the history of
Growing up in a small Louisiana town at the start of the 20th century where Jim Crow attitudes still abounded, the founder of Hattie’s Chicken Shack— Hattie Gray—was orphaned as a child. Her mother , Lydia, died in childbirth. Hattie Leopold, the wife of a rabbi and who had employed the infant’s mother as a cook, took the child under her wing and decided
to help Hattie’s father, Harry, raise the baby. The baby was named after Mrs. Leopold—Hattie. It was a household much different than what Hattie may have experienced if her mother had lived—prominent local citizens socialized often in the home and Hattie learned early the art of being diplomatic and how to be at ease around white people despite the rampant racism that surrounded black people in the South. She also learned how to cook under the tutelage of Mrs. Leopold. “I wasn’t afraid of them,” she told one reporter later in life. “You see, a lot of black people were afraid of white people at that time, but I’d been raised with them.” As a young girl,she went to live in New Orleans where she attended
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and herself. It was 1938. Saratoga was a hotspot— the place to be. With the race track bringing in the rich and famous, as well as the not so famous hoping to get rich, there were gaming parlors, speakeasies and illegal gambling. With just $33 in her pocket, the small, unassuming woman purchased a stove, an ice box, a table and some chairs and opened a restaurant in a small, onestory wood frame building—10 Federal Street. There she served up fried chicken with a simple recipe—flour and soybean oil (no pepper because it would ruin the oil,) and a little salt after it was crispy—to anyone who needed a meal whether they could pay or not. She hired her neighbors, giving them work and a place where they could feel a sense of equality. school and lived for a number of years. Hattie later moved to Chicago where her sister lived and she became the family housekeeper and nanny for a very wealthy and socially prominent family—A. E. Stanley, known as the Starch King. With the family, she travelled to Florida in the winters and the Spa City for the summer. Hattie eventually settled in Saratoga, finding work as a waitress.
Hattie eventually expanded her menu to include a flavor of New Orleans cooking, adding shrimp and scallops, barbeque ribs and lamb chops. She would later add vegetables to the menu when customers from the backstretch of the racetrack asked for it to be included—it was often the only time they could get any fresh vegetables. Eventually her menu also included breakfast items and dinners when she found a need to be open at all hours.
Hattie Austin Moseley
But Hattie discovered that while she and the majority of other blacks could keep the economy of the Spa City going by being housemaids, service help and nannies, they were not welcome in a lot of places, including restaurants. She wanted to do something that would help her neighbors saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
For 30 years Hattie operated her small restaurant out of her Federal Street location feeding anyone who was hungry, even if they didn’t have the money to pay. Hattie’s Commemorative Booklet 2013 | 5
She’d make a stew from the chicken to feed the kids that migrated to her backyard and while she had no children of her own, Hattie mothered several neighborhood children who sought her out for her generous spirit. Many of the kids she nurtured during those early years spoke kindly of Hattie and her generosity in later interviews. Several of them went on to successful and prominent careers. Hattie was a woman of simple means. The décor of her restaurant stayed the same—plain wooden tables covered by green or red checkered table cloths and sea foam green-painted chairs. On the walls she hung pictures of customers, the famous and not-so-famous,
along with newspaper articles written about her diner and southern memorabilia. There were times she stayed open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and customers spoke of times they visited her establishment at two in the morning and she could be found in the kitchen frying chicken. Hattie would often sleep on a cot in what is now the pantry in order to be there if needed. She would say in a later interview that she never felt tired and she wanted to feed people if they were hungry. In 1968, a new supermarket was going up where her restaurant stood and Hattie moved uptown to 45 Phila Street. Known for its proximity to the race track, Hattie’s Chicken Shack quickly became a destination spot for tourists and Saratogians alike. Hattie would later open a second location at the track. Her good friend, Sadie Jackson, known as Chicken Sadie, ran the stand, serving up chicken to track patrons and employees just outside of the jockey room.
