Daniel Jones ’22, a student in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, came up with the idea to open a pop-up restaurant in Collegetown from Oct. 8 until Nov. 8, two weeks before I joined them for a full run-through of their menu. Jones was determined to keep the restaurant 100 percent student-run and operated, and not even a week later, he recruited his team from across the graduating classes at Cornell. Noah Horns ’22 and Bobby Dandliker ’22 are his co-executive chefs, Samay Bansal ’21) is acting as his president, Sabrina Sam ’22 is his pastry chef and Luke Verzella ’23 and Elin Atonsson ’23 are his marketing directors.
Jones sat with me for nearly an hour going through every single detail of the restaurant, even going so far as to show me the math related to their menu pricing. Although opening a restaurant in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis seems ludicrous and almost destined for failure, Jones reassured me that “COVID-19 is not an obstacle for us. It’s truly the only reason why we can have this project.”
Located at 208 Dryden Avenue, 2 Stay 2 Go has an awesome location, and that’s all thanks to Annie Quach ’6, a native Ithacan and former Hotelie herself. Named for the ship that brought her parents (and many other Vietnamese immigrants) to America, her family has owned and operated Hai Hong and Vietnam Restaurant on Dryden Road for over 30 years. With the financial hardships brought on by COVID-19 and the nonnecessity of indoor seating, her family has been operating both restaurants out of one storefront; leaving the Vietnam Restaurant open for a group of hard-working and passionate young men and women with a dream and a ton of drive. Quach, as the co-founder of Collegetown Small Business Alliance, wants to see the Collegetown dining district flourish like The Commons’ “Aurora Streatery,” and 2 Stay 2 Go is the perfect catalyst for this vision.
The premise of 2 Stay 2 Go is exactly what the name suggests: Every week there are four entrees and sides (the fries always stay!), and we, the residents of Cornell and the greater Ithaca area, have the privilege of choosing the two entrees and sides that stay on the menu for the next week. The two that weren’t chosen will be replaced by equally delicious options the following week. Dandliker, Horns and Jones scoured farmers markets, met with local farms and even approached Cornell Dairy to ensure that almost all of their ingredients were fresh, seasonal and local. Although their prices are kept low to compete with other eateries in Collegetown, you won’t be coming back for the low prices because “the food speaks for itself,” according to Jones.
2 Stay 2 Go is almost entirely contactless. There are multiple different ways to order: Online, in-store on iPads, by the QR code located outside of the store or on Snapchat. Their social media campaign is run by students for students. You can expect to see “day in the lives” of Horns and Dandliker on the line and Jones in front of a spreadsheet at midnight, posts on the Cornell Reddit page and obviously features on all of your friends’ personal accounts.
The team is working overtime to gear up for the grand opening. On Oct. 8, they will have an invite-only soft opening and will be hosting friends at a discount before the official grand opening on Friday. However, all customers can qualify for the loyalty program: Receive a free side with an entree purchase if you tag 2 Stay 2 Go on social media.
After sitting with Jones, I moved into the kitchen to watch Horns and Dandliker work. It’s amazing to watch the way they move around the kitchen. Dandliker began working in a kitchen at twelve years old when he repeatedly called Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Mass. asking for a job until the chef caved and allowed him to work. He received his own station at thirteen. Watching the way he moves swiftly between chopping, stirring and plating, it’s very easy to see how “this [tweezers] and a spoon are the only things I need in a kitchen,” as he explained to Jones while plating the Grain Bowl.
Horns grew up in the kitchen of his family’s deli in Las Vegas, Nev.. A transfer student to the Hotel School after completing his Associates Degree at The Culinary Institute of America in California, Horns is also no stranger to the kitchen. Horns is constantly flitting around organizing everyone and putting finishing touches on everything. In between all of the activity, he has enough time to thrust a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese in my hands. I was immediately overtaken by the aromas of asiago, cheddar and alpine cheese blended into a creamy, luscious sauce. Just based on smell alone, there’s nothing more for me to say, other than echoing Jones’s sentiment above.
The entire menu is customizable and allergen friendly. There’s even a separate fryer in the kitchen to accommodate gluten sensitivities. As a vegetarian, I’m always on the lookout for fresh new options. In addition to the mac ‘n’ cheese, Horns suggested the grilled kale salad with yogurt sauce and roasted chickpeas. I don’t like kale, I never thought I would like kale (much less grilled kale), however, as Horns put it, “You’ve never had it prepared correctly before.” When I was talking to Horns about this article hours later, I told him I was still thinking about that kale.
Both Dandliker and Horns are trained in fine dining. They’re bringing their expertise with quality ingredients and top-notch preparation skills to the streets of Collegetown. These two young men are changing the way restaurants in college towns across the country should approach their menus. 2 Stay 2 Go is an archetype of how quality food can be produced at a low cost. All of their dishes take fresh ingredients and put innovative spins on many old favorites such as the Bobby Burger, Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich and Ithaca Mac. However, you can also expect to see many new options like Asian Roasted Romano Beans and Dan Dan noodles. Settling for greasy, mass-produced hangover food is a thing of the past — fresh, natural, inspired food is the future.
I had the privilege of sitting with Jones as he took his first bite of the burger, and if his “Holy shit Bobby, man this is outstanding” was any indication, this group of young Hotelies is definitely one to watch.
Sarah Austin is a sophomore in the Cornell College of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at [email protected].