Local Spotlight: Merchants River House
At Gateway, our bustling location along the Hudson puts us right in the center of an incredible array of restaurants and businesses. Lucky for us, Merchants River House--one of our favorite local restaurants--is just outside our door. We wanted to learn more about this neighborhood gem, so this week we’re chatting with Fernando Rodriguez, Director of Operations at Merchants Hospitality, to get all the details on this delicious, family-friendly spot. Enjoy our conversation below and we hope you stop by Merchants River House for a meal soon!*
Gateway: Hi, Fernando. Thanks so much for talking with us today! Let’s start by having you introduce yourself to the Gateway community by telling us a bit about how you came to be involved with Merchants River House.
Fernando Rodriguez: Sure! I’ve been the Director of Operations with Merchants Hospitality for about 2 years now. I became involved more directly with Merchants River House recently and I’m having a really great time guiding the revamp of our food menus with Chefs Antelmo Ambrosio and Jossemar Tejada. Chef Ambrosio has also done food menus for many of our sister restaurants, including Ophelia, Treadwell Park, The Black Hound, and Sugar East.
G: Tell us a bit about the kind of menu we can expect at Merchants River House.
FR: We serve very American-driven food here. We’ve designed our restaurant and our menu to be super approachable. You’ll feel comfortable sitting down, enjoying yourself and not having to overthink when you’re ordering something. We’ve just finished changing our menu--you’re going to see a lot of fresh, seasonal menu choices. Of course, we’re keeping dishes that have always been very specific and important to the restaurant, but we want to make sure we continuously reinvent ourselves and invest in our restaurant and our team here. We also just re-designed our cocktail and wine menu with one of our head bartenders, Wilmar Nolasco--he’s worked at some great places like Grand Army and Ivy Lane--and we stuck to very traditional, approachable drinks.
G: Aside from your wonderful menu and amazing location here on the Hudson River Esplanade, what else can you tell us about what sets Merchants River House apart?
FR: I think the really great thing about Merchants River House is the community we have here. Charles, our general manager, is so involved with our community, particularly with our neighbors here at Gateway. I love seeing Charles asking what’s going on with the kids, knowing whose kids just went to college. I’ve worked in about 112 restaurants in my career… [laughs]… I’ve been doing this a long time. I only bring that up because I’ve seen many general managers in my career, but I've never seen the level of engagement or involvement he brings. He’s created like that “second living room feel,” so that our families can come in, put the kids at one table, and mom and dad at another, and they can just enjoy getting away for a little bit.
G: What would you say is your favorite dish on the menu?
FR: My favorite dish would have to be the bolognese. I’m a huge pasta fan, with red sauce--I’m just a very old-school kind of guy. I very much enjoy the roasted chicken too. I’ve worked in many different restaurants, but I really just love the ease of comfort food-- and those two dishes just satisfy that need. Oh, and the mussels...the mussels are so good right now and just perfectly in-season.
G: The restrictions imposed by the coronavirus really hit New York restaurants hard. Can you tell us more about what that was like for Merchants River House and how the reopening process has gone?
FR: We closed briefly, and then reopened with takeout, delivery, and then outdoor dining. I think the most difficult thing through all of this, in the restaurant business and otherwise, has been the relearning--just really understanding the new normal, what it means and how to not take it as a sign of defeat. You know, the only thing that ever stays the same in the restaurant business is that everything changes. There’s never two days alike, it’s always different. It gave us the chance to take a step back and see this as an opportunity to reimagine ourselves--to create a better version of ourselves when all is said and done. This is not the time to give up.
G: So true. Anything else you’d like the Gateway community to know about Merchants River House?
FR: We really focus on taking care of our guests here and making sure they understand how much we care about our community. If a guest ever feels like they’re not being taken care of in this way, we welcome continuous feedback and ideas from our guests. Ultimately, they’re going to be able to help us focus and understand what the guest really needs and wants during this very interesting time we’re all going through.
G: Well, thank you so much. We look forward to stopping by!
FR: Please do! Thanks so much. We’d love to have you as our guest.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.
All photos courtesy of Merchants River House.