By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor
A Queensbury High School grad, Class of 1996, and her husband from Brooklyn — who fell in love working for a minor-league baseball team — are succeeding hugely in downtown Troy, turning vintage Victorian-era buildings into a unique wine bar, a grocery and now a restaurant drawing crowds, raves and publicity far and wide.
When The New York Times depicted Troy in a March 26 travel feature as a town “reinventing itself,” its recommended stops started with Lucas Confectionery:
“This elegant two-year-old hideaway, the creation of the husband-and-wife team of Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine, pairs French pinot noirs with inventive dishes like six-minute eggs with confit mushrooms and shallots…”
The couple’s newest venture, Peck’s Arcade — its first full-scale restaurant — opened just three months ago and was packed two Saturday nights ago when The Chronicle visited.
Their and the city’s rise seem simultaneous. “The momentum right now is really incredible,” says Heather. “There’s this common feeling of: What’s next for the city?’”
Personally, Heather, 39, says, “I truly wake up every morning so excited to tackle the work.”
This is not what the couple was envisioning. Vic was general manager of the Tri-County ValleyCats minor-league baseball team in Troy. Heather worked for it too.
She’d graduated with a history degree from Bryn Mawr college and spent six years in Washington, D.C., in Teach for America.
But baseball was her lifelong passion, starting, she says, “in second grade with the 1986 Mets” winning the World Series. She played softball and interned with the Adirondack Lumberjacks in Glens Falls.
The very outgoing Vic hustled his way into a videographer’s job with the Mets, then was hired to run Troy’s ValleyCats.
The couple thrived on the do-it-all nature of minor-league baseball. Heather said she’d go from dressing up to sell a corporate sponsorship to then rolling out the tarp on the field when it started to rain. She said she prized the close relationship the team developed with the community.
Vic said minor-league baseball prepared him for everything — from sales and promotion, to finance and human resources.
The ValleyCats weren’t keen, though, on the couple’s romance. “Ultimately,” says Heather, “Vic was fired. And I resigned probably a week later.”
Vic was immediately hired by the then mayor of Troy as economic development director. Heather became a recruiter for a charter school group.
When a new mayor was elected, Vic lost his job, but by then he and Heather were hooked on Troy — and on wine bars.
“We traveled when we could, mostly to big cities,” said Heather. “And we always found ourselves in wine bars.”
She says she and Vic weren’t wine connoisseurs, but that they liked the mood and the people they met in wine bars.
Heather said the couple parlayed previous well-timed purchase and sale of their respective condos into buying the building at 12 Second Street in Troy for $153,000.
They opened a wine bar with the quirky name of Lucas Confectionery, in keeping with the building’s heritage.
Heather says they envisioned serving a little bit of food that they’d prepare themselves.
But on day one, customers — Heather calls them “guests” — were lined up out the door. “It’s a machine,” says Vic, and the Confectionery’s demand has never wavered. The couple lives upstairs.
The Confectionery’s immediate success three years ago, led to the opening of the adjacent open-air Garden, and a Grocery specializing in cheeses and charcuterie, and then, three months ago, to the launch of Peck’s Arcade, just across the Garden from the Confectionery.
The Broadway building now housing Peck’s Arcade was so broken down that “most people wanted to tear it down for a parking lot,” says Heather.
Instead she and Vic bought it last year for $80,000. Vic’s own crew did the work to make the building safe and sound.
Now Peck’s Arcade — open for three months — occupies the first floor, and there’s also a second-floor bar plus a dining room available for group tasting events.
Heather said they initially envisioned Peck’s as an oyster bar. (They run successful “Troyster Nights,” serving oysters.)
“We were afraid of having a full kitchen.”
Enter Nick Ruscitto, chef at the Lark Street Wine Bar in Albany.
“He frequented the [Confectionery] wine bar,” Heather says. “He lived in Troy. He would come in with his girlfriend. We would chat. He approached us.”
