“…the mountains feel like they’re hugging you and holding you in”.
Tim Trojian, one of the proprietors of the Foxfire Mountain House in Mount Tremper has, for the past year, been living in the establishment while he oversees its renovation.
What made you move to the Catskills?
I was looking for a place with my wife Eliza, where we could start a business that would allow us to be together. She has been working in television all her life and we were trying to find a good location. I have been a chef and an hotelier all my life. The Catskills are perfectly situated being two hours from NYC, where Eliza could work while we were getting this project up and going. We could have the amenities of the city, but still live in the country, which we love.
Where are you from?
I’m a nomad. I am from all over. I was born in New Orleans but I have lived in dozens of places in the US working in hotels and restaurants in NYC, Minneapolis, Richmond, Virginia and New Orleans, where I was a Chef and Food and Beverage Director on a river boat. I’ve been all over. So, where am I from? I’m an East Coast guy.
Of all your traveling which do you prefer, city life or country life?
In the end I prefer country life. There needs to be access to city life: the culture, the food. That’s where you’ll find innovation happening much more quickly. I enjoy living in the city, but my heart is always in the country. I like hiking and stepping out the back door and being in the woods.
What turned your attention to the Catskills in particular?
Actually, Eliza’s daughter Arden had just come to the Catskills for an event. I knew of the Catskills, but hadn’t been here, but she said we had to come here. We had spent a lot of time looking for the same thing [we have here] up in the Toronto area, where we lived at the time, but it wasn’t happening. I’ve been all over New York: Finger Lakes, Adirondacks, Leatherstocking region, but hadn’t lived here. After that visit, we saw the proximity to New York City and saw the change that was coming. I recognized the change as something that was going to be more permanent. We saw the people from Brooklyn coming in and putting their stamp on it. This was a rejuvenation that was going to stick, not a forced rejuvenation with the use of casinos and things of that nature.
You think the Brooklynites are better than Casinos?
100%. I don’t think casinos do anybody any favours. People have looked at trying to revitalize the Borscht Belt concept and that’s not going to happen because our lives have changed. And governments think that casinos are the answer, but casinos just take money out of the poor part of the community and bring it to the richer part of the community and there is no such thing as trickle-down economics. It does not trickle down. It stays where it is. You are not going to spawn a lot of business and I’ve seen this myself in Niagara Falls, Greenville, Mississippi, Lafayette, Louisiana, all up and down the river, when I was on the river boat and seeing a casino and basically a depressed town all around it.
The service industry is expanding. People work really hard and they want their down time to be just as special.
They do. We are becoming very much a service economy. We have to start seeing what we can do to make service employees quality, middle-class citizens, so that we can have quality of life. Quality of Life has a lot to do with your environment and how it’s spread out. Small Business is the driving engine in America. It’s through small business that we’re going to have rejuvenation in our economy, not through these single spot investments.
And there’ll be no tipping at Foxfire.
True. What I want to do is ensure that my staff has a living wage. I don’t want the burden of paying my staff wages to be on the guest. At times, the term TIPS has been an acronym meaning To Insure Promptness, but it really has lost that. It’s now a requirement. People feel obliged to tip.
It’s not a gratuity. It’s an obligatory.
It’s an obligatory. 100%. And why should you as a guest be required to pay the staff? The staff should just be paid. If, on the other hand, you had an exceptional time and want to leave a little something as a gratuity, you’re welcome to. But you are not expected to tip to pay the staff their wages. This is good for the staff too because now they can budget and plan for their future. Now they can take their W2 to the bank and get a mortgage based on what they actually earn.
What inspires you most about the Catskills?
Firstly, the geography. As Eliza says, “the mountains feel like they’re hugging you and holding you in”. I don’t like large open expanses. Not too long ago, I was passing through the Rockies and it didn’t feel as comforting with these jagged mountains coming up. But what I really like about the Catskills is its relationship to food and agriculture. I’ve been a chef all my life and it’s really how I define myself: through my food. I haven’t cooked in a few years and I’m really looking forward to starting up that kitchen, getting the food going, getting the garden started and sourcing our products locally .
I’ve been asking this of everyone lately: what is work?
My work will be what it takes to keep this business running, the day-to-day operations, the bookkeeping and getting all my permits. Then when it’s done, I hope that I’ll be cooking and bringing joy and being more of an artist.