As renovations continue in Troy Kitchen, on Congress Street in Troy, I’m happy to post the conclusion of my interview with Cory Nelson, its creator, proprietor, and all-around visionary.
As I wrote in Part One of this interview, everyone’s going to be writing about Troy Kitchen soon, and that’s great. I wanted to understand Cory Nelson – where he came from, how he got here, and his determination to succeed.
As I found out, Cory Nelson is quite frankly, simply inspirational.
You Take One Kid From the Tough Streets of East New York, Brooklyn...
“The hood is a mentality, not a place.” That’s what Cory told me as we were discussing his old neighborhood East New York, in Brooklyn. It’s got a reputation of a tough battleground, but often, the real battle is in the hearts and minds of those who live there, especially the youth.
“Humans are weak creatures,” he said. “But we have control of our minds. If you have full control of your mind, you are unbeatable. But when we are weak, it’s easy to go down the wrong path.”
“In business, when someone rips you off, you can get back at them in a legal way; you turn around and succeed in spite of them. In East New York, it usually gets physical. You have to watch your back constantly. That’s high stress. That life can prepare you for stuff like real estate development.
Whenever I have an issue, I think of East New York. Surviving and thriving there – that’s real toughness. Everything you go through is easy compared to that.”
I asked Cory if his school ever had class trips. Growing up near Oneonta, I saw my first operas, my first museums and even first factories on school trips over the years. Surely in NYC, they took him to all of the great cultural features of the city.
“I ran track five days a week. That’s what I did. We didn’t go on class trips that really affected me. We went to the Intrepid and places like that, but there was no context made. Kids need a connection, it has to be more organic and relate to them somehow, or it just doesn’t mean much.”
“If I could do anything again, in East New York, I would have realized that I wasn’t constrained by borders. The Financial District, any part of the city that you’re interested in – it’s only a subway ride away. But we are stopped by these artificial borders. We think those places are not for us – a mental blockade.”
“I never went to the Museum of Modern Art until I was an adult. It was there the whole time. I wish I could have explored all of New York City when I was younger and been more exposed much earlier, and aware of what’s out there. Small things – small opportunities that could have opened up the doors to the world earlier.”
Cory on Business Opportunities
“Now is the best time to go from low class to high class. Before, there was the status quo – the middle class. People expected that they would be a part of that. But now it’s not handed to you, you have to work for it.”
“Now there is more chaos, and in chaos is opportunity. That’s how I look at the times we are in now.”
“I have no patience. If you want to accomplish something in five years, you have to go after it like you wanted it yesterday. The access to information is there, if you take the time to look for it and pursue it. I’m not talking about college. If you can’t go to college, that doesn’t mean that all hope and opportunity is gone.”
"You can learn to code in your bedroom, or pursue other opportunities. I learned from Google and U-Tube. You’d be surprised how much is out there if you are willing to look for it and put yourself out there.”
“It’s not easy, you have to put everything aside to do it, sometimes even your relationships or your health. Sometimes it takes getting your feelings hurt and making mistakes and getting embarrassed, but if that’s what it takes to get from Point A to Point B, then that’s what it takes. These are lessons.”
“You go a little bit crazy sometimes, I’m crazy now! But when nothing is more important than the goal, what’s going to stop you, if that’s what you want to do?”
Troy: A Great Opportunity
“Talk about opportunities,” Cory continued. “This is an old supermarket. I tell my friends about what I’m doing and they say, ‘You bought a supermarket?? You say that like it’s nothing.’ I’m used to it now, but that was the opportunity here in Troy."
"You can’t buy a supermarket in Brooklyn. Well, you can if you are a real estate syndicate, but the days of good buys like this in NY are just about over. It’s slimmer, not impossible, but it’s slimmer.”
“For me, it was all about time. How much time do I have to pursue these opportunities? How much longer are they going to be there? So I decided to take the leap right now and create my vision within these four walls, and take it day by day.”
I asked Cory if all of the new places opening downtown were alienating long-time Trojans. I’ve heard many people say that “This new stuff is not for us.” As a former Brooklynite, as are many of the people in Troy opening up new venues, what did he think about that?
“I understand that mentality. No one is actually stopping anyone from going anywhere, but you feel that way. It’s like the kid in East New York. I don’t want people to think that way about this place, which is why I’m keeping the prices affordable. I eat at Famous Lunch every day. I like the new stuff coming in, but the old stuff stays, too.”
“That’s what so great about Troy, all of the new things are coming into vacant properties. We aren’t displacing anyone. I don’t support displacement. But a vacant building? That’s great for Troy and everyone."
"There’s a lot of opportunity and buildings here. They were built when Troy was the 4th wealthiest city, and they are built extremely well. When they are vacant, take some sweat equity and make them beautiful again.”
“I came here in March of 2012. I wanted to open up an art gallery. I found some vacant store fronts in which I could possibly do that. I went down to City Hall to find out who owned them. I get a number, I call and a woman answers. She says I need to talk to her husband.”
“I’m talking to the husband, and he tells me that he used to be a teacher – a teacher in Brooklyn. I said ‘I’m from Brooklyn, born and raised.’ He says that he used to teach math at Transit Tech. I say, “I went to Transit Tech.” Turns out he was Mr. Colisanti, my high school math teacher."
"He left teaching two years after I graduated, and moved to Troy, as his brother had gone to RPI. He went into real estate and now owns many buildings in Troy.”
“He became one of my mentors. He’s not involved with this project, but he gives me advice. I was just talking to him this morning. Small world, you move away from East New York, but East New York is always with you.”
“When I came back to Brooklyn from college in DC, Brooklyn was a different place than when I was a kid. I wasn’t smart enough as a kid to recognize opportunity. By the time I left DC, it was a different town too, and once again, I missed it. So when I came back to New York, I came back with a vision to seek opportunity wherever it took me. I was willing to move."
"I came across Troy, and I said, ‘you know what; I’m going to give it a shot.’ I’ve been here in Troy for three years, and they’ve been the best three years of my life.”
I know exactly what he means. This is a great little city. Thanks, Cory, for taking the time to talk, and inspiring me to continue to pursue my own Troy dreams.
My name is Suzanne Spellen. I've been many things: a writer, historian, preservationist, musician, traveler, designer, sewer, teacher, and tour guide; a long time Brooklynite and now, a proud resident of Troy, NY.