At the end of September, I sat in a stranger’s kitchen, listening as another stranger told me his plans to open a restaurant with the help of a group of Hotelies. And, that it was going to be done in the middle of a pandemic.
In the middle of November, I sat at a table in a restaurant listening to that same group of now familiar faces look back on the craziest and most rewarding six weeks of their lives. And, it was all done in the middle of a pandemic. Six weeks after I sat inside of 2 Stay 2 Go for their opening night, I joined them the afternoon before their last dinner service. Founder Daniel Jones ’22, Executive Chefs Bobby Dandliker ’22 and Noah Horns ’22 and President Samay Bansal ’21 reflected on the past six weeks and their goals for the future.
After their first weekend in October, they saw great success (so great in fact that the Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich was a staple on the menu every week). Walking down Dryden Road on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, one could always see a line outside of 2 Stay 2 Go. However, in mid-October, after one of their employees tested positive for COVID-19, the restaurant took a brief hiatus and Dryden Road was quiet once again. While, from a public health standpoint they could have remained open on that Friday night, out of concern for the community, the entire team opted to shut down operations. They returned two weeks later with knives blazing, ready to breathe life back into Dryden Road.
In such a short amount of time, the team at 2 Stay 2 Go was able to make a lasting impact on the community. From donating over 4000 meals to those who are food insecure through Million Meals Mission, Bansal’s NGO, to building lasting relationships with suppliers, they were able to bring the Ithaca community together in a time when everyone is growing apart. The restaurant didn’t just build up the greater Ithaca community; it helped connect the immediate Cornell community as well. In a time when it’s so difficult to be social, is there anything better than the opportunity to safely explore the newest Collegetown restaurant?
It’s not just the droves of friends, couples and families standing outside the doors of 208 Dryden that were brought together by 2 Stay 2 Go, but the actual team as well. In addition to the four founders, Chloe Kubrin ’22, Sabrina Sam ’22, Jay Gryska ’22, Evanthia Spyredes ’22, Luke Verzellas ’23 and Darius Ganji ’23 were all your average Cornellians prior to October. They weren’t yet a cohesive group of young visionaries ー many of them didn’t even know each other. Now, as soon as you walk through the door, you’re enveloped by this feeling of a family. They treat each other like family ー good natured ribbing and all ー and are so welcoming to everyone who walks in. Bansal, Dandliker, Jones and Horns often repeated how this restaurant was built on a foundation of trust. The reason they all work so well together is because they trust that each member of the team has everyone’s best interests at heart.
This trust is what enabled them, week after week, to create a fresh menu of outstanding quality. Every week, the menu had a 50 percent turnover rate, where the two best-selling entrees and sides would remain for the following week. Horns and Dandliker were then left with the task of coming up with four unique dishes to replace those that were voted out by customer preference. Dandliker and Horns would sit in Jones’s apartment at night, building out concepts for the dishes together and tweaking previous dishes based on operational constraints and consumer feedback.
The vision of 2 Stay 2 Go was predicated on the mindset of constant improvement, and that’s just what they did. After the first day, they realized that making so many french fries every night just wasn’t feasible, so they started making chips instead. “Turns out we can make a better chip than we can make a french fry,” mused Bansal. “Sabrina Sam ー Chip Queen,” added Jones. They also had to look forward to the next week, and the necessary components for each menu item. Dandliker explained that most menu items would evolve when he threw out an idea; Horns would build upon it and the item was often finalized with everyone saying “no, no, no, we should pickle that.”
After coming up with the new menu items, it would be time for a test-run. These nights would often end with all of them “high-fiving and jumping up-and-down after our demos,” according to Horns. It’s very easy to forget these four are my peers when I listen to the passion and responsibility in their voices as they speak about their restaurant. However, after Horns’s description of their unadulterated joy, I’m reminded that most of them still can’t even legally drink. It’s amazing to be able to witness firsthand how much they have accomplished in the past three months.
However, this is not the end of 2 Stay 2 Go. If you, like me, were sad to see 2 Stay 2 Go leave, or if you haven’t yet gotten a chance to check out their “gas” food, as their many Instagram followers put it, then you’re in luck. This is not the end of 2 Stay 2 Go, but rather just the first step. They’ll be returning to Collegetown in March, ready to serve the Ithaca community and continue to forge personal relationships with their customers and suppliers. After the feedback the team received from the Ithaca community, they realized that November can’t possibly be the end of their actualized dream ー there’s still so much more to do.
In March, they’ll be coming back with an expanded team and a catering branch. They want to give more students the opportunity to gain the experience they have had through running a restaurant. They’re looking to grow their family with more students from all across Cornell, who are interested in a holistic restaurant experience and have a diverse skillset.
The team’s long-term goal is to pass the plate off to younger Cornellians who share their vision when it’s time to hang up their aprons and graduate. As Bansal put it, “this restaurant will be a part of the Cornell story,” and, as everyone knows, the best stories are those told over a good meal.
Sarah Austin is a sophomore in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at [email protected].