The diversity of small businesses and risk-taking entrepreneurs make our corner’s region thrive. In Main Street’s last two issues, we interviewed a balloonist banker and a money manager with a garage full of Porsches. This month for our food issue, we talked to Kelsie Reed and Abby Jennings, two young sisters who always dreamed of having their own food establishment together. We interviewed them as they were mopping the floor at the end of a long day at their Little Store in Ancram, NY.
Why did the two of you decide to open a restaurant?
We always wanted to have a business together, and we often talked about it with our families. When we were younger, we both worked at different times in the Red Hook bagel shop and learned about operating a deli-restaurant business. Our father, who has his own successful custom home-construction business, set an example and pushed us to work for ourselves.
What’s the history of the Little Store?
When we were small kids, it was open as a general store but it hadn’t been in working condition for a very long time. In 2017 there was a silent auction for the building and our father, Robert Reed, who is a builder, put in the winning bid and started renovation. It was slow going, and our vision kept changing during the process while we restored the building.
Originally, we thought we would just serve breakfast, but then we added lunch and grocery items. We looked around for local products like Harney & Sons Tea, Irving Farms coffee, and local honey, maple syrup, and jams and then added grocery staples like pancake mix and soup.
Just after COVID largely disappeared, we opened on January 15, 2022, thinking it would be a slow time of the year so we could get everything just right. On the first day there was a line out the door for breakfast. Local people quickly became our regular customers. It was almost all word of mouth with a little help from the Ancram newsletter.
How many employees do you have? How do you find them?
Right now, we have six employees counting ourselves, and we’re adding more. We’ve sourced them from Facebook, indeed.com, and Art Bassin’s email blast. It is difficult to find new employees, but once they are here, they become part of the Little Store family.
How do you divide up the daily tasks of running a restaurant?
We both do pretty much everything. One of us is always here. We’re pretty interchangeable and balance each other out. And we both agree on cleanliness – we want our store to be spotless. Kelsie does the baking and makes all the cookies and crumb cakes, including our favorite chocolate chip cookies.
Also our mom comes in to help with the books and, when necessary, shows up to help behind the counter.
What are your most popular dishes?
For breakfast, bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches and the Roe Jan wrap are the most popular. For lunch, the most frequently ordered item is our pastrami reuben or Ancram Express. We’ve added monthly specials to our menu to change things up a bit.
What’s the most challenging?
Figuring out what supplies are needed to meet demand is difficult for every restaurant. It’s impossible to predict a slow day. We use the CLOVER POS system, which tells us how many sandwiches and how much coffee, etc. we serve every day. We go through an amazing number of hard rolls.
Learning how to use all the equipment was challenging for us and our staff. Boar’s Head sent a woman here to train us on the safe way to use a meat slicer.
Finding reliable suppliers has been harder than we thought. Being small and in the middle of nowhere makes it difficult to find vendors who will deliver regularly.
Price inflation suddenly made the cost of raw materials from paper products to meat an unexpected challenge. We opened with low prices so everyone could afford to come here, but recently we’ve had to increase prices because of the cost of eggs and everything else.
The hours we work and family balance are also difficult. The Little Store opens at 6:30 am, so we get here around 6 o’clock on the morning. We close at 3 pm, but one of us is always here until 4 pm. That’s a ten-hour day, but it’s worth it.
What do you suggest to anyone wanting to start a restaurant?
Do your research and study the competition. Look around and put your own stamp on what you offer. Work in a restaurant to see if you enjoy it. Have a positive attitude. Get to know your customers by name.
What do you do for fun?
The Ancram Little Store has its own women’s softball team. The first day we ever closed the store was for the softball tournament. Last year we came in second in the eight-team Dutchess Women’s Soft Ball League in Rhinebeck. •
To learn more about the Ancram LIttle Store you can call (518) 329-0051, or visit them at 1291 Co Rte 7, Ancram, NY, or online atancramlittleststore.com.