The Postage Inn in Tillson

James Jerkowski, owner/chef of the Postage Inn in Tillson. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

James Jerkowski, owner/chef of the Postage Inn in Tillson. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

On the drive between New Paltz and Rosendale, there sits a landmark known as The Postage Inn. What drivers might not know is how long it’s been a fixture in Tillson.

Back in the late 1980s, James Jerkowski was an aspiring young chef who’d just graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. His dad, George Jerkowski, was a mechanical engineer for IBM. Both wanted to build a restaurant together.

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When they learned that the old Tillson Post Office was for sale, his dad jumped. This was the chance they’d waited for.

In 1987, the father and son had jumped in and started to renovate the building. One year later, they were open for business as The Postage Inn Restaurant and Pub.

A lot has changed since then: Grunge Rock came and went; IBM in Kingston’s closure forever altered the local economy; the restaurant started in the Reagan years and has lasted through the Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations; and James Jerkowski eventually lost both his parents, who both worked at the restaurant until their deaths.

Jerkowski has added on to the establishment — first adding the tap room, and then later expanding the kitchen. All of that is to keep up with the times. Throughout it all, James Jerkowski has worked in the kitchen as the chef — rarely taking a day off.

“It’s survival, you know? You have to be able to acclimate to what’s going on,” he said. “It’s a very high-risk business. And I’m hands-on. I make everything but the ranch dressing every day. I make the bread every day. I make all our soups, sauces, stocks — everything’s made from scratch.”

When he smiles talking about his business, it’s easy to see it’s an enduring passion. The menu is packed with old staples, like burgers, steak, seafood and pasta — albeit all with Jerkowski’s twist and the heritage of an old-school CIA grad.

There’s a balance on the menu that bespeaks an experienced chef trying to make food to please the regulars and also food that keeps him artistically satisfied. Their bacon cheeseburger shares a menu with roast duck, filet mignon and zuppa di pesce.

Menu items have gotten praise from local media throughout the years. Most recently, Hudson Valley Magazine awarded them best scallops dish for their “Coquilles St. Jacques” in 2010.

Inside, The Postage Inn is deceptively large. The main dining room stretches on into the distance. It can seat 80 to 100 and beyond the main room is the bar.

Outside seating, which The Postage Inn added four years ago, also boosts the square footage of serving area.

“We get a lot of tourism and a lot of repeat business,” the owner said. Huge banquets are also something The Postage Inn specializes in. Local firefighters, for instance, usually have yearly gatherings at the restaurant. The Postage Inn is also a fixture in the small hamlet of Tillson.

It’s also stayed a family business. Jerkowski’s wife, son and daughter all have a hand in the family restaurant.

Through it all, Jerkowski said he’s seen the economy drastically change. He watched a younger generation move away from the Hudson Valley and New York State. But now he sees hopeful signs of change.

“The Williams Lake project is coming. That’s going to bring a lot of jobs,” he said. “I really think the area is turning around. A couple of years ago, if you asked me that, I’d be a little skeptical. I think it’s definitely starting to change.”

Jerkowski’s son, also named James, is the marketing manager and web developer for the restaurant.

Technology has been something that has really helped The Postage Inn. Social media allows the restaurant to post about special events or sales. They’ve found it brings in people who might not otherwise show up.

Comedy is also coming The Postage Inn’s way on May 10. The Murder Café troop will perform “Murder at the Mic” — a comedy dinner theater show — that evening. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and dinner is at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $45. Reserve early by calling 658-3434.

To learn more about The Postage Inn, head to https://www.postageinn.com/.

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