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By now in her 80s, Hattie began to contemplate selling her restaurant. She had married twice—first to Willie Moseley—“a man about town”—he died in 1971; and then Bill Austin who helped her run the restaurant. But running the restaurant, even with help, was becoming difficult on the aging Hattie.
Bill & Hattie Moseley
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Photo courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography 8 | Hattie’s Commemorative Booklet 2013
You can find this sign in the french quarter lounge!
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zy, “...heading to Hattie authentic, la y ll ’s for the best a e r a is … s ie “There tt fried chicken on th Ha in g n li e e fe east coast.” n r from le slow southe p o e p -E sq e s ui r re o M agazine ll the h that’s why a ys love it.” o b le b ta s to millionares Times “...Hattie’s (legendary fried chicken.)” -The New York -National Geographic Traveler “The owners of this Saratoga Springs ch me Hattie’s… icken shack have change “At down-ho d—twice—since th e restaurant r&b provide first opened in 1938 old jazz and , but the strongly se op for asoned pieces still referenc rfect backdr e p e th e the original recipe hes…” .” outhern dis s -Food & Wine Magaz st ine -New York Po “This place epitomizes southern charm, “For what with overhead might qualify as fans, checkered the best fried tablecloths, a chicken north of banging screen the Mason Dixon door and a wall line, theres of testimonials the steadfast to the woman Hattie’s. Open who ran the in 1938 by the restaurant legendary Hattie for almost six as a southerndecades – Hattie style shack, it is Moseley Austin.” now owned by -Bon Apetit Jasper and Beth Magazine Alexander, who have remained true to the “...unforgettable original recipes.” Fried Chicken at Hattie’s Chicken -The Boston Globe Shack” -The Boston Phoenix “…they went for the atmo“...and I might have sphere – the checkered to eat two Hatties ugh the “...walk thro cloths on the table, the fried chicken sandoor of pale green d chipping lime-green paint wiches today, since taurant Hattie’s Res on the wooden chairs, it’s going to be 11 ht and on buffet nig (an d) the framed photomonths until my you you’ll think graphs of Cab Colloway next one.” iana hit the Louis and Jackie Robinson.” -Steven Crist Lottery” for Cristblog -Food & Wine Magazine -Paula Dean saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
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the Next Era Hattie’s
The next era of Hattie’s would evolve with a chance meeting between a first-time customer and Hattie. Hattie had mentioned a few times she was considering selling her popular restaurant—she admitted she was getting too old for the day to day pressures of running it—but she hadn’t advertised the place as for sale. One day a woman who worked on Wall Street wandered into Hattie’s for a meal and she and Hattie quickly developed a friendship. Hattie liked what she saw in Christel MacLean, so in 1993, Hattie asked Christel if she would consider purchasing her restaurant. She agreed.
3057 route 50
In the meantime, Elizabeth Monaco, a dancer and dance instructor, went to work at the restaurant, waiting tables, keeping the books and managing the dining room. They shared a lot in common and a close friendship developed between the two.
At the same time, Beth was dating Jasper Alexander, a New York City chef. The couple had met at Siro’s where they were both working for the summer season. At the end of the summer, Jasper moved out to Sun Valley, Idaho. On one visit to see Beth, Jasper looked around Hattie’s and marveled at its quaint charm, historic legacy and place in the culinary world. “He said to me, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to own a restaurant like this,’” said Beth. She agreed, but Christel had not expressed any interest in selling.
