By Eli Ruiz
HURLEYVILLE — Currently celebrating the completion of its second year in existence, Hurleyville’s very own Pickled Owl gastropub opened its doors on Main Street to much fanfare on August 3, 2015.
And although first-time proprietors/restaurateurs Evan and Brynn Allees are really only just getting started, the eatery is already an award winner.
Opening a restaurant is widely considered to be a rather risky business, but the Alleeses have pulled off something truly special in The Pickled Owl, and are thriving.
Evan and Brynn believe they have delivered on their stated goal “… to provide a high standard of food with a casual yet refined setting.” But the success of The Pickled Owl hinges as much on the couple’s relationship—they were married in 2008 in a field on Brynn’s parents’ property in Hurleyville– as on the quality of their mostly locally sourced ingredients and “American contemporary cuisine” or the establishment’s relaxed, eclectic ambiance and uber-attentive staff.
Much of the couple’s backstory takes place in Hurleyville, where Evan, a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) trained chef, and Brynn, an English teacher in the Livingston Manor School District, first met long ago.
“I was raised in Hurleyville and Evan just five minutes from me in Ferndale,” Mrs. Allees said. “We met, fell in love, and initially rented an apartment in Ferndale. We lived there until shortly after we married and then rented a house in Hurleyville before buying the home we live in now (also in Hurleyville) with our 3 children: Harper, 4-1/2; Levi, 2-1/2; and Silas, 9 months. I often call the restaurant our 4th child.”
Mr. Allees says his biggest influence was his CIA-trained uncle, of whom he said, “I always really looked up to him growing up.”
“My parents are also both great cooks, so I was always surrounded by good food,” he said. “Also, my aunt owned the restaurant, Gourmet Garden in Monticello many years ago and I remember going there and seeing the hustle and bustle of the hospitality industry.”
Apparently Mr. Allees liked what he saw in those early kitchens and dining rooms, as at just 13-years-old he found his first job in the kitchen of the old Inn by the Falls in Ferndale, as a humble dishwasher.
“From there, I began prepping food and learning the ways of the kitchen,” he said. “I started at Albert’s in Liberty at 15-years old as a busser and worked my way up, realizing that I really enjoyed being on the line and cooking food for people.”
Upon graduating from CIA, Mr. Allees returned to Albert’s where he would spend six additional years as the head chef.
“It was during this time I realized for sure that I wanted to open my own place and have the freedom to experiment with foods, while taking advantage of the local agriculture that we are so lucky to be surrounded by in our area,” he said.
The idea for the Pickled Owl came about in 2014, when, Mr. Allees said, “I knew Albert was getting close to retirement. Brynn and I figured this would be the push we needed to actually do something on our own and a gastropub seemed ideal because it was something different and would allow me to create simple dishes with great flavor using local ingredients.”
Mr. Allees is a self-professed “big beer-guy.”
“I firmly believe beer enhances the taste of any meal if paired properly,” he said. “I wanted to share this treat with others and provide a place with good brews for others who enjoy the experience of pairing food and beer.”
However, there was much work to do before the couple could execute their plan.
“We worked diligently to create a business plan and secure the necessary funds in the beginning of 2015,” Mrs. Allees said. “Once the prospect became a reality, we signed the lease on the building. The Center for Discovery did the structural renovations and essentially gave us a blank canvas with which to work in April of that same year.”
The couple worked diligently to open by the start of the summer season, but there was simply too much to get done.
“We painted, stained and hung all the doors, refurbished the murals, and of course, decorated,” Mrs. Allees said. “In addition to the aesthetics, there was the pressure of furnishing and stocking the kitchen and bar, and obtaining the necessary licenses. Thankfully, we had a lot of family members to help us out, but it was still a time consuming process which led us to the August opening, later than we had planned.”
Mrs. Allees readily admits that she does not cook at all. She teaches middle-school English full-time, and chips-in at The Owl whenever she can.
”My involvement has taken on a much different role than originally planned. I’ve become, more or less, the front of house manager. I train the staff, create the schedule and staff procedures, ensure expectations are consistent and communication is constant between everyone. I’m not there as often as I’d like to be, but I try to stay as involved as I can.”
“She’s also my boss,” quipped her husband.
Mr. Allees is determined to keep things interesting at The Owl.
“Our menu changes seasonally, but I’ve experimented with some southern flare like fried chicken, BBQ brisket, and pimento cheese, just to name a few, as well as trying to keep the traditional roots of an English gastropub with dishes like fish ‘n chips, scotch egg, and fresh sausages.”
Having created an entirely unique food and drink experience, not just for their hometown, but for Sullivan County as a whole, coupled with the truly special bond they share, the pair seems certain to see continued success with The Pickled Owl gastropub for many more years to come.
The Pickled Owl is proud to announce its newest local vendor, Majestic Mountains Farm in Mountaindale. For more information on The Pickled Owl gastropub and a complete list of their local vendors, please go to pickledowl.com.