The little storefront occupied for years by Mexicali Blue’s New Paltz branch, at 87 Main Street, is an enviable location despite its cramped quarters. It’s tucked in right next to one of the Village’s most iconic eateries and watering holes: P & G’s, a destination fabled since the late 1940s (when it was still called Pat & George’s) and still going strong. Whoever took over the spot after Mexicali Blue closed at the end of September was going to have to cope with the formidable competition, even while basking in P & G’s reflected glory.
As it turns out, the new tenant in that space may just have the perfect formula: burgers, but not the kind that P & G’s made famous – those thick beefy meals that attract diners who don’t mind waiting a while for a table and then to be served. Nope; the attraction next door will be fast food suitable for vegetarians: plant-based Impossible Burgers, tasty and quick to prepare for takeout, as well as fries (regular and spicy), sodas and “milkshakes” made with oatmilk.
If this menu sounds familiar, it’s because the Mexicali Blue space will soon house the first satellite location of Moonburger, whose flagship location in Kingston has been wildly successful since its opening one year ago (https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2021/11/08/vegan-fast-food-drive-thru-draws-long-lines-in-kingston). That’s despite having no place to sit down inside. The market for a good veggie-burger in the mid-Hudson proved strong enough for hundreds of customers per day to sit for as long as 90 minutes in a line of idling cars to sink their teeth into a Moonburger.
“Those lines were wonderful, and we were so glad that people were willing to wait to be served,” recalls proprietor Jeremy Robinson-Leon, a Brooklyn transplant to Marbletown. “We get more cars through this drive-thru every day than in the beginning. The big difference is that we’re much faster now… There are maybe four, five, six cars in line at a given moment.” A normal day’s sales are 300 to 400 Moonburgers, he says.
Robinson-Leon recounts the challenge of a newly trained staff trying to keep up with early demand, cooking the patties on an inadequate 24-inch electric griddle because the 36-inch model he’d originally ordered was held up for months in the nightmarish COVID supply-chain backlog. “All our burgers are made to order. The patty doesn’t hit the grill until you place your order.”
While the Moonburger business model is to tap into the growing market for sustainably sourced protein, delivered in a familiar fast-food style, the menu is “not vegan by default, although we can do vegan cheese, and you can request a gluten-free bun,” Robinson-Leon says. “We wanted to create something that appeals to everyone – to a cross-section of America. We worked hard to create a burger that appeals to someone who really loves meat, but also to someone who never eats meat.”
Real cheese is what you’ll get on a cheeseburger or as a dipping sauce, unless you specify otherwise. The standard chocolate shake, described as a “Brownie Batter Shake,” is very thick and chocolatey, but decidedly non-dairy. A seasonal variation currently on offer is the “Pumpkin Pie Shake,” also made with oatmilk. There are occasional specials; this past weekend, you could get a cheeseburger baked inside a bagel from Woodstock’s Moonrise Bagels.
Collaborations like that with other regional businesses are a trend that Robinson-Leon wants to ramp up. “We want to be complementary and part of the fabric of our communities,” he says. He’s not worried about competing with P & G’s for the burger crowd, since “We have a very different offering.” In fact, “We’ve gotten great support from the Becks,” the family who owns P & G’s.
Ever since Moonburger premiered, Robinson-Leon has been fielding suggestions to open satellite locations in other towns; but New Paltz as a first choice was a no-brainer. “I went to Vassar from 2003 to 2007, and New Paltz was always a fun destination. It holds a special place in my heart,” he says. “It’s a really good fit, and then that space became available. The stars aligned.”
Seating at Mexicali Blue consisted of a few barstools at a counter; customers mainly ordered their famous fish tacos for takeout. But for Moonburger, having any indoor seating at all will be a breakthrough. “We’re really excited about it. This will be our first space in which guests can actually enter. We want to make the interior experience a fun and special one.” While there will still be “a lot of emphasis on takeaway,” the space after renovation will provide “a few spots for dining in.” Preordering via a website and an app will become possible for the first time, and “eventually delivery,” Robinson-Leon says.
Demolition was scheduled to commence this past Monday, with the space to be reconfigured by Brooklyn-based Home Studios. It’s the same design company that created the exterior look for Moonburger’s Kingston headquarters, as well as the interior design for another newish Kingston food business: Rosie General in the Rondout District.
So, when will Moonburger in New Paltz be opening its doors to the public? “By spring is the current target for opening – depending on the pace of construction and the supply chain,” says Robinson-Leon. He laughs off any suggestion that these are the humble beginnings of a national fast-food empire, but admits, “We want to bring Moonburger to where people want us.”