If you’ve noticed any of the recent developments along the main street of Pine Plains, chances are Jack and Irene Banning have had something to do with it. By Pine Plains’ standards, Jack and Irene aren’t considered “locals” — they’ve only lived in Pine Plains since 2008. But, if you were to judge their local status by their commitment to the Town of Pine Plains — on so many levels — you would have thought their ancestors had arrived in Pine Plains at the turn of the 19th century.
Joan and I sat down with this energetic, community-minded couple two weeks ago to talk to them about their past and ongoing projects, all aimed at revitalizing the center of Pine Plains and making it a true destination that will attract new visitors and support all of the town’s local businesses. They are the very definition of the word “visionary”.
THE PINE PLAINS PLATTER
Formerly the Mountain Cow, Jack and Irene updated the space and changed the name to Pine Plains Platter. Shortly after The Platter opened in 2012, Jack announced a contest to create a giant mural on the highly-visible clapboarded side facade of the old 1859 building (we shared the announcement on our website).
“The contest is open to any and all artists (or groups of artists) who would like to submit a proposal to design and install the mural. This is your canvas,” he said, ” a chance to create something meaningful both for our town and for your career, as it is so highly visible.”
Turns out, they didn’t get a lot of response to the call for a design — in fact, not one. But at the last minute, after the deadline had come and gone, came an incredible offer from a remarkable source. Doug Larson, an accomplished NYC architect, a talented scene painter, and a local history buff who weekended in Pine Plains, approached Jack asking if he was too late to be considered. Are you kidding? The rest is Pine Plains history (read our story right here on our blog about its creation). It is also, according to Jack, when “something changed…I think the community knew we were really in it for the long haul”. And guess who now rents the space Jack owns next door to The Platter? Larson & Paul Architects…Doug’s firm opened a Pine Plains office!
With the addition of Amy Benack-Baden in 2014 as Chef and Manager, the Bannings have transformed the cafe into a now-thriving business. Amy is a hometown girl who grew up in Pine Plains. She graduated from Stissing High School, went on to LeMoyne College as a political science major and got her degree but in the end realized cooking was her true passion. “I have been in the kitchen since I can remember. I was always there helping my Mom with the cooking, and the eating.” Amy had happily been the chef at a restaurant in Red Hook for six years when she heard from a friend that Jack was looking for someone to run The Platter. Jack tells the story that she came in for her interview with a written menu and pricing and said “this is your menu and these are the prices…let me run the place my way and it will work”. Jack wondered about the low prices on the menu…she told him “this is what people here can afford. You’re not just open on weekends.”
When I asked her where she found the courage to interview like that she said, “I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I was happy at my current job but the idea of bringing something like this to my hometown was a dream come true.” And she was right when she told Jack it would work. It did. She really seems to have her finger on the “food pulse” of what locals and weekenders want from The Platter. “The first thing I did when I came in was pull back the curtains on the windows so people could see inside. I wanted the cafe to feel open and welcoming to everybody.” Forgive the pun, but that attitude and her menu have been a recipe for success at The Platter. The food is excellent with almost all of the ingredients sourced locally. The service and atmosphere is friendly yet competent, and with Jack’s trust and light-handed management style, Amy and her staff seem to have a true sense of pride in the business.