Married 26 years, Liz and Gary Stone met at the Culinary Institute of America where the talented chefs embarked on a lifelong journey that spurred them on to opening a charming gourmet shop at 544 Milton Road 20 years ago.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Married 26 years, Liz and Gary Stone met at the Culinary Institute of America where the talented chefs embarked on a lifelong journey that spurred them on to opening a charming gourmet shop at 544 Milton Road 20 years ago. A few years after that, Corner Stone, as the foundation for their thriving business was aptly named, expanded with a central production kitchen in Port Chester for catering. Not ones to rest on their laurels, the Stones have recently ventured into organic farming and winemaking at a vineyard they recently acquired close to their alma mater.
“We’re really coming full circle. Even 20 years ago we were offering healthy food,” said Liz about their commitment to nutritious alternatives. “Soon we’ll be able to highlight fresh vegetables from our own farm in the shop.”
Indeed, Corner Stone’s glass cases have always been filled with a myriad of chicken, fish, bean, and vegetable salads long before quinoa, jicama, and “fat-free” became household names. Prepared daily with fresh, healthy ingredients, hearty homemade soups, hot dishes, and delicious sandwiches and wraps have also kept loyal patrons coming back for lunch all these years. Additionally, their outstanding catering services, from intimate house parties to elegant weddings at Wainwright House alike, are the mainstay of their business. (Incidentally, their wedding cakes, extolled by Martha Stewart, are second to none.)
“We’ve been around so long because of the loyalty of the folks in Rye. Some of our customers were with us when we first opened,” recalled Gary. “They all know we never take shortcuts.”
Another reason for Corner Stone’s longevity, is their devoted staff. Pastry Chef Walter Pulla, Chef Manager Norman Trueb, and Store Manager Florence LaGrange have worked with the couple for 24 years, even before they opened the shop. Not far behind are Chefs José Barragon and Galvarino Diaz, as well as Store Managers Peter Laura and Carmen Hidalgo.
“The store is the little mouse wheel that allows us to keep our staff all year long, even outside of our busy catering season from May to December,” noted Gary.
“It’s hard to believe 20 years have gone by. It has been a blessing for me to have my business, my family, and extended family all in the same town,” said Liz, who was born and raised in Rye, like their own daughters. “Besides, our three kids helped us out in the shop and worked parties all the time.”
Today, their eldest Shaleen, 25, is bringing her Australian vineyard experience to her parents’ new vineyard, and Tamara, 23, works at a community center her parents have been building in Costa Rica. (Thanks to Rye’s generosity, they recently transported 1,200 pairs of shoes to the pueblo.) Their youngest daughter Emily, 20, who is studying the visual arts, will be creating artwork for the family farm/vineyard.
Calling it Red Maple Vineyard, Liz and Gary have been cultivating their new property in upstate New York every chance they get. Just south of Kingston, their 84 acres in West Park offer endless possibilities. The Stones envision making their own maple syrup, raising chickens for organic eggs, and dabbling into bee keeping. For now, however, they’re up to their knees in dirt, planting vegetable gardens and vines.
Waxing poetic about Red Maple, Gary described, “The property is undulating. It has a beautiful pond and views of the Hudson River from the top. It can only be used for agricultural purposes, so it will remain this way.”
Enlisting the help of Hen Island resident Bob Volpe, who has become the Operations Manager, they are currently planting 1,000 vines. In three years, their harvest should yield 4,000 bottles of white wine, fermented in their own winery and free of pesticides. They are also planting 120 beds of produce and herbs that will be blooming this spring. To keep up with their customers’ demands, they will be connecting with other local farms for additional seasonal produce as well.
Although the new venture was Gary’s idea, Liz, whom Gary calls the “creative force,” has embraced it with a vengeance and with stark realism.
“Gary’s the romantic. He never sees red flags and never says no,” she observed.
“This will be a learning year for us. It’s an adventure, but it’s not Disneyland.”
“Liz has to rein me in a lot and sometimes. I push her over the edge,” he interjected.
“I may need my Wheaties, but I always step up to the plate,” said Liz. “Besides, we look forward to everyone here in Rye reaping the benefits.”
Happy Anniversary, Gary and Liz.
Corner Stone is open Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday starting in April.
For more information, visit www.cornerstonecaterers.com or call 967-0035.