This is file #6 cycle2. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is October 28, 2015. I am interviewing Rolf Schenkel and his daughter Renee about their wonderful experiences at the Ragamont Inn. First we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
RS:My name is Rolf Schenkel.
JM:When were you born?
RS:August 25, 1934
JM:Where were you born?
RS:Germany, or Switzerland
JM:Your parents’ names? RS:My father was Henry, my mother was Gertrude.
JM:Did you have brothers or sisters?
RS:I have two brothers.
JM:Are they still in Switzerland?
JM:What was your training?
RS:My profession was a baker. But then I went into the cooking.
JM:Where did you start your American experience? RS:That was in Greenwich, Ct.
JM:Were you working in a restaurant as a baker?
RS:Yes as a baker.
JM:How did you get up here from Greenwich, Ct.?
RS:There was a big detour. First I landed in New York on the Queen Mary. From there I went to Greenwich, Ct. where I got my first experience. Barbara her mother and I took a trip through the United States by car. We arrived in Reno, Nevada where I again worked as a baker for 2 years. Then Renee came along and we moved back to Connecticut, Stamford.
Renee: From Stamford you went to Chantilly.
RS:Well first was the Clam Box.2.
Renee:The clam Box was before Reno.
RS:Then we started the restaurant.
JM:Chantilly was in Fairfield?
JM:When did you come up here?
RS:We came up here in 1970,
Renee: April of 1970.
JM:Whom did you work for when you came up here?
RS:Nobody we bought the Ragamont.
JM:Whom did you buy it from?
RS:From Mrs. Hammond
JM:Mrs. Peter Hammond?
Renee: It could have been, Mr. Peter Hammond, Dean Hammond’s father (see Dean Hammond #128A)
JM:Where did the Hopkins Inn come in?
RS:I had a partner in the Chantilly. What happened was…His name was Rudy.
Renee:He is not at the Hopkins any more, anyway.
RS:We worked together for 2 years and then we parted. I found out that the Ragamont was for sale and we agreed that Rudy would stay at the Hopkins and I came up here.
JM:Do you remember how much you paid for the Ragamont?
JM:That was a lot of money.
JM:When you bought the Ragamont, how many rooms were you renting at that time?
Renee & Rolf:Counting up there were 8 rooms.
JM:Was the barn on the property used eventually for rooms?
JM:How many rooms would have been in the barn?
JM:Was it always a restaurant, or did you convert it to a bed and breakfast?
RS:That was only at the end.
JM:How long did you run the Ragamont? You bought it in 1970 and when did you sell it?
JM:To whom did you sell it?
RS:To Elaine La Roche
JM:When you were running the Ragamont, was your staff local or did your bring people from Europe?
RS:Well it was a local staff for the season.
Renee:In the beginning we had a few waitresses from abroad.
JM:That was standard pretty much. The Swiss Hutte in New York used staff imported from Europe. About how many waitresses would you employ?
RS:That is hard to say because it depended upon how many people we had.
JM:Did you have full time and part time?
Renee:Yes we had 8 to 10.
JM:Did you ever run the inn during the winter?
RS:Only the first year!
JM:Oh and then you learned. The winter would not be good.
Renee: It was not so much that there were no customers but frozen pipes than anything.
Renee:Probably 2 or 3.
JM:Were they local?
Renee:Yeah they were. Well, again sometimes the waitress would double as a chambermaid.
JM:What was the size of your dining room?4.
RS:That is a tough question.
Renee:Do you mean how many people could be seating there or the physical size?
JM:I mean how many people could be sitting there. I am talking about the inside, not the patio.
Rene: I would say inside in the main dining room…
Renee: The other dining room was 30.
JM:How about the patio? That was something that you created I think.
RS:There could be about 40.
Renee: Yeah it could be between 40 and 45. If we put little tables from the dining room and put some on the porch. We did as many as we could.
JM:We used to go there when we had teacher retirement parties, but we were inside. Later when my husband and I were being entertained by other couples, we would go during the summer time and would sit on the patio. It was just wonderful; the food was always wonderful, but on the patio you could see the people going by.
Renee:People would sit out there in the hottest weather; they would be sweating.
JM:It was wonderful to be outside and to have this delicious food and just enjoy the atmosphere. You really did not think too much about the sun.
