Danny Borg-Sundstrom and Jeremy Hois are the new kids on the block — literally.
The childhood friends turned restaurateurs are the youngest to own and operate a dining spot on the grounds, which is also the newest addition to Chautauqua Institution’s food scene. That restaurant is 2 Ames, and it’s their teenage dreams turned reality.
“We want to change the foodscape. It could be more,” Hois said. “We want to bring creativity to the Institution’s food and expand the conversation of creativity and Chautauqua ideals into food time.”
A little more than 12 weeks ago, 2 Ames didn’t exist. It was the ghost of Diane R Bailey Antiques, the shop in the 19th-century building that closed in the months following the 2016 season. Borg-Sundstrom had to convince his father, Dennis Sundstrom, that this was the spot that could suit their ambitious vision.
“It’s a strange kind of thing trying to talk your parents into going into a business proposition with you,” Borg-Sundstrom said.
Initially, Sundstrom said no.
“It’s always been very difficult to think of Chautauqua as being a venture that you can make money or break even on,” he said.
Remaining a viable and popular place to eat at the Institution is challenging. Price points are often high. American food tends to be standard fare. Until recently, the Athenaeum Hotel struggled to keep its dining room full as hotel occupancy declined. The Tally-Ho Restaurant, known for its buffets, just finished renovations. La Familia, which used to hold the title as the Institution’s newest restaurant, is in a space that used to hold a shuttered restaurant called Sammy’s. It’s a particular ebb and flow, one that does not lend itself to industry trends and demands.
Borg-Sundstrom and Hois, both 24, grew up spending their summers at Chautauqua. Borg-Sundstrom spent summers working throughout the Institution’s food joints — serving at Afterwords Café and the now-closed Sammy’s, scooping ice cream at the Refectory until it turned into the Brick Walk Cafe, where he worked the register. As he got older, he began bartending. For Hois, it was a combination of coffee shops, cafes and interning in the kitchen at a restaurant in Los Angeles.
“Between the two of us, we’ve kind of covered all the different areas,” Hois said. “Doing this, we wanted to open extra early so we could figure out exactly the things we didn’t know.”
Borg-Sundstrom and Hois had to convince Sundstrom that 2 Ames was not just worth his money, but his time, too. His 45-plus years of experience as a civil engineer were critical to the redesign, redevelopment and construction of the restaurant.
“He was in here, figuring out how to make beams work, which walls were going to have to come down,” Hois said.
Borg-Sundstrom said that his father was able to come up with solutions that hadn’t been thought about.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this without him,” Borg-Sundstrom said.
After touring the building, the two friends said they “talked extensively” for countless hours over the phone — Hois in Los Angeles and Borg-Sundstrom in New York — discussing what exactly 2 Ames would be. Hois said he remembers returning to Los Angeles after touring the building at 2 Ames and “just started diving in, full fledge” into Chautauqua County’s restaurant and health codes. They put together a 45-page business plan that they presented to Dennis Sundstrom.
“Over time, he started to recognize how much we both wanted to do this,” Borg-Sundstrom said, “and how we’d gotten our act together in such a short period of time to make it happen.”
Borg-Sundstrom and Hois invested their life savings, and once Sundstrom said yes to 2 Ames, part of his retirement money was used to finance the restaurant.
“I said very early on, we’re either going to fail or we’re going to grow up really quick,” Hois said. “And we’re either going to fail or it’s not going to happen — because in order to make this happen, we have to make it happen.”
Borg-Sundstrom and Hois aren’t just co-owners, they’re the chefs responsible for the menu and the hands responsible for building some of the furniture and hauling many of 2 Ames’ artifacts, like the record player and typewriter from Borg-Sundstrom’s grandparents’ house in Warren, Pennsylvania, to the second floor of the restaurant.
“The original ideas was to make it feel like you walked into your grandmother’s house,” Borg-Sundstrom said. They gave the building a name: Adelaide. A woman in her mid 60s, “Adelaide” is the type of woman with a warm, welcoming home that’s filled with good food and great conversation.
They kept a few things from the antique shop, “just to have a little bit of history,” Borg-Sundstrom said, and spent time scouring flea markets and antique shops — and West Elm’s online catalogue — to create the cozy yet fresh and rustic yet contemporary aesthetic that is 2 Ames.
“We tried to make it as modern as we could while maintaining the mid-century vibe,” Borg-Sundstrom said.
As far as the menu goes, there are certain things that are American, but there are many things that aren’t. There’s a notable European flair to a number of dishes on the menu — the French omelet, charcuterie board, pan tomate — and a nod to Canada in the oxtail poutine.
“We wanted to mess around with classic American things and make them different and more interesting,” Borg-Sundstrom said.
One of those things is “A Progression of Steak,” which Hois said was inspired by a steak he had in L.A., and shows off “the flavor and the taste of the meat itself.” It’s served with leek butter, black garlic and sage mascarpone — a bright, whipped creme fraiche that is also used within the pan tomate — but the angus sirloin cooked sous vide still shines.
“There’s an element of beauty that you can have on a plate of food, in the same way that a work of art exists,” Borg-Sundstrom said. “You can paint the plate with different elements.”
The “Beet Massacre,” a deep purple smear of beet, charred beet leaf, pear, kale and garlic chevre, embodies that notion. The menu also makes frequent use of cheese from Reverie Creamery, eggs from Good Grass Farm and ingredients from other local shops. The Shropshire blue cheese, a creamy, milder strain with a slight edge, appears on three different dishes. The fire-roasted tomatoes, blended into a salsa-like broth that’s topped with shiitake risotto and a steaming piece of sauteed walleye, take another form atop slices of fried bread but beneath slices of prosciutto, sage mascarpone and blue cheese.
“We wanted to be as farm-to-table as possible because we’re surrounded by farms here,” Hois said. “We have access to all kinds of local produce.”
Opening 2 Ames on the grounds of the Institution also gives them access to the Chautauqua community. Since 2 Ames opened, Chautauquans have been filling the seats in mornings for their share of Stedman Corners coffee, pastries and eggo bagels, something that Dennis Sundstrom said used to be served when Sadie J’s Cafe was still open next door and still is served at the Youth Activities Center.
“The people have been phenomenal,” Sundstrom said. “They’re understanding of the two young men trying to figure out what people want.”
And at night, 2 Ames, aside from its food, has a particular draw because it serves beer, many of which are from local breweries, and a selection of more than 15 wines, something that Sundstrom said “makes the whole venture more doable.”
“They’re trying to be a not just a place to eat but a place to with very good food and but also a place to socialize,” Sundstrom said. “A place for young people, which we need very, very much here at Chautauqua — a place for them to socialize, get back together, and not just young people, but older people too. We all like to socialize.”