The dignified, 20,000-square-foot Saratogian building at 20 Lake Ave. in downtown Saratoga Springs will transform into an innovative brewing space, Walt & Whitman Beer Hall and Coffee House, in late summer 2019.
Between the modern café on the top floor and the lounge, kitchen and 10-barrel brewery downstairs, owner and CEO Kathy Crager and her team of family and friends plan on making their establishment the ultimate community gathering space honoring the originality and creativity of its namesake, the famed American poet Walt Whitman.
Walt’s—the top floor cafe featuring a small venue space for artists—is where Director of Operations Shawna Jenks says they “envision creation happening.”
“We embrace creativity,” she continues. “People working from our café, having meetings and experiences … people connecting and creating in that space.”
Walt’s coffee selection will be curated and brewed by a carefully chosen, sustainable coffee brewer who has yet to be announced. It will also feature a selection of yeast and cake donuts to pair with coffee.
The kitchen at the downstairs taproom, Whitman Brewing Company, will feature a full “farm-to-table pub menu” crafted by chef Brandon Schatko, former executive chef of Plumb Oyster Bar in Troy. It will specialize in craft beer’s best friend: pizza, made with locally sourced ingredients to pair perfectly with the 15 house brews on tap.
“Whitman is a judgement-free place,” says Jenks. “It’s not just a new, hipster, trendy place. It’s a place where you can bring your flavor to the table. It’s about comfort and experience.”
They’ll be honing in on accessible (read: affordable) craft foods, like their pizza, meatballs, fries and a variety of street fare–along with a solid amount of gluten-free and vegan options–without relying heavily on a fryer, which tends to dominate the small plate scene.
They will also collaborate with local and east coast barrel-age brewers to expand their line of craft beer at Whitman, ranging from clean German-style pilsners to popular American IPAs and sours.
Though their beer is brewed for on-premise consumption and not distribution, Jenks says they will eventually have special can releases.
Jenks refers to herself as a “forever student” when it comes to the craft food and drink, but that also certainly applies to the rest of her team. After the hard work of restoring the Saratogian building from top to bottom, the group is heading on a trip to Belgium and Germany for a little research and relaxation. There, they will explore the sights and flavors of the area through its regional plates and trail of large and traditional Trappist breweries.
The former operations manager at Morton’s The Steakhouse has spent 19 years in the hospitality industry and says one of the most exciting aspects of this new endeavor is the way her team plans to revamp the entire service industry culture for their staff.
“I have such a love for the craft industry,” she says. “I want to bring something new and fresh for the Capital Region that not only sparks the consumer but people who work in this industry, and to be able to give back to our employees. I want to make it wholesome for everyone.”
Jenks tells The Collaborative that she plans to provide benefits to all staff, including their hourly employees, offering free mental health services including yoga and meditation.
The consideration paid to the staff will be extended to the community as well. Every quarter, Walt & Whitman will pick a local charity to dedicate an onsite craft brew, a set percentage of profits and sales from their retail shop. “We’re really looking to make a big impact on the people around us,” she says.
In addition to building upon their community involvement and food and drink menu, Walt & Whitman will expand their space with a two-tier patio, or biergarten, for the café and taproom.
Jenks says that the team is also planning a big project for 2020, adding a second, open “incubator kitchen” restaurant upstairs.
Here, chefs from around the world can come and do workshops, host guest dinners and collaborate with one another. “The key point,” she says, “is that the price point will remain very reasonable.
“Every day we’re dedicating time to learn new things about the industry. We’re very excited to bring something new to the area and to keep it casual, not over complicate it.” Jenks says. “We’re a start-up, so we look forward to growing with the support of the people around us.”