Eventually Beth, following her heart, moved to Sun Valley to be with Jasper. From there, the couple moved to Seattle, where Jasper worked at several leading restaurants. They decided it was time to tie the knot and Christel and Colin were invited to the wedding. It was then that Beth and Jasper’s lives would change forever. What Beth did not know was that Christel was considering selling Hattie’s. And like Hattie before her, Christel knew whoever took over the place had to be in love with it and its legacy—she was handpicking, like Hattie, who she wanted to take over the eatery. Christel and Colin came to the wedding and planted the idea that a transition of ownership Hattie’s might be right for both couples, Beth explained, adding that while many investors had expressed an interest in buying the historic restaurant, Christel didn’t want to sell it to just anyone. 12 | Hattie’s Commemorative Booklet 2013 saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
Pictured from bottom left to right: Aime Richards (13 years with Hattie’s); Llona Hogan (six years); Jasper & Beth Alexander (owners). Bottom right: Annette Vanderwater (18 years with Hattie’s); Jamie Diaz (over ten years). Not pictured: Mike Gay (14 years with Hattie’s); Jason Lyng (six years); Sal Porterfield (11 years); and last but not least: Ernie Waters (32 years). Pictured below: Hattie’s expanded crew at their annual Louisiana-themed “Crawfish Festival” this past May. Photos courtesy of MarkBolles.com
Hattie’s Crew ™
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Photo courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
Check out where else Hattie’s has been mentioned! • The Food Network • Food & Wine • Bon Apetit • Forbes’ • America’s Scenic Railway Journeys (airs on PBS and A&E) • Getaways for Gourmets • AOL Digital City Review • USAir Magazine • Travel Holiday Magazine • Adirondack Life • Boston Globe • Albany Times Union • The Troy Record • The New York Times • The New York Post • American Heritage Magazine • American Airlines Magazine • Time Out Magazine • The Baltimore Sun • Nation’s Restaurant News • Amtrak Express • London’s Rough Guide to the USA • Polo Magazine • Glens Falls Post Star • Travel & Leisure • Southwest Airlines Spirit saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
“She thought it needed a chef owner and with my history with the restaurant, Christel thought we would be perfect for Hattie’s,” said Beth. But buying the restaurant would be a major life change for the couple, so Beth did not immediately say yes. A couple of years passed as life sped along for the couple, but Beth couldn’t get the idea of owning Hattie’s out of her head. Upstate New York was home to her and Saratoga Springs had so much to offer. “We finally said yes,” said Beth, adding that she knew it was meant to be. The Alexanders took over Hattie’s in 2001 and with them came the staff—a few who had been with Hattie’s since the early years, like Ernie Waters, who had been with Hattie’s almost 30 years.
Photo courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
“I was constantly amazed it was ours,” said Beth, who said sitting in the restaurant as customers, many who were like old
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friends, stopped in to grab a bite to eat and chat. “I could sit in here and the snow would be falling outside and I would feel so at home.” But taking over a restaurant where the menu was almost a religion was difficult for the couple. As a culinary artist, Jasper was used to being creative with his meals, but the worldrenowned fame of Hattie’s required they respect its place in history and its menu. “It was hard at first because we were aware we couldn’t change that much,” admits Beth, who said even subtle decorating changes were an emotional challenge for them, such as the time they discovered mahogany under the Formica counter. “Jasper kept saying ‘But Beth, it’s mahogany,’” explained Beth at her reluctance to change even slight nuances of the restaurant, including the old Formica countertop. She eventually agreed that the mahogany was a better choice.
One challenge the couple faced was Hattie’s immense popularity, especially in the summertime. Long waits were commonplace. To solve the problem, the couple remodeled the patio, now known as the Mardi Gras room, to give it more seating and enclosed it with a year-round tent. They also replaced the chandelier with overhead heaters and installed new draping. They opened the alleyway courtyard as well, placing additional tables and chairs to alleviate the long wait times. “For us, it was important to have more seating,” said Beth. “In the summer we would always have ridiculously long wait times, so this new seating has alleviated that.” In 2006, the Food Network approached the couple and asked if Bobby Flay and Jasper could challenge one another in a cooking contest. Not realizing there was such a thing as a “Throwdown,” the Alexanders had showed up at the race track and had chicken that was already cooked. “Now, Bobby Flay drives up and I didn’t think anything about it,” said Beth, adding that they quickly
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Throwdown with Bobby Flay! Photos by Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
realized there would be an on-camera cook-off between Jasper and Bobby. “We had to send a friend in his convertible back to the restaurant to get more chicken because we had already cooked the chicken.” When Jasper won, Hattie’s quickly jumped to national acclaim. The couple kept moving forward with Hattie’s success and soon took on another tradition of Hattie’s—having a location at the track. They were given a spot on restaurant row and are known as the Track Shack. The stand proved so successful, Hattie’s was given their own separate location two years later. Pivoting off the success of the Track Shack, the couple designed a hybrid concept combining all the elements of both the original restaurant and the Track Shack. Serving chicken, soups and salads, the location also offers the much sought-after chicken sandwich Jasper developed for the track location.
