Think Locally (and Maybe Don’t Act Globally): Jesse Camac, Shawn Burnette, Jessica Gonzalez, & Heritage Food + Drink
Jesse Camac comes with a family history of making questionable choices. In 2001, his father bailed on a lucrative career running large IT consulting firms when he fell in love with the restaurant industry. He pulled a rising chef named Zak Pelaccio from Brooklyn’s Chickenbone Café to open 5 Ninth. That partnership evolved into Fatty Crab and Fatty ’Cue with outposts in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.
Camac, who is just 32 now, was starting out in real estate when Fatty Crab was launching—but he was also hitting those restaurants every night, getting seduced. He ditched real estate to work his way from busboy to the director of operations for the international group of six Fatty Crabs and ’Cues. While still in his 20s, Camac managed 200+ employees.
Now, Camac is in Wappinger’s Falls overseeing the construction of Heritage Food and Drink, his new farm-to-table restaurant cheffed by Shawn Burnette, formerly of Husk, Del Posto and The Breslin. Burnette had already fled the City and was working at Hasbrouck House in Stone Ridge, sourcing 95% of his product from within a 30-mile radius of the restaurant. Meanwhile, independent of Burnette, Jessica Gonzalez had made the move up to Beacon.
Gonzalez, who was head bartender at Manhattan’s Bar at NoMad when it won its James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, was also one of the original bartenders at the fabled Death & Co. She’d had a child and no longer wanted to bartend until 4am. Says Camac, “She wants the country life, fresh air. Space. But she also wants to do her craft.” The coincidence of this talent migration felt like divine providence to Camac, who immediately hired Gonzalez. “We’ve got this incredible team of people who all came up here for different reasons.”
With this team in place, it would be reasonable for Camac to start thinking chain like Fatty Crab. “Maybe I got a little soured by Fatty Crab,” he says, “but I’m not a big believer in rolling out identical restaurants anymore … I’ll be honest, it got to the point where we were on Fatty Crab number 7 and it became stale. I lost my passion.”
But Wappinger’s Falls? “New York City isn’t the be-all and end-all of food anymore,” Camac says. “To make a name? Maybe. But I wouldn’t tell anyone to open a restaurant in New York City anymore.” Camac cites all his New York City restaurant friends who have fled for more sustainable lifestyles. “Everyone is having more fun, they’re smiling and they’re breathing fresh air.”