Winchell’s Corners may not be at the geographic center of the town of Olive, but the intersection of Route 28 and Reservoir Road is the focal point of the hamlet of Shokan. For over three decades, the sprawling building on the corner has been the location of Winchell’s Pizza, known for its barbecue as well as its pizza.
The historic restaurant, on the wane in recent years, has finally been taken over by a new proprietor, Gabriella Escriba, who opened in early November under the name Belladiel and still serves pizza, sandwiches, and burgers, along with a mix of Mexican, Peruvian, and her native Guatemalan cuisine. “Some customers have said I should keep the old name,” she reported, “but I’m not copying Winchell’s. I want people to try something new.”
The history of Winchell’s Corners dates back to the creation of the Ashokan Reservoir in 1915, when Elwyn and Julia Davis Winchell established a general store at the intersection. Elwyn had been postmaster in old Shokan, where his wife ran a millinery shop. When their village was among those flooded to form the reservoir, the couple helped to found the new Shokan. Elwyn was descended from Lemuel Winchell, one of the first settlers of Olive in the 1700s.
Escriba also comes from a rural setting, having grown up on her grandparents’ farm in Guatemala. At the age of 12, she joined her mother in Clifton, New Jersey. The girl would come home from school, cook dinner, do her homework, and then go out to help her mother clean medical offices until 11 p.m. When Escriba moved to the Catskills a year ago, she found the transition from city life a challenge, although this region reminds her of the countryside of her childhood. Running a restaurant has given her a welcome focus and connected her with the local community.
Customers sit in the bright room that wraps around two sides of the kitchen, refurbished by Escriba and her husband, Antonio Lopez, who works in construction. “We had to change the floors, the carpet, the bathrooms,” said Escriba. “Everything was out of code. We got the grease out of the ceiling and sanded down the greasy tabletops.”
The new name combines the names of Escriba’s children, five-year-old Bella and three-year-old Jadiel.
But the biggest change is to the menu. Since pizza ovens dominate the kitchen, it made sense to keep the pizza. The previous proprietor offered his pizza recipe, and Lopez remembered another recipe from a former job in a pizzeria. Escriba combined the two and added new touches. She also kept the standard sandwiches, chicken wings, French fries, and burgers. Guatemalan dishes form the heart of the new menu, with chiles rellenos, ceviche, empanadas, sopas, and Escriba’s favorite, pollo en crema, or chicken with cream. When she was a child, the ingredients for pollo en crema were too expensive for everyday cooking, but her grandmother made the dish each year on her birthday.
Another section of the menu offers Mexican food. Lopez, who has lived in the area for 20 years, is from Mexico and ran a Mexican restaurant at the Boiceville plaza for a short time. Tacos, churrasco, quesadillas, burritos, and mole are among the dishes on Belladiel’s list.
At 16, Escriba worked in a Peruvian restaurant in New Jersey and liked the food so much, she watched the chef so she could learn to make the dishes herself. Just before starting renovations on the Belladiel, she learned she was pregnant again, and her cravings leaned toward Peruvian food, particularly arroz chaufa, a mix of rice, chicken, red pepper, soy sauce, and scrambled eggs. “I wanted it so much,” she recalled, “I had to drive two hours to New Jersey to get it.” Now she serves it in Shokan, along with jalea, a seafood dish with onion salad; chupe de camaron, a shrimp soup; and other Peruvian specialties.
The door to the restaurant leads customers through a dimly lit foyer with a window to the antique shop in the side storefront. The few tables in the foyer take care of overflow on busy days. Escriba is thinking of adding couches and making the room into a lounge, possibly with karaoke. But for now, it remains a shrine to Olive’s past, since the walls are still adorned with old photos of the area. She remarked, “I wanted to leave the history there.”