Story by Christen Smith – Photos by Jan Regan
When John Guattery and Pui Wudhapitak started looking for the perfect spot to launch their Thai restaurant in 2017, they knew they wanted to open in a location that would give them plenty of access to fresh, seasonal farm-to-table choices, all within a smaller town. They found their perfect scenario in Canandaigua.
“I believe that the people who live in Canandaigua welcome new and different restaurants to the city with open arms,” said Guattery about the partners’ decision to open Thai By Night on Canandaigua’s Main Street. “As long as you serve good-quality food with great hospitality, you will succeed.”
Just up the street from Thai By Night is the Canandaigua Farmers Market that runs nearly all year, hosting summer and winter markets. The market is an association of farmers and small-scale food processors who live within a limited radius of Canandaigua.
“Our farmers market is extremely popular every Saturday morning,” said Denise Chaapel, Business Improvement District (BID) manager for Downtown Canandaigua. “You will often find many of our local chefs picking up or placing orders from our local farmers— farm-to-table is important for so many of our restaurants.”
The name Canandaigua is derived from the Seneca name Kanandarque, which means “chosen spot.” The city seems to have found its niche in delicious cuisine and a brewery scene, making it a “chosen” location for many entrepreneurs who are looking for a vibrant place to grow a business.
“Potential new business owners often say I am looking at Downtown Canandaigua because this is ‘the place to be,’” said Chaapel.
AN INTERNATIONAL FLAIR
There is no passport necessary to travel the world when it comes to international cuisine in downtown Canandaigua. There you’ll find unique restaurants showcasing a hotbed of worldly delights from Indian, Italian, French, Greek, Mexican, German and American cuisine.
“You could literally stroll Downtown Canandaigua’s three block radius and eat for weeks,” Chaapel said.
Lisa Herrick, owner of Bon Ami French Bistro, a Main Street restaurant offering authentic French cuisine, says she thinks people enjoy the atmosphere of Canandaigua because of the hometown feel they get. “I see the future food and beverage scene expanding to include small, family-owned restaurants, distilleries, breweries, and wineries, along with younger people opening fun, hip establishments,” said Herrick.
HELPING BUSINESSES SUCCEED
Chaapel says the BID (Canandaigua Business Improvement District) doesn’t recruit to fill vacancies downtown— they want the downtown businesses to complement and work with each other, and have the same level of customer service and attention to detail. “Quite honestly, we only recruit businesses that we know will be successful. For the most part, ‘mom and pop’ businesses are what make our downtown a huge success,” said Chaapel.
Nicole Williams, co-owner of Simply Crêpes in downtown Canandaigua, says their establishment was committed early on— they opened in 2007—to support the local wineries, and that she’s seen a tremendous amount of growth in the wine scene over the last five years.
“The wines get better with each year,” she said. “The breweries are sprouting up everywhere—most of which host events and gatherings for locals and tourists to enjoy year-round. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth over the last 20 years, however, the city feels to be just hitting its stride.”
Nick Violas, owner of Nolan’s on Canandaigua Lake, says Canandaigua is a tight-knit community with a proud history. He says it’s a community that works hard to maintain high standards of excellence, but it’s also a family-oriented community that values a casual atmosphere.
“I see Canandaigua staying consistent with the same vision we’ve had for the past 200 years,” said Violas, whose concept for Nolan’s is to serve the highest-quality ingredients with outstanding customer service at a reasonable price.
“We will always try to improve what we do, but I don’t see us changing who we are or how we approach things. It’s been this way for many years and I think it works.”
Canandaigua has the best of both worlds: outdoorsy lake life with a walkable downtown village vibe, all within close proximity. That’s how Alyssa Belasco, executive director of New York Kitchen, describes Canandaigua.
For tourists and locals who haven’t explored the FLX beverage scene yet, the New York Kitchen makes it easy to enjoy a wine, beer, or spirits flight in their tasting room, stocked 100% with New York State products. Belasco says their shared campus with The Lake House on Canandaigua allows for visitors to eat, drink, sleep and play without having to get in a vehicle. “People are taking advantage of Canandaigua as a foodie destination, and sharing with us how they needed the trip as an opportunity to reset,” she said.
A BREWERY EXPLOSION
“We opened 10 years ago and the tourism in the Finger Lakes was starting to boom,” said Dave Schlosser, owner of Naked Dove Brewing. Naked Dove was the first brewery in Canandaigua when the beer scene was just in its infancy. Schlosser said there were some places that sold good beer, but the selection was not as vast as it is today.
“Not only do we have a great variety of breweries in the area, but the bars and restaurants are selling a huge variety of Finger Lakes beer. Although the Finger Lakes has been known for wine for a long time, it is quickly becoming a well-known destination for breweries and high-quality beer, as well,” he said.
Jen Newman, owner/CEO of Young Lion Brewing on the north shore of Canandaigua Lake, says she feels they were “lucky” to be able to build Young Lion in one of the “best” locations in the Finger Lakes. The brewery boasts a view of the entire length of Canandaigua Lake and the Bristol Mountains to the south. “Canandaigua and the Finger Lakes have quickly become a national beer destination,” she said. “Each brewery has its own personality and a diverse perspective that brings a strength to this already collaborative and creative industry.”
While the food and drink scene in Canandaigua is a major draw, many say that’s just part of the attraction to the city. It’s also known for its extreme beauty with the surrounding lakes and stunning scenery, but also for the kindness emitted by the locals. It’s why Paul Newhook decided to open a brewery in the city last year: Square Knot Brewing.
“I grew up in Canandaigua, and worked here for many years after I came back from my military service,” he said. “This is a place I call home and love doing business with friends.”
Christen Smith is a Canandaigua resident and freelance writer who loves all things Finger Lakes—wines, brews, people and food.
Jan Regan is a longtime Geneva-based photographer happiest when capturing the people, places and things of the Finger Lakes—and beyond. More at janreganphotography.com.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 Issue of the magazine