“I think of the waterfront as the front door to Hudson, so this is our way to welcome people to the city,” says Ben Fain of South Front Street Holdings, the company behind Kitty’s market/cafe/restaurant, Grapefruit Wines, and the soon-coming event space The Caboose. “The idea is to build a little campus of synergistic businesses that help each other out, because the economics of food and beverage are so difficult.”
Across from the Amtrak station, Kitty’s Market first opened in September 2020, bringing fresh life to Hudson’s waterfront district. The offerings—hot coffee, breakfast fare, rotisserie chicken, and a market full of pantry staples and local produce—were a welcome addition for down-the-hill residents and weekenders fresh off the train. Two years later, after countless Covid-imposed delays, Kitty’s sit-down restaurant opened next door serving a locally sourced, vegetable-forward menu of farm-to-table fare.
After three years of construction, Fain’s original vision for the cohesive, complementary campus is finally about to become a reality. In mid-October, after a month-long hiatus to recruit and train more staff and finish construction on the Caboose, Kitty’s restaurant will reopen with a fresh chef at the helm just as the 6,500-square-foot event space debuts.
New Chef, New Kitty’s
Kitty’s new executive chef Nicole LoBue is a big culinary name in Hudson, where she moved over a decade ago to help launch the nonprofit Kite’s Nest. For six years, she ran the Alimentary Kitchen, Kite’s Nest’s educational kitchen out of Basilica Hudson, also catering for the venue’s many music shows, private events, and pop-ups. She’s also worked at Stissing House, designed Hawthorne Valley School’s lunch program, and catered throughout the region. “She is universally loved,” Fain says. “I haven’t met anyone who has said one bad thing about her. They love her and love her food.”
After college, LoBue attended the Natural Gourmet Institute and, for a stint, the French Culinary Institute (now ICC). Then she headed out west to cut her teeth in the Bay Area restaurant industry working with caterers like Chez Panisse Events, as well as collaborating with artists and cheffing for private clients. While there she also taught on fermentation, sourdough bread baking, and similar topics at the Studio for Urban Projects in San Francisco.
“I grew up with Sicilian immigrant grandparents who grew everything and did all the homesteading that wasn’t popular at that time,” says LoBue. She brings a background in foraging and herbalism to her cooking and, after nearly 11 years here, an acute understanding of the rhythms of the Hudson Valley bioregion’s seasons. A throughline of her meandering career in cooking, education, activism (and now a Masters in mental health counseling) is so simple you could miss it: Healing.
“My cooking comes from a desire to nourish and heal rather than create the most beautiful, esoteric food ever,” she says. “I’m interested in how we take care of ourselves and each other. There has been a huge divide between healthy food and fine cuisine. One thing that has stayed with me since my 20s is the desire to confuse that line. Healthy food doesn’t have to be this crunchy organic thing that is not appealing. I like to explore texture and color and develop flavor. We all have these innate desires for tastes and textures that are actually building blocks of all of our nourishment.”
Microseasonality, local, organic—beyond buzzwords these are the building blocks of LoBue’s cooking, and she’s spent the better part of a decade developing relationships with the area’s producers. For Kitty’s she has more than two dozen farms on the docket from Hudson locals Letterbox, Mx Morning Star, and Hudson Valley Fish Farm to Snowdance, Tivoli Mushrooms, Common Hands, and Montgomery Place Orchards.
In Fain and the Kitty’s crew, LoBue has found an open invitation to create in her signature cooking style, by now known and beloved to many Hudsonians. “We have the framework of elevated casual, with a little bit of a diner vibe. The idea is to do comfort classics and incorporate modern techniques to elevate them,” LoBue says. “Instead of just purely fine dining, we want this place to feel equalizing and wonderfully inviting.”
Given the ongoing staff training and the changeability of the shoulder season produce, LoBue is reticent to share any dishes lest they not make the October 17 opening menu, but she does tease fall favorites like lamb, “beautiful braises,” house-made brioche, and, for brunch, a patty melt. “Everyone here has to be able to do all the things. I’m building a team now, and that team is going to dictate how I write this menu,” she says. “There are a million ideas in the world that speak to what I want to do, but it’s not all about me—it’s about this context and this community.”
The Caboose also finally comes online in October after three years of renovation and construction. Built out of the shell of an old coal depot, the sprawling barn space is a feat of engineering, sustainability, and design. Intended to service as a year-round, multi-use space that can host anything from weddings to corporate events to holiday parties and concerts,
The $2.1 million dollar adaptive reuse project received over $1.5 million in funding from NYSERDA’s Carbon Neutral Community Economic Development Program and $420,860 grant from the Capital Regional Economic Development Council. Renovations to the barn building included critical weatherization to seal the envelope using structural insulation panels (SIPs), buried ductwork, triple-pane windows, and slab and roof insulation to allow year-round, efficient energy performance. With a fully electric kitchen, as well as heating and cooling systems, and solar arrays, the Caboose is a 100 percent carbon-neutral building—no small feat for a 200-year-old barn.
“My dream is that it becomes a model and a catalyst for a way to build new buildings in New York, because we have to decarbonize the building stock,” Fain says. But beyond just the nerdy technicalities of the construction, at work here is Fain’s desire to bring people together. “I love taking care of people,” he says. “If I can say yes, I want to say yes. I want to toast everybody and for the Caboose to be a meeting place for nonprofits to do galas, people to have weddings, corporate events—whatever comes our way. Let us curate your wine, cater your food, and take care of you, and then just show off the craftsmanship of New York State.”
Next spring, the outdoor component of the Caboose will really shine—a massive, landscaped garden bursting with local specimens, including 92 freshly planted mature birches. “We really wanted it to have a Secret Garden-like feel,” Fain says. “We want it to be a place that unveils itself slowly. There are a lot of peekaboo effects—the landscape architect calls them rooms. I think that space is almost better than the building, which I didn’t expect.” It’s easy to imagine party guests wandering through the gravel pathways, wine glass in hand, pausing to observe a flowering hydrangea or whisper a sweet nothing before continuing on.
As soon as they SLA approves the transfer of their liquor license, Grapefruit natural wine shop will also move down the hill to its permanent retail home in the Caboose. “Part of what we’re doing is trying to have an educational component to this—to bring people over to natural wine,” Fain says. “There is a training aspect to that. We have a wine share. When anybody comes in, we’re happy to talk about it—we’ll nerd out for as long you want. Grapefruit has hosted dinners and brought in different wine makers, we’ve hosted tastings, and sponsored Peripheral Wine Fest. Our mission is to let people know how great natural wine is.”
With the full realization of the Kitty’s/Caboose mission on the horizon, Fain is already dreaming of next projects. Like this one, they’re not small. In the Kaz warehouse building across the parking lot from the Caboose, he aims to restore the building to create a large event space that he hopes can serve, among other things, as a permanent, year-round home for the Hudson Farmers’ Market, as well as a weatherproof location for events like the book fair and the Peripheral Wine Festival.
And across the river in Catskill, plans are underway to turn adjacent historic buildings on the corner of Bridge and Main streets into a carbon-neutral hotel, which would be the first of its kind in New York State.
“My mom says I’m an entrepreneur,” Fain says. “But I just want to be a part of interesting things.”
Kitty’s reopens for dinner service on October 17. The Caboose is now open for event bookings.