Nick heads the three-man crew in the Arcade’s open kitchen.
Heather says each part of the enterprise has its own manager very much in charge. “We’re not micro-managers,” she says. In all, they employ 45 people, including Vic’s construction team, Heather said.
She says she and Vic complement each other. “Vic is definitely an extrovert. He lights up a room. He thinks about the music and the lighting and the ambience.” During dinner, he is the disc jockey, playing vinyl album songs on the turntable.
As for Heather, “I am an introvert who poses as an extrovert. I like interacting with the guests, but I’m more the behind-the-scenes person. I like creating a team, finding the right people and putting them in the right position. I handle the wine buying and overseeing the H.R. and budget.”
To a remarkable degree, they clearly also see things through guests’ eyes.
Catching the wave in Troy
I ran out of space on page 24 to tell more of the story of Queensbury native Heather LaVine, her husband Vic Christopher and the great hospitality businesses they’ve developed in downtown Troy, including the Lucas Confectionery wine bar and the newly opened Peck’s Arcade restaurant.
On the rave recommendation of a friend, my wife Sandy and I ventured down two Saturdays ago and were wowed.
Loved the food and the wine; the decor and ambience; the able, personable staff; and Heather and Vic themselves. We had one of those rare dinners in which we trusted our server to recommend the food and the wine (none of the wines I’d even ever heard of) — and he came through gloriously. As the evening went on, I was increasingly conscious of how awake my taste buds were, how delicious it all tasted.
And then there were the little touches. I’ve never seen a restaurant so good at keeping water glasses filled. And at the Lucas Confectionery — where we started with an appetizer of smoked trout and a glass of wine — they also provided a carafe of water, infused, that night, with orange.
It’s not inexpensive, by any means, but then again there were lots of routes through the menu that let you keep the cost within bounds but still taste something ambitious.
And the place is fun, not overwrought.
No wonder the Capital District is buzzing about what Heather and Vic have created and are still creating.
As a couple they’re riding the wave of Troy’s revitalization — but also causing it.
Sandy and I have both always loved downtown Troy’s architecture — there’s so much more character and atmosphere to it than Albany or Schenectady can muster. We yearned for a renaissance to capitalize on it.
Now it’s finally happening. Heather and Vic bought the building at 12 Second Street that now houses their original business — Lucas Confectionery — for $153,000.
Around the corner, last year, they bought the building on Broadway that now is home to Peck’s Arcade restaurant. They paid a mere $80,000 for that building — because it was pretty much falling down. Not anymore.
I spoke at greater length to Heather than to Vic, because Heather’s from here — but both are dynamos.
Heather’s father, Ernie, is retired from the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and does some investigative work for local attorneys, said Heather. Her mother, Karen, is a retired schoolteacher who still does some tutoring for Queensbury School.
The LaVines raised a very intelligent and engaging daughter.
Heather has a bachelors degree in history from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in business with a sports management degree from U Mass-Amherst.
She says that a million people inhabit the Capital District and that if Troy can be the downtown they gravitate to, there’s enormous potential.
She said that in creating the Confectionery wine bar, they wanted it to be a place where people would feel comfortable “coming in alone, on a date, with a group.” Intelligent, unforced, authentic hospitality infuses the place.
When Sandy and I walked in, a young man walking by asked if this was our first time at Peck’s Arcade. He was enthused that it was, said they hoped to cook some great food for us. Said his name was Nick, revealed that he’s the chef. No pretense or attitude. When we said we were from Glens Falls, he mentioned his familiarity with it, ranging from Rare Earth Wine Bar to the unadorned Mr. B’s Best in Queensbury, which he enjoys.
The whole evening unfolded just that casually, winningly, interestingly. From Small Plates of Wild Mushrooms and of “23 Layer Potato” to a large plate of Lamb, with smoked carrots, merguez and harissa, and another of a Rabbit Ragu over pasta. A night to remember that will have us going back there for sure.
Copyright © 2015 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.