by Nancy Duffy, photography by Kelly Heck
Leave the streets of Hanover; walk up the steps under a canopy of hops and into Warehouse Gourmet Bistro & Brewpub. Like Dorothy opening the door to Oz, you have journeyed from a black and white culinary existence into a world of Technicolor cuisine.
On the other side of the avocado-colored wooden door, there are soothing colors, gently- worn floorboards, natural light, intimate seating, original artwork, and a palpable authenticity from people to plates.
For owners Keith and Melinda Stambaugh, courage, intelligence and heart have paved their yellow brick road to success.
Upstairs in the Brewpub, Keith settles into a seat and Melinda slides in next to him, wearing well the rigor of the day. There is a tangible grace and elegance about this pair, a blending of their art and culinary genius, that reveals itself not just in their food but also in their interaction with one another.
Keith, the more reflective one, recalls that in July 1996, he was “an artist in need of an art studio,” a space that could allow him to work on his expansive 12 x 25 ft. backgrounds, one that could allow his creativity to flow using decorative sponging, raggings, and marblings.
He found the warehouse at 7 Pennsylvania Avenue in Hanover and knew it was the “perfect place.”
Life was good. He had a painting partner and big jobs from Hanover to Miami.
But it grew old.
Then he met Melinda.
One of eight children, Melinda moved to New York, attended the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, spent just over four years in the Big Apple, and then returned to her native Hanover to “offer things you can’t get anywhere else” in the area.
Melinda vowed to only use the best quality food from day one. “And,” she adds, “there is no fryer on the premises.”
“She is brilliant.” Melinda looks over at her husband and a warm smile draws across her face.
Warehouse Gourmet started as a catering and delivery operation.
“I would go to construction sites with big lunches,” Melinda remembers. The workers at other locations would hear of this great food and would ask, “Why are they eating so well and we are not?”
Melinda would peddle her wraps, brownies, Asian pasta salad – even her yellow curry chicken salad, which was a hit – and that was 11 years ago.
Keith also had a knack for marketing.
“He is great with desserts,” Melinda shares, “so on Saturdays, he would go to banks, drop them off, and it was the best advertisement.”
Soon, people were asking if they could “sit and eat somewhere,” recalls Melinda, because at the time, the business was more of a ‘grab and go’ operation.
The idea for the bistro was conceived while in the East village in New York City. Soon after, they added seating.
“It was important for us to grow slowly and cautiously,” Keith explains.
With a pinch of impulsivity.
One day, Keith said, “I am going to bake bread; it’s an artisan skill.”
“I thought he was nuts,” interjects Melinda, “but he did great from the beginning.” However, she did buy bread from BJ’s Wholesale “just in case” but never had to use it.
Eleven years later, he is still using the same sourdough starter.
Not By Bread Alone
Project “Y”. Small Town Brown Ale. Passive Aggressive Pale Ale. Leggy Blonde Imperial Blonde Ale. Steampunk Chocolate Oatmeal Stout.
These are just a few of the handcrafted, home grown samplings from the in-house brewery.
As the first brewer at Warehouse, Keith wanted to produce beer that was a straightforward representation of beer he likes to drink.
“No jalapenos, no fruit – nothing trendy,” he states, “I like a good brown ale.”
The pub is abuzz with steady conversation and laughter. The same ease and elegance of Keith and Melinda spills to the staff.
Johnny Hefner, bartender extraordinaire, keeps conversation easy and the taps flowing. “He could teach a beer class,” Keith says of Johnny. “He has so much knowledge.”
As the conversations continue and orders are taken, a young man walks past the table.
“He is genius,” states Keith.
That genius is Ben Miracle, a self-taught brewer for five years and the fifth brewer at the restaurant, and one who is “working to get back to the original recipes that Keith started.”
“Since I have been here,” Ben reveals, “my focus is ensuring the that beers are in the original spirit and attentions and have been returned to their original recipe.”
He bicycles approximately seven miles to and from work every day.
“First time I came in here, it reminded me of a place I had been in New Orleans and Mississippi,” Ben says.
It was clear from the beginning that this was some place he would work.
A Gallery of Heart
Between Melinda’s ideas and Keith’s willingness to give up art space, they have created a unique place for the community to come together and enjoy extraordinary, fresh food.
For the first 10 years, Keith’s artistic creative power stopped. He was working 16+ hours a day, and when the restaurant was closed on Sunday, they would “drive to Baltimore, pick up food – always fresh – come home, make and prep.”
However, in 2014, the Hanover Art Guild asked for one more show. Keith decided on a retrospective.
He felt like his old artistic self with “35 brand new paintings for a brand new series,” he enthuses. “62 pieces that covered a 35 year span…that got me rollin’.”
His art now decorates the walls of the bistro and brewpub.
Melinda pats Keith’s arm as she excuses herself to return to the kitchen where chef Ty is creating art of his own.
This week’s sandwich special is a grilled gouda cheese, bacon sandwich, complete with a fried egg, cooked just right so when it is enjoyed, the yolk runs down and blends with the other ingredients making for a sensory Emerald City.
Chef Ty works closely with Melinda and Keith to put “only the best” on the menu.
“We have to keep the menu tight so we can have seasonal items,” explains Keith, “or it [the menu] would look like a New York phonebook.”
The food stands on its own: fresh, unique, globally influenced; however, it is the passion and respect for food and for each other that elevates the culinary experience at Warehouse Gourmet.
For information on catering, delivery, to view a menu, beer or wine list, go to www.warehousegourmet.net.