Nestled at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains, Ellenville had its heyday in the mid-1900s. A part of the Borscht Belt region, the area used to buzz with visitors staying at nearby resorts. But once tourists abandoned the Catskills in the ‘60s, Ellenville suffered a devasting decline.
Today, after decades of quiet, the town is experiencing a renaissance. Just this year, new spots have opened across town, including Everything Nice, a coffee and record shop, Inland Objects, a home and design store, and Morning Sunshine, a café and provisions market on the corner of Center Street and Clinton Avenue.
Tori Messner and Natalia Moena, the owners of Morning Sunshine, moved to the Catskills full time from Brooklyn in March 2020, and haven’t looked back. The couple, who have backgrounds in creative direction and photography, founded Reservoir Studio, a branding and content creation company, on Depot Street. Since May, they’ve been running the café, which is open Thursday through Sunday.
The concept had been in the works for years. In the fall of 2021, the couple started doing pop-ups at Reservoir with coffee and pastries. “It was our way of testing the market, and people loved it,” says Messner. Inspired by the success, they set out to find a permanent home for Morning Sunshine. Despite several storefronts being empty at the time, not many were affordable. Then they stumbled upon a warehouse being used to store buses. A year and a half later, after planning approvals and plenty of renovation, the duo opened their doors.
Morning Sunshine is housed in a bright space flooded with natural light with bold red, yellow, and green accents along the walls and behind the coffee bar. Pantry goods from nationally popular brands Fishwife tinned fish and Graza olive oil to New York City-based Variety Coffee and spice blends from Edy’s Grocer line the shelves of the market. In the coolers, you’ll find all types of cheese, like brie, sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and Mimolette—and you can even order cheese boards with nuts and dried fruit to go.
The food menu features Middle Eastern and South American influences. Many sandwiches and bowls include sauces and spices like za’atar, harissa, chimichurri, and aji verde. Stand-outs include the “Cowgirl,” a ciabatta roll filled with scrambled eggs, Oaxacan cheese, house-made chorizo, and chimichurri; the za’atar eggs plate, with a tomato and cucumber salad and white bean hummus on toasted sourdough; a lamb meatball sandwich topped with harissa ketchup and labneh; and a vegan farro grain bowl with kale, roasted sweet potato, avocado, and pesto dressing. (Plus, get one of the four styles of cornbread on the side.)
“Middle Eastern foods tend to be very good for people with digestive issues and other dietary restrictions,” says Moena. For plant-based customers, tofu scramble can be subbed in to make egg dishes vegan, and gluten-free bread can be requested, too. Guests can sit at a large communal table, at a window bar, or, in warmer weather, outside at picnic tables.
Messner and Moena hope that Morning Sunshine will play a role in revitalizing Ellenville. They’ve already hosted several special events for residents and visitors, including a halva-making class for the Borscht Belt Festival, a movie screening, and a vintage shopping night. “We want people to love Ellenville, to come visit, and also be proud of living here,” explains Messner. “A lot of industries and tourism left after the Borscht Belt era. Finally, people are supporting small businesses, and want to regenerate downtown.”
3–5 Clinton Avenue, Ellenville