Renee:Were you ever there at dusk time with the bats?
RS:Bats flying around?
JM:Oh dear, I missed that.
Renee:That was our natural mosquito prevention.
JM:You had some very special food that you made. I know about your salad dressing because Jane Fitting had raved about your salad dressing. And also your wonderful hot rolls. Both of which I remember. Tell me about Octoberfest. What were some of the foods you did for that?
Renee:Well we really didn’t have an Octoberfest.
JM:But you did at the White Hart.
Renee:Right we did it for the Harney’s, yes.5.
RS:The Harney’s put it on in the middle of the winter, not in October, but any way I helped them out by making sauerbraten, weiner schnitzel, spaetzli and other German goodies.
JM:Did you ever formally patent your salad dressing to sell?
Renee: We were going to; we had a customer from Sharon who wanted to. With all the preservatives it would not taste the same.
RS:The Hopkins Inn had a dressing, a salad dressing but it tasted different now than when he started. You know he has to go through all the preservatives. You can’t use fresh eggs; you have to use powdered eggs.
JM:It does not taste the same. When you are doing it in small batches, like you did. By small I mean for the restaurant, you can control what you are doing. If you are manufacturing gallons and gallons of the stuff, you don’t have the quality control.
RS:You can buy the Hopkins Inn dressing in the stores.
JM:Was you’re a cold dressing or a hot dressing?
Renee:He still makes it sometimes.
JM:Did you do a German hot potato salad?
Renee:No but he does it here.
JM:Did you make it for lunch at all?
RS:Not really I made Rooshty.
Renee:That was the big seller.
JM:I know about the rolls. Did you also do breads and sticky buns and that sort of thing?
RS:Just dinner rolls.
Renee:Early on he used to do Danish.
RS: Yeah, Danish early on. Of course I made Linzer torte, almond torte and all deserts.
JM:Did you also make Osso Bucco?
Renee: Yes, you made Osso Bucco. That was a main dish on our menu.6.
RS: Under the specials.
JM:You helped out at the White Hart. Did you do that on a continuing basis or was it just a one off?
RS:We would do it.
Renee: We would do it off season.
JM:Yeah when you weren’t working in the restaurant when it was off-season.
Renee: He did that for a few years. When he left there was nothing; they changed it all.
JM:Yes, and it was empty for a while, too. I just finished doing Elyse Harney on the White Hart and asking her questions.
Renee:Do we both mesh; does she remember?
JM:Yeah, oh yes and spoke very fondly about the salad dressing and the rolls particularly because I asked her about that.
Renee:What was really good was to take the roll and dip it into the salad dressing!
JM:It is so good to have the people that actually ran a place talk about it because you have memories that nobody else would have. I want you to tell me again, what was your favorite day of the week?
RS:My favorite day of the week-Monday.
RS:It was my day off!
JM:I love that; that is really pleasing to me.
RS:It was usually harder work; there was always cleaning.
JM:You cleaned and during the winter didn’t you refurbish the rooms?
RS:We did the wallpapering, and painting, always.
Renee:Just cleaning the year end cleaning would take about a month, putting everything away. Opening up and cleaning again. As a matter of fact that is how I got know it. You put me in the middle of the Ragamont, I may not know because Pete switched it around, but I know where I am because of the windows. I did all the windows. I know exactly where I am.
JM:When you were cooking, did you use local suppliers for meats and vegetables or did you have…
RS:No I had to go outside.7.
Renee:Fruits and vegetables in season. Back then it was all local.
JM:it was not a consortium.
RS:Meats that stuff came from out of town.
Renee: Our veal came from Albany, which is pretty local.
JM:Did you have difficulty in getting specific cuts of meat for your German dishes?
JM:Any stories about you bed and breakfast guests or your inn guests.
Renee:I could write a book of the inn guests.
RS:Maybe that killed the answer.
Renee:That was Miss Stanley; she was a woman from New York who would spend the summers up here. She was a very quiet woman, but she would take her cane and kill the little daddy longlegs on the side of the room or she would like if there was a little tear in her screen, she would ball up a couple of pieces of paper and stick them into the tear. She was a nice woman. There was Miss Honvall; she was delightful.
RS:We also had the lady who came up in the summertime.
JM:Did you have a lot of people that stayed 2 or 3 weeks during the summer?
