November 28, 2021

New restaurant aims to offer comfort food that stands out

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Tanya Dammert is shown inside FireCrest, her restaurant that opened last week on Groton Avenue in Cortland. Dammert said she opened to the restaurant in part to give people a break from the pandemic.

Opening a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant shifting plans for Tanya Dammert.

No grand openings and fewer people who can dine in are a part of that.

But opening provides another opportunity for residents who have been fatigued by the year-long pandemic, the restaurateur said. “I feel like we as a community need places to go together in small groups so we can make it through it.”

Dammert, originally from Pitcher, is looking to help provide that at her new restaurant FireCrest, which opened last week at 13 Groton Ave. in Cortland.

The restaurant, which is now open through reservations only, offers American cuisine with local meats from Pebble Hill Farm and foods that Dammert said offer bold flavors.

Dammert moved to New York City to train to be a chef in 2009, she said. She spent the next six or so years working various roles including a sous chef at four restaurants before switching to a corporate position and later moving to Cortland. It was there where she learned an important lesson about succeeding.

“You can’t get away without having a personal touch,” she said. “You have to make yourself known because you’re a small fish in a huge pond.”

Around the middle of 2019, Dammert and her fiance, Derek Perry, were house shopping when they mentioned to a real estate agent that they were interested in investing in a restaurant, Dammert said. The agent showed them 13 Groton Ave., and the couple was interested in purchasing.

“We walked in and it was a perfect fit,” Dammert said. “It’s nice, cozy and small.”

However, COVID-19 struck almost right after the couple purchased the space, changing the plans and ideas Dammert had for the restaurant, she said.

Garry VanGorder, the executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Agency, noted the challenges of the restaurant opening during the pandemic.

“It’s very difficult, obviously, when you’re facing capacity restrictions and general nervousness some people have about getting out of the house and into a restaurant,” he said. “But they’re open, they have a plan, and they’re working hard. I hope people support them.”

Dammert said that even though availability and capacity is reduced, “I feel like we as a community need places to go together in small groups and so we can make it through” the pandemic.

No grand opening events are yet planned, but Dammert said she hopes to do something to celebrate the restaurant opening this year.

“I want it to feel like you can come in here in a suit and tie and be comfortable and also come in here in jeans and a T-shirt,” she said.