The couple, and Hattie’s, was poised for the future.
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Photos courtesy of MarkBolles.com
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We Love Hattie’s!
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Check out what
has done in our community! It was the purchase of Hattie’s and the return to Saratoga Springs that got the couple started in their philanthropy.
Gotham Bar and Grill and Gramercy Tavern.
“We weren’t coming back to own just any restaurant,” explained Beth. “We were coming back to Hattie’s and an important part of Hattie’s was [her] generosity—she never turned down anyone who was hungry—she was always giving to her community in one way or another.”
Shortly after 9/11, the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce organized a program to welcome first responders to the area, offering free meals and overnight stays. The Alexanders jumped on board offering free meals through Hattie’s.
The couple would find themselves faced with the opportunity on their first day of ownership. The closing on the restaurant was on September 11, 2001—the same day as the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. Like the rest of the nation, they were forever impacted by the events of that day; and both had New York City ties—Beth was a devoted fan of the New York City Ballet, seeing her first performance at the tender age of six at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center; Jasper who had lived in the city as a child, and who had worked in some of the city’s top restaurants including Aureole,
In this day and age
with kids watching TV and playing
video games, it’s a
wonderful thing to have the ballet in our backyard” -Beth Alexander
“We gave out a lot of food,” said Beth. “Being involved was very memorable.” It wouldn’t take long, though, for the couple to become totally involved in raising money for local non-profits. In 2004, SPAC announced they were discontinuing the summer residency of the NYCB for the following year, citing the ballet was not bringing in enough revenue to justify costs. Beth, who had been influenced to become a dancer by her experience of seeing the ballet as a child, decided to act immediately. “It’s my childhood—I want to be able to bring my daughter and son to SPAC and see the ballet,” said Beth. “It’s a jewel and we need to keep a jewel.” Beth’s efforts raised $73,000 toward the $600,000 needed to bring back the ballet. They then started the Mardi Gras fundraisers to help local causes, charities and organizations. It is held every year on the Saturday of Martin Luther King’s birthday. The first one, done 13 years ago, was held out of the restaurant and benefitted the Yates Arts & Education Magnet School—they raised $250. The couple realized that if they wanted to raise more money, the restaurant was just not big enough and the fundraiser would have to move to a larger facility.
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Beth has been involved in the following organizations:
“We realized Hattie’s was way too small,” said Beth. “So we formed a committee and then moved it to Canfield Casino—it has grown into a great party.” She added that the event is successful because of the commitment of the community and the help from various businesses and community members, such as Panza’s donating the Mardi Gras décor every year so it does not have to be purchased. The annual Mardi Gras fundraiser has brought in over $375,000 to date.
• Founder of Hattie’s Annual Madi Gras Gala • Yaddo, Summer Gala Committee and Gala Chair • Saratoga Bridges Committee member and Annual White party Chair • Saratoga Hospital Committee member, Gala Chair • Medical Missions for Children, Gala Chair • Cantina Kids Run Committee member • Captain Youth Family Service Committee Member • Gala of Hope, Gala Chair • Saratoga Food and Wine Festival, Gala Chair • Dance Museum Gala Committee member • Saratoga Hospital Foundation Board member • Franklin Community Center Board member Northeast Ballet Board of Directors • Saratoga Performing Arts Center Board member Hattie’s Commemorative Booklet 2013 | 21
Over $375,000 raised through the annual Mardi Gras Galas!