Renee:During the early days.
JM:I have in my notes a German shepherd.
RS:That was our dog.
Renee: We had a man, I forgot what his name was, but he was a little odd. He was stalking or threatening one of the Buckleys. Yeah, we did not know that. That is where our German shepherd comes in to play. He wanted to rent our German shepherd or did he want to buy it?
RS:He wanted to rent him.
Renee:He wanted to rent the dog. He never wanted any maid service. He would close the door. We only had a pay phone: we didn’t have a phone so even he would close off the main entrance so he could talk privately. He would go behind the barn every day at the same time. He had a room in the barn in the back. We did not know all this.
RS:He came from Newtown.
Renee:Yeah, didn’t officers arrive and they wanted to look up in his room and they found knives and guns.
RS:The found guns and a book about Hitler.
Renee:He was a colorful character. The funny thing is if that my father always thought he was the All-American guy.
JM:His looks were deceiving.
RS:We had that barn back there. He always went behind the barn when he came back. He would park the car. He would walk all the way back to the barn and stay there and come back to his room. So Renee said to me, “Why don’t you go back there before he comes and see what he was up to?” I did and what he was doing was he was urinated back there but then he went to his room.
Renee:When he wanted to rent the dog, then we started thinking. We finally got it all together.
JM:When you are working with the public, you get all sorts of people.
Renee:I remember one woman that came in; I don’t know if she was out of it but she wanted parmesan cheese and she was making psychedelic polar bears. Then she would go to the main dining room and have a dramatic event. I remember one time we called the cops and they came and picked her up.
JM:When you were running the kitchen, did you have a sous chef?
RS:Oh yes, I had a sous chef.
JM:Did you bring them from Europe or US?
RS:In the beginning yes but then after I used local.
JM:Did you train them or did they come to you already trained?
RS:They came partially trained.
JM:And you finished them off!
RS:I finished them off. Actually it was my sister in law.
Renee: But that was later.
JM:When you had your rooms, were they ensuite or was there a bathroom down the hall?
Renee:Both in the beginning we had one section that had 5 rooms sharing one bath, and then one year we made one side three rooms into a suite. A couple of years later we made the other side a suite.
RS:There was another thing about the bathroom. Upstairs there was also the Men’s room.
Renee: Yes a shared bath with the Men’s room.
RS: The Men’s and the bath. Obviously the men went upstairs. If they didn’t go upstairs they used the Ladies room downstairs. A man went upstairs to use the bathroom and a lady was sitting in the bathtub.
JM:Oh dear, that could be a little bit embarrassing.
RS:He told us about it before they left.
Renee: Probably the year you decided to put in the Ladies Room.
RS:We probably got to have two bathrooms.
JM:did you have any hikers that came through.
Renee:Oh yes we had a lot of hikers. Then we started sending our overflow to another character in the town Marie McCabe. To this day she still takes in hikers and she still tells them, ‘My friend from the Ragamont used to send them to me.”
JM:A fellow came into the Academy Building a couple of years ago looking for her. He remembered the house and I directed him up this way. He said that if he recognized the house he would stop in. I think he did.
Renee:She is still doing it and it is probably what keeps her alive.
JM:It makes a difference; you have to have something to keep you going. Did you take in pets when you were renting rooms?
RS:I think we did.
Renee: Then we learned our lesson.
JM:They can be messy. What kind of dinner ware did you serve on? Did you have a particular pattern or…
RS: We still have it. Rene showed me the blue pattern on Syracuse china.
Renee: this goes to show you that this is the original pattern but then when we bought it, we did not have enough service so we bought this pattern to supplement it. It is Syracuse china.
JM:Where I went to college we used to trial test the Syracuse china. If it survived college women, it would survive anything. This is lovely the McNichol pattern
Renee: This was our lunch plate, but with the dinner plate they worked together.
JM:What pretty dishes.
Renee:We needed something that would blend in and it is kind of patriotic.
JM:You have the eagle and flag.
Renee: It does not match anything here, but we still use it at home.
JM:They are good study plates, and you need something like that. They would be heavy on a tray.
Renee: This is why my back is shot because of carrying these heavy dishes.
JM:When I was waitressing, it was one handed over the shoulder.
Renee: Depending on the contents determined how many plates you could carry on a tray.
