowd. Bryan Roefs, the attentive proprietor, would love it if the room turned out to give something like that back to the town.
Unlike Rosie, Bryan chose to stay in Woodstock because everything about his upbringing is rooted in the area. Most of his family, which has been in Ulster County since the 1890s, is still close by. He is now raising his son here, with his fiancée Mary Jankowski. The date for their wedding is set for the fall of 2012.
“I’m here because I love the Catskills. My great grandfather came here to seek a better opportunity than they had in Reggio, Calabria. And all of my childhood friends are here. I love the connection that it brings growing up and staying in one’s community. The highway guys, the firemen, the police, shop owners, Bruce Ackerman, Frank Luther, Rocky, these are the locals that I want to be able to serve. I want everyone to feel comfortable and at home at CMP.”
Bryan is a true son of Woodstock. In the spring of ‘75, when he was a year old, his parents, Russell Roefs and Linda Tiano, having operated five businesses in town — The Woodstocker, The Corner Cupboard, The Wittenberg Store, Gourmet Catering, and Linda’s Ice — bought Swim-O-Links, which at the time had a tiny French restaurant with a pool and a snack bar. The building grew and the restaurant became the legendary Watering Troff (the building is now The Gypsy Wolf Cantina) and hosted many a band and local at the bar. Every Woodstocker in their mid thirties (give or take some years) who were kids at the time remembers The Troff as a sideline to Swim-O-Links. The parents remember it the other way around. The perfect playground, something for everyone. We didn’t really care where our parents were, Swim-o-links, with it’s giant pool, was the place to be and when you were there, there was nothing going on anywhere else in the world. It was heaven; a snack bar, cool water, diving boards, pinball machines and a juke box all summer long, all of which was pretty much Bryan’s back yard.
Russell Roefs who now runs Russ’ Country Kitchen in Shandaken, and Linda Tiano had a commitment to serving the local people. The prices were fair — they knew that people want to eat out and enjoy it without breaking the bank. Bryan credits his motivation to his father’s advice — “Focus on the people who are going to be here for you all the time. The winter, summer, spring and fall, if your focus is only on the tourists, you will never make it. And in that case, why bother?”
So, like many a business owner in town, Bryan is committed to the community; it gave to him while he was growing up and he is happy to still be here giving back. The Pizzeria has always felt like a family behind the counter. He knows that when it comes to hiring, pizzerias tend to get the teenagers. The unofficial formula seems to work: “Bring in a few young people with good work ethics, teach them something they can use in life, and they stick around.”
Community expands in a setting like this one. Brandi Shultz (a cheerful young lady of 21) has been here since she was fifteen, and will also be serving and tending bar. Amber Plyler, a striking beauty with a soft smile, met her honey, Brendan Heady, behind the counter. He’s been with Bryan for ten years now. Currently “Head Pizza Guy,” Brendan will spend some time behind the bar as well.
I call it Bryan’s place, because he is the face of the business, but in truth, he couldn’t have done it without his mother, Linda, who is his business partner. Bryan had already watched the place change hands several times and when it came up for sale again, they bought it. Calling it Catskill Mountain Pizza, they immediately expanded the menu beyond Pizza and Pasta, adding fresh salads, submarines on sesame seeded French bread, daily specials; a decision that was made based on knowing their clientele intimately and a commitment to family service. This humble (and regular) customer considers it to have a fine burger and a most delectable (and only one she ever eats) blue cheese dressing, in addition to its world class pizza. Tuesday evenings, all through the season, the patio is filled with the Soccer teams and families, and Catskill Mountain Pizza is often the last place to get a bite to eat when every other option in town is closed. Now you can have a beer, or a glass of wine in a gently lit bar. I’m glad Bryan stuck around to take care of us, the locals, and appreciate that some of us might want a little elegance in our down home comfort. ++
The new room in the Pizzeria serves the daily menu, and offers sit-down service. Behind the bar there is an interesting selection of beers in bottles or on tap. For wine, try Jacobs Creek, a South East Australian Chardonnay, 120 Sauvignon Blanc of Chile, or a Mionetto Prosecco split for the sipping. Catskill Mountain Pizza is at 51 Mill Hill Road. Call for deliveries, 679-7969. See more at www.facebook.com/catskillmountianpizzacompany. Hours are Monday-Thurday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Sat: 11 a.m.-midnight; and Sundays, noon-10 p.m.