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(Above) Beth with Hattie’s crew and friends at Mardi Gras 2013 (Right) Beth with daughter Zoe. Photos courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
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Photo courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
The National Museum of Dance is committed to promoting and preserving dance in all its diversity. Located in the former Washington Bath House in the Spa State Park, the museum welcomes annually rotating exhibits on many dance related topics. The Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame, completely renovated this season, honors dance professionals who have made a major impact in the world of dance. Selected by the museum’s diverse and nationwide Nominating Committee, this dazzling refurbished wing is now the home of 49 inductees. 24 | Hattie’s Commemorative Booklet 2013 saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
Hattie’s™ Day! Photos courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
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Hattie’s Rt. 50 Wilton Restaurant!
The Future of
Looking toward the future, Beth and Jasper were able to re-open a spot at the Saratoga Race Track for the horse racing season six years ago, they also opened their Exit 15 location and while Hattie’s had already been a much sought after place to eat, they were becoming even busier. It was those two new entrepreneurial adventures that enabled Jasper use his culinary expertise to expand on Hattie’s menu a little. “The track lends itself to easy eating,” explained Beth. “So Jasper was able to introduce the chicken sandwich and it is very popular.”
The sandwich, made from the thigh of the chicken—the juiciest portion—features a fried boneless chicken thigh inside of a soft, grilled bun and topped with Hattie’s famous Cajun coleslaw. It proved to be very popular at the Track Shack and is something they can’t offer in the original restaurant because of kitchen limitations. The track location and the success of the chicken
sandwich, the realization of the limited seating at the original Hattie’s and an eye on the future made the Alexanders realize that a second location for the soughtafter fried chicken would be a great idea.
Hattie’s in Wilton was the next logical step for them. So, in 2011 they opened the small restaurant in the strip mall in front of Wilton Mall. “Wilton came out of the track experience,” said Beth. “We realized that maybe we could do this quick service thing.” While the original Hattie’s is still sit down dining with waitress service, the Wilton location brings fast food, personal service and casual dining qualities together. Customers order at the counter, but then are asked their name, which is electronically tied to their order. If dining in, they go sit at one of the many tables or they can wait at a counter with a seat. When the freshly made order is done, an employee calls their name and walks the dish to them.
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The restaurant, while unable to totally replicate the quaintness of the original Hattie’s, still has the same signature red or green checkered table cloth motif featured throughout and the walls have reproductions of the original pictures, magazine and newspaper articles and photographs from the walls of the original Hattie’s. Jasper, who brought in a few new dishes to Hattie’s menu as well as created a gluten-free fried chicken—not an easy task—is also working on a cookbook that will bring a little of the Spa City’s history into it, as well as his own background and the legacy of Hattie’s.
Beth was also recently appointed to SPAC’s board of directors, an appointment that has her humbled and in awe. “I have been on a lot of boards, but I am deeply honored,” explained Beth. “SPAC and the ballet have always been a part of my life and I am so excited to be a part of it now.” With three very successful and vastly different models of Hattie’s going, the Alexanders are still looking toward the future of the popular restaurant and are considering the eventual expansion of the Hattie’s Chicken Shack concept. Grateful to the staff that has brought them to where they are, Beth and Jasper feel the family-like atmosphere
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Photo courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
Photo courtesy of MarkBolles.com
they have nurtured in Hattie’s, as well as a respect for the restaurant’s historic past, will be the secret to their success in the future. “Throughout the years we’ve been blessed with a staff that feels like family,” said Beth. “I feel the experience has been wonderful—it’s nice to have the history and my staff is invested in Hattie’s history.” 28 | Hattie’s Commemorative Booklet 2013 saratogaTODAYnewspaper.com
Photo courtesy of MarkBolles.com
Peace, Love & Fried Chicken!
Photo courtesy of Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
hattie’s 75 anniversary th
commemorative booklet Compliments of Saratoga TODAY newspaper Owner/Publisher
MarkBolles.com Heather Bohm-Tallman Photography
Chris Vallone Bushee
Printed by Leader Herald Gloversville, NY Hattie’s Commemorative Booklet 2013 | 29