RS: Don’t drop them!
JM: I have done that too.
Renee:I dropped a whole tray load, plates, and glasses: it just slipped.
JM:I was taught to put a cloth on the tray so the plates would not slip. Did you do that?
RS:Our trays were cork.
JM:Ours were just plain metal so we put a dishcloth on it. I could not stand clinking glasses and clinking cups and saucers. All right Renee, I am going to put you on the spot! What haven’t I covered about your experiences with the Ragamont that I should ask you? I am trying to cover everything that I could think of.
Renee:I think you covered everything; I was a young girl growing up in the business.
JM:You did everything.
Renee: Yeah I learned everything except how to cook. Somehow I did not get into that department, but I got every other department that you can think of. It was different.
JM:It is different growing up in the business, than it is coming in as an outsider.
Renee:It was good because my parents were always there; they didn’t go to a job. People say, “How does it feel all these people in your house?” I never think of it now; now I don’t want anybody in my house.
JM: It is very different and you have to be “on” all the time. Good behavior, smile, pleasant, cheerful, and that gets wearing after a while. Were you closed during the week at all? I know you loved your Mondays, but did you take Monday and Tuesdays off.
Renee: There were many years, but by that time I was out of college, when we took the extra day. But growing up it was just Mondays. We used to go to Kent Falls for a picnic with Rudi. We would meet there or we would go there because he had a lake. So we would go and just have a picnic that was our day off.
JM:Did your waitresses have a particular uniform?
Renee:Then later they got very expensive; we would see the waitresses ball them up and throw them into their trunk so we went to standard black and white.
JM:I was interviewing Gudrun Duntz; she had a dirndl either for herself or her daughter and she gave it to the present owner of the Hopkins Inn. She wanted it to be used. They were very pleased with it. They are beautiful costumes, but they are expensive.
RS:I am not sure the Hopkins still does it.
JM:I don’t think they do any more, maybe it was just…
RS:AT the Swiss Hutte they used to have dirndls years ago, but now do black and white.
JM:They don’t any more. It is easier to keep it looking clean.
Renee: Clean and the expense is great. Black and white is easier to keep clean.
RS:We used to buy them. Are you a skier?
RS:Well there is Hunter Mountain.
JM:I have heard about Hunter Mountain.12.
RS:Up there is a store that sold them.
JM:Recently I have heard advertisements and they do special events.
RS:There is a magazine “Alpenland” which I shall give you.
JM:Yes, it would go in your folder and would be fine. Thank you. The more trivia that I can put into your folder to augment what I am doing here makes it better.
RS:You can keep it.
JM:That would be wonderful.
Renee: I am sure that if I pulled out any of the photo albums I could pull out waitresses that we had.
JM:That is important too because everybody has different memories. I have hear what Renee’s fondest memory was, now what is yours when you were doing the restaurant?
RS:My fondest memory – do you mean when I did the cooking? Creating new dishes
JM:Can you tell me a dish or two that you created?
Renee:He did all of his dishes, really. He made up his own recipes.
RS:I made a dish with sweetbreads.
Renee: It is not so much the actual meat, but it is the butter that he created or the scampi butter or herbal butter. Those were the things he created.
RS:It was the butter, not the snails.
JM:Oh I remember the snails!
Renee:It was the butter.
RS:We created the salad dressing.
JM:When you cooked, you didn’t measure things precisely, you sort had a flair for it and put things together that from your head would work.
JM:That is the sign of a really true chef.
Renee: It is funny now he needs a recipe,
JM:It is a memory aid. I do a lot of that with my stuff.13.
RS:At that time I did it every day, if you do something every day it is like flying. It comes naturally.
Renee:He wrote things down; I have his recipes but trust me they won’t taste the same as what he did because I know he left ingredients out, like that salad dressing. I had to curve it so that it tasted like the salad dressing: he left out a few things.
JM:That may have been deliberate.
RS:You forget things. It is like one time a lady came in and she ordered an almond torte which is almond filling with apricot jam on the bottom. I forgot to put the apricot jam in; the lady came to me and said, “You didn’t give me the right recipe.” It was unintentional of course. But it happens.
JM:Especially if you are doing 2 or 3 things at once because you do not have time to do one at a time. I thank you so much for this it has been wonderful. Thank you Renee for letting me come.