Feel the Hug at Lunch Nightly, an Upstate NY Foodie Haven
Inside+Out Upstate NY catches up with Samantha Strand to learn more about the culinary magic behind Lunch Nightly in Kingston, NY. This remarkable restaurant combines the unique talents of the individual founders, Samantha (Sam) Strand, Miles Crettien, and Gabriel Weinstock. Together they share their vision of what has lovingly become known as a hybrid restaurant–deli/butcher by day and restaurant/bar at night.
Sam is the design and marketing maven, Miles is into artisan butchery, and Gabriel lives to curate the best wine experiences. Let’s face it, when a brand designer meets butcher meets wine director – magic is sure to follow.
The Lunch Nightly moniker was inspired by their mission to utilize the whole animal for both lunch and dinner. Stop by for lunch and come again for dinner, and you’ll appreciate the genius of this plan. Take roast beef as an example. It’s prepared in a completely different way for sandwiches vs. the smoked beef served at dinner. Kudos to Adam Game, the Head Cook and his team: Natalie Marshall, Noah Martinez and Johnny Mancinelli. No matter the time of day you visit, one bite, and you’ll be back to eat your way through their menu. If your palate prefers meatless options, the Basil Coconut rice stuffed Acorn Squash is sure to delight! Beautifully plated and filled with corn nut furikake, radish, kale, kohlrabi and pomegranate molasses vinegar. Mwah!
Deli/Butcher by day and Restaurant/Bar by Night, Lunch Nightly is a haven for food, art and community. Let’s learn how they did it…
Inside+Out: Sam, tell us about yourself. Where were you born and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?
Samantha Strand: I was born in Michigan and ended up in California. I’d never done the east coast, so I made the journey here with family. I skipped the city and went straight to the woods, Miles was born in Boston then went to New York, (he has lived in Kingston for many many years), and Gabe came from New Orleans but was born in New York state. The three of us met while working at Lis Bar in Kingston and quickly realized we all shared a passion for food, booze and catering to people.
What inspired you to open Lunch Nightly, and what was your journey?
Miles had been in the process of conceptualizing a Jewish deli, and I jumped on the branding & design end of it. The chosen space wasn’t quite right for our business plan, so we turned it down, and immediately thereafter, a friend told us that Peace Nation was closing and the space was available. We asked Gabe if he wanted to do something wild with us– he said yes, and the lease was signed one week later. This space is a true amalgamation of our voices. Miles was passionate about whole animal butchery, Gabe was passionate about building a wine program. We all wanted to create a heartfelt and romantic vibe, yet casual and a little punky. I have done art-heavy creative direction & branding for other restaurants, so we felt like we had the basic tools to get ourselves going.
You are often referred to as a hybrid restaurant – tell us more.
The hybrid nature of our restaurant was initially dictated by our whole animal butchery model. Both lunch and dinner are necessary to utilize the entire animal. On top of that, we were interested in building a dual existence where somebody could stop by for lunch and then experience something completely different if they came for dinner the same night. Restaurants are living, breathing beasts, and I think it made us feel more comfortable to create something that could flex as needed. And it’s been necessary! Our model has changed multiple times due to Covid, and thankfully I think people have been a little more patient with expectations because of the hybrid nature.
Lunch Nightly has created an atmosphere focused on food, art and community. Tell us more about that.
Part of my creative practice used to be creating one-night-only restaurants, doing weird food projects, and always exploring how I could cater to people while also pushing them to experience something new and a little strange. Gabe and our original chef, June, had a very similar experience – they both created raging parties where food always held heart. We all really like humans, and a restaurant is a beautiful place to build relationships with the outside world. We’ve placed a lot of importance on our location and understand that our food isn’t always as accessible to others as we’d like it to be, so we established a community sandwich fund that allows us to offer discounted or free food for those in need. We also spearheaded the Midtown Business Alliance in collaboration with other Broadway businesses to ensure that as Kingston grows, there’s support for existing businesses in our area.
What is the draw of your restaurant; how do you keep things “fresh?”
What I hear most from our customers is that they “feel the hug.” We have friendly staff, and we try to build an environment where our customers become regulars and good friends. With a focus on branding & marketing, it’s important to me to create a visual language that lets people know this restaurant has a strong voice dictated by actual humans who have ideas, passion, humor and hearts.
What’s one question you’re constantly asked; what’s the biggest misconception about your business/restaurant?
