PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- Gabriel Arango Jr. was talking with a visitor, bouncing his baby girl Nora on his knee and feeding her bits of bagel and cream cheese, when he suddenly realized he hadn’t put the sign up for his new Peekskill café.
Excusing himself, he grabbed a chalkboard with the words “Kurzhal’s Coffee” and placed it in the window where passersby could see it.
There was a time when you could barely see through the glass for all the nose prints left by folks curious about what was going on at 900 Main St.
It was a long six years – beset by obstacles of nearly literal biblical proportions, namely: fire and flood – before the 30-year-old New York City-born entrepreneur could truly say things were coming together.
Arango’s wife, Kathleen, swooped in to relieve him of his dad duties while he bounced between instructing the staff during the café’s soft opening Wednesday and being interviewed by a reporter.
The new shop joins two others at Peekskill Central Market: Cricket, which offers wireless phone services, and Final Touch, which sells jewelry. (There are eight other spaces to be filled.)
Arango, chef-owner of a tapas bar in an 1863 building down the street, and his dad, Gabriel, president of EZ Housing Inc., are both meticulous when it comes to restoring old buildings.
This one has a long history, including being a hardware store, gunsmith’s factory, telegraph office, a theater and recruitment office during the Civil War and a meeting place for the pals of William Nelson, a Peekskill lawyer, judge and congressman who was close to President Abraham Lincoln.
Just like they did at the Iron Vine, the Arangos used locally sourced and re-purposed materials in the renovation. They even kept the white tiles that spell out Kurzhal’s on its threshold.
From its hand-forged nails unearthed from barrels in the basement, to its bar crafted from an oak tree trunk at Dain’s Lumberyard and antique lighting fixtures found at Early Electrics on Water Street, the reborn Kurzhal’s is an architectural wonder to behold.
Its jaw-dropping two-tiered event space has undulating cast-iron railings, chandeliers that came from an old church and beautiful wooden floors.
Those floors were almost once literally “a pool” because of the water pouring from a leaky roof. The building was “rotting away” during the 20 years it stood vacant, Arango said.
In 2014, a fire that started in a dumpster on the first floor of the 14,000-square-foot building caused major smoke and water, but no structural, damage.
Now a tall Christmas tree, one of the holiday decorations credited to building manager Frank Vazquez, graces the restored hall.
Right now, Dramatic Hall is just open for special events, but someday folks may be able take dance or yoga classes there.
The café itself is also “a work in progress,” Arango said.
Next on the agenda is a lounge where employees and customers can hang out on comfy couches. The café’s tiny stage will be used for poetry and music events.
Arango also hopes that a green grocer and fresh juice bar will soon occupy one of the first-floor spaces.
Arango, who studied urban planning and historical architecture in college, became a chef because he likes to work with his hands and also to see the “fruits of his labor” -- happy people chowing down on his food.
While he is justifiably proud of what he’s done with Kurzhal’s, nothing seems to put a twinkle in Arango’s eye like the sight of little Nora taking some of her first steps there. Perhaps she, like “Gab” has done with his dad, will follow in his.
The café sells everything from salads, soups, sandwiches and baked goods to coffee made with locally roasted beans, teas bottled in Dutchess County and milk from a Kingston-based dairy cooperative.
Located near City Hall, Field Library, the police station and courthouse, it won’t lack for customers.
It’s open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and maybe later on weekends once all the “kinks” are worked out.
To check out its menu, visit its website, https://www.kurzhalscoffee.com/ .