Orchard Tavern owner Kristopher Monforte, third from right in pink, is supported by his wife, Katelyn, second from right, and local politicians as well as the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce during the restaurant's ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the second location's opening. Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
GUILDERLAND — The second location of Albany’s long-running Orchard Tavern is now open and seeks to satisfy hungry customers in and around Guilderland.
Replacing the former Dorato’s Restaurant and Pub in the town’s Star Plaza on 2050 Western Ave., it held its grand opening on Oct. 18 and celebrated its ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 24. The Orchard Tavern, long known for its pizza, has been in operation in Albany since 1903 on 68 North Manning Blvd. and Kristopher Monforte became the owner, its fifth overall, in January 2018.
“I think it’s been due to the community’s support and the local tavern feel to it, as well as how the owners through all the 116 years have made sure there’s been consistency with food and quality customer service at a good price,” Monforte said. “Taking care of the customers, knowing the customers and all.”
Its menu offers rich options for both vegan and non-vegan customers with pizza, club and deli sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, salads, pasta and desserts. Monforte said that veterans and first responders like police officers and firefighters get their first drink half off and 10 percent off their meal in recognition of their service.
He said that the Guilderland’s location’s grand opening “had an amazing reception and just the amount of people who came in and their patience. We put out a lot of food and we’re still getting used to the kitchen and system here but everybody was patient and our quality is where it needs to be. Everyone was really positive and it hasn’t stopped since. We’ve already seen repeat customers.”
He added that the Guilderland location does not differ too much from the original Albany one in terms of menu options and customer service; he observed, though, that his Guilderland customers like romaine lettuce while his Albany customers like iceberg lettuce.
The Guilderland location’s conception, Monforte said, began when a customer who enjoyed a meal at the Orchard Tavern contacted him years ago and that customer was a personal friend of the Star Plaza owner, Michael Ermides. Ermides eventually reached out to Monforte about potentially opening up a business at the plaza after the previous tenant’s efforts fell through.
“We sat down, talked and as soon as I saw this space, I could see the potential and I had a vision for it and I knew
my customer base who comes from Guilderland and western Colonie would come to the Orchard Tavern in Albany maybe once every six or eight weeks,” Monforte said. “I knew if I was closer to them, it would increase the frequency of them coming to the Orchard Tavern without losing my base in Albany.”
He added that locals have expressed their desire to patronize locally-owned restaurants in recent years because in chains like Cheesecake Factory or TGI Fridays, “you’re just a number to them.” At the Orchard Tavern, he said it makes more pronounced efforts to get to know its customers.
According to Monforte, the Guilderland location’s construction began in June with an initial target completion timeframe of early September. Customers will eventually benefit from having two fully-operational locations since the Albany one has been undergoing renovations too which Monforte said is expected to finish this week. Such renovations include cleaning the equipment, repainting, new flooring in the dining room, retiling the restrooms and improving the kitchen to better serve customers efficiently.
“It’s definitely been a daunting task, for sure, to run the two locations but it wouldn’t have worked without the help of a lot of people,” he added. “My father, first and foremost, is 75 years old and retired but he’s still here every single day putting in time and keeping everyone on track. He’s taught me everything I know. My wife, Katelyn, and brother, Kevin, have helped me out to decompress, focus and they know we’re putting in long hours.”
Monforte and his colleagues’ work finally received attention during its ribbon-cutting ceremony, accompanied by a buffet of pizza, salads and chicken wings. It was attended by numerous local well-wishers, members of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce and local politicians.
“The Orchard Tavern has been a fabric of Albany for many years and a lot of great memories were there,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy who expressed support for the new Guilderland location and how it can provide new memories for customers to come.
“I was a patron of the Orchard Tavern in Albany for many years and the food is fabulous … I want to give you a really warm welcome and thanks for adding to the culinary talents in the town of Guilderland,” said Town Supervisor Peter G. Barber.
“The Orchard Tavern is an absolute institution in Albany … and thank you for investing and replicating that institution here in Guilderland,” said state Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy before gesturing to the large turnout at the ceremony. “It’s very clear you have an amazing reception and it’s great to see our small businesses — our family-run businesses — thrive and thank you to all those who’ve supported them and we look forward to many more.”
Looking ahead, Monforte envisions opening a third location somewhere in the Capital District and he has already started looking at potential areas although low unemployment rates could make it challenging to hire more workers in the meantime. “My goal is to have another one in the next 24 months,” he said. “But for me, it’s important to retain the same overall feel and I don’t want to over-expand and then lose who we are. We do have customers from Clifton Park and Saratoga weekly so we want to expand eventually. But when? Time will tell.”
Monforte added that the Orchard Tavern wants to continue helping people create memories and he has already observed families who gather in the Albany location for the holidays even if their children have grown up and moved away.
“People have even come in for remembrance birthdays and bring pictures of their lost loved ones because they all used to come here,” he said. “It’s important we honor, respect and maintain that. We owe it to the community.”