Agustin Quintanar and his family were all set to open Zicatela’s Bar and Restaurante at the intersection of state Routes 32 and 212 next to the Speedway gas station in Saugerties last spring. Then the pandemic struck.
“Everything closed,” Quintanar said.
The grand opening was pushed back to July 2020. Business was slow at first, with only a few tables a day during the week and sometimes as few as four to five tables on a Saturday. Like many other eateries, Zicatela’s supplemented limited in-person dining with takeout and delivery.
As for how he managed to launch during a historically difficult time for restaurants, Quintanar said being a family business with nearly the entire staff comprised of his own relatives helped. Only recently did he bring on an assistant to work in the kitchen.
Quintanar said business has improved as the pandemic has waned. An ongoing challenge is getting the word out to potential customers. The previous restaurant, Land and Sea Grill, shut its doors for a year and a half before Quintanar took over and started renovations back in January 2020, he said. “People still think we’re closed,” Quintanar said.
Quintanar said Zicatela’s doesn’t do any marketing, instead relying on word of mouth. He estimated about half of his customers are locals, while the other half is comprised of tourists who happen upon the restaurant while driving by from the nearby hotels or coming off the Thruway.
Quintanar said he named the restaurant Zicatela’s after Playa Zicatela, a beach in Oaxaca that his family would go to on vacation when he was a child. “It was about three hours away from where we lived,” he said.
Zicatela›s serves traditional dishes inspired by Quintanar›s hometown in Oaxaca, Mexico as well as burgers, pasta, steak and fish. A parent himself, Quintanar said he wanted to offer a menu with a wide range of food so everyone could eat together.
“Kids often like a specific food,” he said.
Quintanar’s passion is fixing Oaxacan cuisine just the way his mom would, like a mole that uses a spicy recipe that’s a family tradition. Dishes include Mexican favorites like street tacos, flautas, enchiladas and seafood dishes.
Quintanar came to the U.S. when he was 16 and worked at a number of restaurants over the years, including a stint at Union Bar and Grill, a high-end restaurant in Great Barrington, Massachusetts staffed by chefs who went to culinary schools. It was a formative experience for him.
“They explained to me what they learned in school and how to work in a restaurant,” Quintanar said. “This where I grew fascinated to cook.”
He later lived in Newburgh and came to Saugerties in 2004 where he spent long stints working at two diners that are local fixtures — the Starway Cafe and the Village Diner — before opening Zicatela’s.
“In 16-17 years I only worked at two places,” he said, adding that he likes stability.
And he just loves Saugerties.
“This town is beautiful and quiet,” he said. “Newburgh was crowded and had a lot of crime. Here it’s more comfortable and safer.”
Looking ahead to the future, Quintanar hopes to add a weekend brunch service. And keeping with Zicatela’s theme, he’ll offer not only diner fixtures like omelets and pancakes but also breakfast favorites from his native Oaxaca.
What about living and working with family? He said that works as long as you keep the two worlds separate.
“When we’re at the business we’re talking about business issues and we avoid personal issues,” Quintanar said. “So far there’s been no trouble.”
Zicatela’s is located at 395 State Route 212 in Saugerties. The restaurant is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.