Will Ryan, the new owner, has settled in with ease.
By Robin Jovanovich
In the depths of winter, when we were looking for solace, we’d walk into Crisfield’s and order comfort food — meat loaf, chicken pot pie, or their sinful mac ‘n cheese. Once we learned it wasn’t just a rumor that John and Jackie Johnston were selling their longtime business, we stopped by to chat and lingered for one last discussion about a New York pol or team.
As the weeks went by, we were more likely to be greeted by a young man who was a dead ringer for a Johnston and possessed the same infectious grin. Tommy Bertram was not the new owner, he informed us, but would be the new manager. He handed us the owner’s business card, which was a cut above those of most butchers we’ve known.
We were delighted to meet William Ryan, who like Tommy, is 27 and probably still gets carded when he orders a drink at a bar. The pair have known each other since high school, and both got in the food business early.
Will started at Rooster’s Market in White Plains when he was 12. “I lived a few blocks away and rode my bike there. I was handed the best job — scooping ice cream.”
He rose quickly through the ranks and by the time he was 16, he was opening and closing the store.
In college he studied business management and, in 2017, he became Rooster’s sole owner.
Prior to the unexpected arrival of a pandemic, Will said he was looking around for opportunities and heard that the Johnston’s were looking to sell. “I had only been in Crisfield’s once or twice, but my interest was piqued because it was our competition.” He added, “And by volume, they were bigger.”
When Will met with Jackie in early 2020, he was thinking of expanding at Rooster’s not taking over another business. “I asked for more time to mull it over,” he said.
But last fall he got a call from their broker, who said, “It’s time!”
Will was on the phone every day after that trying to get a loan. After he secured one, it took months for all the required New York State paperwork to be approved.
In recent weeks, he’s given the shop a little TLC, just as he did at Rooster’s after taking over. “We’ve gutted the upstairs office and are going to be giving the shop a gentle facelift by year’s end,” he reported.
Meanwhile, he’s tweaking the menu but not messing with the quality meats, poultry, and seafood Crisfield’s has been known for since 1970. His fruit-and-nut chicken salad is the perfect fare for a summer afternoon or night. And he’s adding more take-home roasted vegetables and potatoes to “link the meat with the potatoes.” Look for grab ‘n go surf and turf specials in the hot cabinet.
Will Ryan is not short of ideas or vision, just time. That new Instagram account may have to wait. When he bought Crisfields’, he knew his first order of business was to keep the name and the crew, neither of which needed improvement. “I have great respect for this business, which has been here for over 50 years and has a tremendous number of followers.”