On any given Saturday, Countryside Kitchen can provide that small town vibe that makes everyone feel at home.
Inside the quaint eatery, patrons almost certainly run into someone they know while enjoying a scrumptious breakfast or lunch at an affordable price. Countryside Kitchen, owned by Christina and Lee Vataj, has become a staple of the Mahopac community since opening almost a decade ago.
Both Christina and Lee lost their jobs in the corporate world when their companies downsized, but eventually it led to a more fruitful endeavor. With zero cooking and restaurant experience, the two decided to open an eatery on a whim and now it’s been almost ten years. They opened Nov. 4, 2008.
The first few years included a lot of trial and error, Christina said, but as time went on, they found their niche in the community. At first, they offered lunch and dinner, serving up a variation of soul food. Then, after learning about the history of the location, they decided to focus on breakfast and closed down for two weeks to prepare for the switch. Lee, who is a self-taught cook, taught Christina how to cook and they showed a couple workers how to man the stove and oven.
They reopened on a Saturday and its been a steady growth ever since. Christina said the two losing their jobs ended up being a “blessing in disguise.”
“We love the community, we love what we’re doing now,” she said. “I wouldn’t change anything. It’s awesome.”
Christina said when she sees other people who might be dealing with a job loss, she encourages them to look at the bigger picture and realize that when one door closes, another door opens.
They found the location along Route 6 when they were visiting relatives and it caught their eye. When Christina and Lee walked into the place to inspect it, the location felt like home.
“We could see the rest of our lives here,” she said. “The building’s got character.”
When the couple first opened, they were commuting from Yonkers. Then they rented a home in Mahopac and now are proud homeowners in town, with twins. During their time in Mahopac, the couple has made such good friends she considers them family.
Every couple of years improvements are made to Countryside Kitchen as the business grows. Christina enjoys the rustic feel to the building and likes that it feels like a tree house. Many customers tell Christina and Lee they feel like they’re on vacation when they walk in, whether it be somewhere in Maine or Vermont.
The restaurant has been featured on ABC 7 News for its world famous Holy Cannoli Pancake and even former New York Giants Super Bowl champion Michael Strahan stopped in when looking for a breakfast place in the area.
“It feels like family, even with the customers,” Christina said. “It’s kind of become the go-to spot for the community. It’s kind of like ‘Cheers.’”
“Everybody here is like the same person, like everybody’s like family, people meet up all the time,” Lee added. “It’s a very familiar place.”