Pleasantville restaurateur Phil McGrath is in the process of moving the popular Pony Express across the street on Wheeler Avenue and opening a third eatery to fill the vacated storefront.
McGrath, owner of Iron Horse Grill, plans to unveil The Seahorse Seafood Shack in the vacated Pony Express location. When the new entity opens, McGrath will be operating three eateries within 325 feet of each other on Wheeler Avenue.
McGrath said Pony Express, which will move to 11 Wheeler Ave. into the space previously occupied by Roc n Roe’s Pop Shop, has outgrown its current location.
“We will be better able to serve the people that come,” said McGrath, a Pleasantville resident. “I was very sad that the Pop Shop went out, but when the opportunity presented itself, we took advantage of it.”
The Seahorse Seafood Shack will be similar to restaurants found in New England, offering both fried and grilled fish. McGrath said the establishment will be a simple concept, with a blackboard menu offering sandwiches and platters.
“You’ll get a nice fresh piece of fish that’s simply prepared,” he said. “It’s like what we do at the Pony, only more focused on fish.”
McGrath hopes to open Seahorse and move Pony Express, which bills itself as “naturally good fast food,” including burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and fries, by the end of October. He expects the Architectural Review Board to approve signage for both establishments on Oct. 3.
The plan is to move Pony Express first, and then open Seahorse. Pony Express has more logistical challenges, since the Pop Shop did not have a kitchen. Before Seahorse opens, changes will be made to the interior at the store located at 30 Wheeler Ave.
“This is a great thing,” McGrath said. “We really appreciate the support of people from Pleasantville. We are moving to better serve our clientele.”
Iron Horse Grill opened in 1997 and is credited with helping spark the resurgence of Pleasantville’s business district along with the arrival of the Jacob Burns Film Center in 2001. McGrath credited the village board and the chamber of commerce for being business friendly.
“When we joined the chamber of commerce, there were 15 members,” he said. “Now there are well over 100. Pleasantville has become a dining destination. There are a lot of quality restaurants. I can go to Pleasantville and I have a lot of options.”
Village Trustee Mindy Berard said the launch of the farmers market in the late 1990s helped change Pleasantville’s food identity. Berard was on the Business Revitalization Task Force at the time.
“Phil McGrath has proven himself to be a great businessperson in this village,” Berard said. “If he has three spots on the main thoroughfare, then more power to him. I think it’s great. Nobody can do it better than Phil.”
McGrath’s moves are part of a series of recent changes on Wheeler Avenue. Miyabi, an Asian fusion restaurant, opened earlier this year, filling the vacancy left by the closure of Jackson & Wheeler a few years ago at one of the village’s most prominent storefronts. Another restaurant, Bollywood Bistro, suddenly closed last week.
Mayor Peter Scherer said he was pleased with the activity and is hoping that Miyabi is here for the long haul as well.
“Hopefully they will be successful,” Scherer said. “It’s a disappointment to have an on-again, off-again life there. I think it’s a great location. It casts a positive view of downtown.”
Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce President William Flooks said he was happy to hear about McGrath’s plans.
“It’s one less vacancy on Wheeler,” Flooks said. “It will bring more traffic into the village, and that’s a good thing. Pony Express will do well there.”
Flooks said a restaurant like Miyabi should mean Pleasantville will have more visitors.
“You can get food and get desserts here,” Flooks said. “Everyone wants to eat somewhere. I’d rather see them come to Pleasantville than go somewhere else. [The Miyabi space] had been empty for a long time. No one wants to see vacancies.”