I’ve never owned a building with a giant ice cream cone on it before,” said Michael Koegel, whose new restaurant, Mama’s Boy Burgers, will hold its grand opening on Saturday, May 30, in Tannersville. “The ice cream cone was actually fabricated by the same people who made the blue whale at the American History Museum in Manhattan.”
After five years of success in the middle of Phoenicia, Mama’s Boy Market and Café continues to thrive, but Koegel is ready for a new challenge. He has purchased the former Smiley’s Ice Cream, located at the Tannersville traffic light, a twenty-minute drive to the north of Phoenicia in Greene County. The iconic shop has been updated with a popular local brand, Jane’s Ice Cream, plus an array of chef-designed burgers made with beef from grass-fed, grain-finished Black Angus cattle raised at JJF Farm in nearby East Jewett.
When Koegel left New York City to move upstate full-time in 2010, his idea was to make a coffee shop in Phoenicia, which he felt needed a place for people to hang out. He had never owned a restaurant business, but his work as a producer for Nickelodeon and other TV networks had prepared him for his new career. “Producing involves organizing and building skills you can apply across the board,” he noted. “I had a five-year plan. I figured if it works, great, and if not, I’ll move on to something else. I’ve had a blast! I love being in Phoenicia and being part of the community.”
As a proprietor, he has served espresso, cappuccino, dishes prepared off-site, and ice cream to residents and visitors; hired young local people; and sponsored events in the shop’s pavilion and yard, from benefit bake-offs and plant sales for the Phoenicia Library to well-attended spoken word readings. “But now that I have those skills under my belt,” he said, “I wanted to see what was next.”
Koegel considered other locations for a new venture. To the west on Route 28, Margo’s Hungarian Restaurant, which has been closed for years, looked appealing, but the building would have required extensive restoration. He had his eye on a little shop in Woodstock, but it was not close enough to parking, and the next café to open in the location closed within six months. Then he discovered Smiley’s was available. Tannersville no longer had an ice cream place. “There are already five or six espresso machines in this town,” commented Koegel, “but not a quick grab-and-go burger place. We have the same style of service here as at Mama’s Boy in Phoenicia — you order at the counter and sit as long as you want.”
He worked with designers to develop a roadside attraction that would catch the eye of tourists and make them want to stop for a fun, casual meal. The yellow and turquoise exterior trim is cheerful, and outdoor picnic tables with umbrellas supplement the indoor seating. Koegel hired New York City chef Merrill Moore to develop the menu, which features six varieties of burgers (Devil’s Tombstone, El Niño, Happy Camper, etc.) married to fixings such as caramelized onions, guacamole, smoked mozzarella, basil mayonnaise. There’s even a vegetarian falafel burger. The fancy specials range from $9.95 to $11.95, but there are budget options such as a single Angus beef patty for $4.95, with add-on condiments for $1 or $1.50.
The menu also includes wedge salads, hot dogs, egg and grilled cheese sandwiches, and a long list of ice cream, frozen custard, and frozen yogurt flavors, along with shakes and floats. Koegel is trying to source locally as much as possible, with products from Cooperstown Cheese Company and coffee from Monkey Joe’s in Kingston, among others.
“There are so many tiny details we put in,” added Koegel. “The buns are always buttered and toasted on the grill. We cut the French fries in-house, and we make our own onion rings.”
He’s optimistic about the shop’s success, since Tannersville is on the upswing, with the theater across the street recently renovated and open for movies and plays. An antique center on Main Street is booming, and the Hunter Mountain Brewery has opened up a few miles to the west on Route 28A, outside the village of Hunter. “People think this is the middle of nowhere,” he said, “but it’s quicker for me to get here from my house in Phoenicia than to go to Woodstock.”
Mama’s Boy Burgers, on Route 23A in Tannersville, is open seven days a week, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant is already informally open, with a grand opening to be held on Saturday, May 30, with free ice cream samples from 3 to 5 p.m.