Town officials are being put to blame after the closing of Milestone Restaurant in Glenmont.
The doors of Milestone Restaurant will soon close, due to what the business owners account to financially difficulties caused by last year’s tax increase, a bad winter and the denial of a proposed plan to replace the restaurant with a dog kennel. The plan fell through when the town’s Zoning Board decided not to give the kennel a variance to allow construction.
The decision to close was announced on the Milestone Facebook page two weeks ago on Wednesday, Aug. 5. It was met with shock and sadness from its many fans
The only reason the Zoning Board gave for its decision, said Lou and Mike Mastrantuono, owners of Milestone Restaurant, was because the air quality would not be good enough for the dogs.
“How can you OK humans to eat food here, if you’re going to say that the dust isn’t safe for dogs? How can you do that?” said Lou Mastrantuono, clearly confused by the Zoning Board’s decision. “People are eating and drinking here, and you’re worried about dust on a dog?”
“I was shocked,” said Lou Mastrantuono, who said he still does not understand the board’s decision. “I don’t feel like it was explained at all. It was a dismissal,” he said emphatically about the decision.
Dan Coffey, president of the Zoning Board, said the variance was denied for a number of reasons. The board received a number of complaints about potential noise from the dogs from nearby Days Inn and Johnny B’s Diner. The project also did not have the amount of acreage required for a dog kennel. The board felt the project would significantly change the character of the neighborhood, so it was unanimously denied.
“There’s been a lot of turnover in that location and it’s unfortunate,” said Coffey. “There’s been difficulty keeping a restaurant there. Hopefully a use can be found that’s more consistent with the neighborhood.”
Zoning in Bethlehem requires that kennels have at least five acres on ether side of any neighboring business. The variance would have allowed for an exception.
The hotel complained for fear of the noise disturbance that the kennel would create so close to guest rooms. The hotel, however, advertises itself as dog-friendly and allows guests to have up to two dogs stay in each room, and windows to the rooms facing the Milestone Restaurant do not open.
The Milestone building also has walls which are built out of two foot thick stone, that look like they could be the walls of a cave.
“We’ve had bands play into the wee hours of the night and never had complaints,” said Lou Mastrantuono, who also noted that they have loud surround sound speakers. The restaurant also sits right on a very loud and busy highway. Noise would also not be an issue to the nearby Johnny B’s Diner, as that restaurant closes at 2 p.m.
Matt Sames, who would have owned the dog kennel, also owns several Pet Lodges dog kennel businesses in Glenville, Albany, Clifton Park, Williston and Plattsburgh. When the Zoning Board asked Sames for neighbor recommendations to make sure that the noise would not be overbearing, he came up with glowing recommendations form neighboring businesses that are closer to his kennels than the hotel is to Milestone.
When the decision became well known around town, and less and less people started coming to the restaurant once they heard that the restaurant was looking to sell. Lou estimates business dropped to half after the Zoning Board’s decision.
Now, the restaurant is set to close permanently on Thursday, Aug. 27, and sit as a dormant, boarded building. Also. the first building that drivers see when they come to town.
The Mastrantuonos felt all of the reasons for the Zoning Board’s decision – such as the building’s proximity to the road and the Days Inn and Suites next door – were facts the Board had known long before the process of asking for a zoning variance even began, facts that a person would know just by looking at the building.
“They made us jump through hoops, for seven, eight months. We had all of their problems addressed. Why take the good part of eight months, and let someone spend tens of thousands of dollars on surveys and architects if it’s not going to work out, said Lou Mastrantuono. “We really believed it was going to work.”
The brothers said the final decision by the Zoning Board blind-sided them, and the man that planned to build a dog kennel at the restaurant, Matt Sames. Because the listing for the property was off the market during the eight months that they went through the Zoning Board process, and the market for real estate was slow this summer, the final decision was devastating enough that the restaurant had to close.
“More governmental infringement on the businesses of America…You will be missed,” said Randy Flavin, in response to the same post. Other, similarly disappointed responses followed.
The pair said the recent increase in taxes due to the reassessment didn’t help the situation either. Though the Mastrantuono said they approached the Town Board with their problem and made adjustments like changing all the lighting in the restaurant to energy-efficient bulbs, in order to receive the tax rebate, they said the board still did not do anything to help bring down their taxes.
“You go to these meetings and it’s like a sounding post. That’s all it is. They’re just there to listen to your problems,” said Lou Mastrantuono. “When you have a business, it’s almost like a child. When you’re home you’re thinking about the business, so when you lose it, it really is a loss.”
The Mastrantuono said that they have not had any contact with Sames since they saw him at the final Zoning Board meeting where the plan was dismissed. According to Lou Mastrantuono, Sames picked up his briefcase in a huff, “hightailed” his way out of the room, and was not heard from again.
Now that their restaurant is gone, few local family owned places remain, especially in Glenmont. Their failure, however, is not due to lack of effort, not to lack of experience, as the two have 40-50 years of combined restaurant experience between them.
The Mastrantuono previously owned Sophia’s Family Restaurant in Greenville for 15 years – a great feat in the restaurant industry- but say they opened Milestone to get closer to Albany. Before the restaurant was Milestone, the location became famous for birthing celebrity chef Dale Miller, when the restaurant was under different management. Milestone’s space formerly operated as Stone Ends Restaurant, then as Bella Bistro, before being sold to the Mastrantuono family.
The flipping of restaurants and its location on Frontage Road didn’t help business, but the restaurant was consistently well-reviewed for it’s medium-priced Italian/American dishes. And just like Johnny B’s Diner two doors down, Milestone enjoyed a relatively small, yet devoted following, willing to make the trek to the end of the Delmar Bypass.
“We had a great group of dedicated customers. They would bring their friends and say, ‘I found this diamond in Glenmont’ and literally bring people to them to the restaurant,” said Lou Mastrantuono.
Winter this year was particularly difficult on the business.
“Everyone remembers that this was the worst winter in decades,” said Lou Mastrantuono. “We’re fighting all these battles, trying to pay for oil and electric in the winter, and trying to not cut back on everyone’s hours too much,” said Mastrantuono of difficulty of the winter.
Somewhat ironically, the restaurant also hosted several political fundraisers and mixers. Many traveling public officials, who are known to stay at hotels nearby, frequented the restaurant as well. “All the who’s who, all the brass, so to speak, were here,” said Lou Mastantuano.
At one particular Democratic fundraiser held at Milestone, 50 people appeared outside in protest of the increase in taxes coming to Bethlehem.
They said the fact the restaurant was such a popular place for politicians was not something they expected to work in their favor while they went through the process of applying for zoning variance approval.
“No one expected differential treatment at all,” said the Mastrantuono’s friend Judy Seamon, “But it is just very ironic.”
“I want my clent base to know that we’ve made a lot of good friends, and we’ve enjoyed being a part of their lives,” said Mike Mastrantuono..
The pair is unsure yet whether they will reopen Milestone, whether they will open another local restaurant, or whether they want to move to a new state entirely.
“I love the area. It’s a great area.” said Mike Mastrantuono. He and Mike chose Glenmont as the location of their next restaurant when Lou Mastrantuono’s twin boys were born because of the area’s great school reputation.
Mike Mastrantuono called being part of the community “something you have to do” when you are in the restaurant business. As such, he shopped weekly at the Delmar Farmer’s Market, donated the Bethlehem Police Union, among other places, and offered discounts to local teams. They employed 12 people at one point before recently downsizing to only four employees.
Mike Mastrantuono said their final week will be “business as usual,” but he’s glad to have the opportunity to say goodbye and have some closure.