“Newburgh is up-and-coming — just give it a few years.”
It’s a refrain Valley residents have heard in some form or another since the city’s downturn following the decline of river travel in the late ’50s and urban renewal in the ’60s. But a string of new economic investments — particularly food and retail businesses — are juicing up Newburgh’s downtown in a way that may just provide the engine with enough steam to lurch forward on the tracks.
Among the new additions is Mama Roux, a restaurant where “southern cuisine meets country French” on the northwest corner of Liberty Street and Broadway. Inside, guests are greeted by ornate wallpaper, antique lamps, and leafy ferns that make for a pseudo-Antebellum atmosphere. Owners Philippe Pierre and Sterling Knight, along with Executive Chef Matty Hutchins, have designed a delightfully offbeat menu where diners can satiate their craving with a bucket of fried chicken, or try something completely new like the gator and crawfish sausage.
Hutchins’ new gig marks his return to the area after a stint in Atlanta opening a brewpub. Beaconites will remember him for his beloved gastropub The Hop, which helped usher in the renaissance of Newburgh’s neighboring city. Now on the other side of the river, he’s having a bit of déjà vu.
“I’d lived in Beacon for two or three years before I opened up the first Hop, and I watched businesses open up and close, open up and close,” he says. “There were so many people waiting for something. You never know what’s going to tip that scale.”
Mama Roux opened its doors on the heels of several newcomers to the city’s food and beverage scene, including Newburgh Flour Shop, Hudson Taco, Craft Draft, and Rob’s Roast Coffee, not to mention culinary fixtures like Liberty Street Bistro. Coming soon is The Spirits Lab, a distillery focusing on small-batch craft spirits, and later this year a new tasting room and production facility from Graft Cider.
Upon his return to the area, Hutchins moved to Newburgh and to his surprise, discovered he wasn’t alone. “Beacon’s starting to price out people, and it’s getting to that negative side of gentrification,” he says. “I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces over here now in the coffee shops that used to frequent the coffee shops across the river because they live here.”
Thanks to Newburgh’s prolonged perch on the edge of revival, signal flares over the looming issue of gentrification have been flashing for quite some time. But according to Alexandra Church, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Newburgh, some of the tensions surrounding new residents moving to the city have died down.
“I think people are starting to realize that there can be a place for everyone in Newburgh,” she says. In a city afflicted by high vacancy rates, it’s hard to argue against any occupancy. “But the people moving in, it’s becoming pretty clear that they want to be a part of a community.”
Hutchins decided to move to Newburgh instead of Beacon for that exact reason. Though still nursing concerns over safety and crime (renewed after recent cutbacks in the police department), the city reported a 10-year low in violent crime rates in 2017. “It’s definitely a live wire sometimes,” he says, “but it’s a lot more bark than it is bite.”
Church highlights several self-directed initiatives to serve the community as evidence for her point. Lodger, for example, was awarded a grant for a program that taught students from Newburgh Free Academy about farm-to-table food and cooking. And though still in its infancy, The Spirits Lab hopes to offer internships to local college and culinary students planning to enter the industry.
Further showcasing the businesses’ investment in the city is the fact that none of the aforementioned restaurants are located in newly constructed units. “There have been some incredible renovations of old buildings for adaptive use,” Church says.
Particularly exciting to her is Graft’s new location in the West End of the city. The neighborhood has seen fewer hospitality and retail businesses due to its less walkable layout. At its new location, Graft will open a tasting room where visitors can try their variety of ciders and enjoy an outdoor courtyard overlooking the Quassaick Creek. On top of the tasting room, the expansion will more than double the company’s production capacity, and help to grow its sister brand of wine spritzers, Flora Wine.
Graft owner Kyle Sherrer estimates the new facility will create another seven full-time jobs between production and the tasting room, as well as a handful of part-time work. He’s optimistic that the West End complex, in combination with the Liberty Street corridor, will benefit the city economically. “Bookending the city of Newburgh from the waterfront to our location will hopefully spur growth and development from both sides of the city over time,” says Sherrer.
In addition to the aforementioned restaurants slated to open, several Central American restaurants have joined the scene, including Café Colombia on Broadway; and Toquilla’s, serving Ecuadorian cuisine.
To Church, Newburgh’s strength lies in its diversity. She jokes that the city’s smattering of taco joints is a perfect representation of this. “You can get high-end tacos, dollar tacos — any kind of taco here.”
Aside from the hospitality sector, there are several projects underway posing an enormous makeover to the Liberty Street area: Wireworks will serve as a mixed-use facility with apartments, a coworking space, and a ground floor retail space; Thornwillow Makers Village hopes to develop the South Landers Street–Spring Street area into a massive creative live-work-play hub; and the Public School 6 project, which plans to turn a former school on Liberty Street into soundstages and a training center for film and television crews, recently won almost $1 million in grant funding.
As Hutchins put it, you never can tell what’s going to tip the scale; but sometimes you can tell when it’s close.
“I kind of feel like it can happen any second,” he says.