The biggest misconception is that we came straight from the city and come from money. We built this thing with very little cash and really relied on the physical talents of ourselves, our friends and our family. We look forward to the day when we can start the next LN project with some capital so we can make something more functional and maybe a little extra wild.
The restaurant industry has seen much change and disruption with Covid. How are you adapting; is there a silver lining here?
It’s been hell for all of us restaurant folks. However, I would say yes: there is a silver lining! It’s been challenging financially; we received none of the Covid relief funding, but we opened at the beginning of the pandemic, which meant that only we the owners ran the entire operation. In the process, we learned a lot about how our restaurant needed to function. We made many mistakes that would have really affected our staff and customers, so we were really grateful for the space for the learning curve.
What do you love most about living + working in the Hudson Valley?
It’s accessible! Both because it’s smaller and attracts creative people looking to engage in community. For the most part, it’s not pretentious, and everyone wants everyone else to succeed. As things change and grow, that will be harder to uphold, but we are now trying to focus on the immense love that we’ve received since opening.
What is your company’s “culture” and how do you inspire your staff?
I’m not going to lie…being first-time restaurant owners is hard on staff–seasoned or not. We’ve tried to be really honest about our greenness, but we’ve messed up a lot – even after that initial grace period of being without employees during Covid. We went from cooking and cleaning and serving 16 hours a day to relying on folks to do that for the restaurant. That transition is odd. However, most of our staff have been patient, kind and very committed to the concept of Lunch Nightly. One of our servers likened it to her living room and the feeling of hosting friends at home. It’s a constant battle in the restaurant world regarding culture – “family” gets thrown around a lot, and as many of us know, family can be toxic. But in restaurants, it can also be why you want to show up to work, and the bonds created can be so beautiful. Mainly, as owners, we want to make sure our employees have space to be creative. Every single one of our staff members (including our wickedly talented dishwashers) has come to us with an idea for an event or dinner, and they are always the things that make Lunch Nightly buzz. We set the stage, but we’re fully aware that our staff who make Lunch Nightly really sing.
What impact does your business have on your community?
Lunch Nightly is located in the lowest income tract of Kingston (4th Ward). While our house-made deli sandwiches and funky/fancy dinners might not appeal to, or be as accessible to the community as we’d like, we’ve made efforts to support and give back to it. We’ve established a “Community Sandwich Fund,” a free or low-cost food program (fueled by donations from our customers who can afford to “pass it on”) for anyone in need. We also offer a 4th Ward discount of 15% to anyone who lives in the neighborhood. We’ve also been instrumental in establishing the Midtown Business Alliance, which advocates for and uplifts Midtown businesses and the community’s needs. Through this effort and constantly engaging in the social fabric of bars and restaurants along the Broadway corridor, we’re trying to do our part to draw people to Midtown to dine, drink and shop in an area that really deserves it.
What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?
Tubby’s feels like our sister. It’s so essential to have a late-night bar run by beautiful people just down the street. We try to communicate about events and how to send people back and forth between the businesses. Masa opened around the same time as us, and we have shared a lot of grievances about local construction and setbacks – we’ve been in it together. Ollie’s in High Falls is another sister business- we supply them with meat for their perfect pizzas, and we share many similar values. Our farms are a true heartbeat. When we first opened, Backhome Farms provided us with vegetables that we barely touched to put on the plate. We get our extremely high-quality beef from Slope and Kilcoyne, and our pigs from Miller.
What is your favorite thing to eat/cook when you’re home alone or with your family?
Let us tell you about the meal we made when we took a break from tiling the bar and painting the walls. It was the first time we used the convection oven. None of us really knew how to use it. There was a whole chicken involved (we bought it already cooked from the market), ketchup, some homemade flatbread, our first DIY dips, and a confit fennel that blew our little minds. We would eat that meal 1000x over.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn?
Four things we learned today:
One of us almost became a chemist.
One of us used to pick up almost-finished cigarette butts off of the cement.
One of us used to host porn shoots in their living room.
One of us used to work for Red Bull.
Fascinating, OK readers, try to put names to each fact. Sam, name three things you always have in your fridge or pantry.
The broken chair that we can’t seem to throw away, Peanut butter-filled pretzels and Cheap Brandy.
What’s missing in Kingston that you wish we had?
A banging Thai Restaurant. One of those bathhouses where you can get a full-body scrub. And more block parties.