"I'm booking a flight to New York for tomorrow to meet up with Kurt about starting the clothing brand," Adrian said to his wife Sarah-Jane. "The designer can meet with us tomorrow evening."
Given that Adrian had just reached the 40 year old milestone a few days prior, this conversation might have sounded somewhat like a minor mid-life crisis; but to Sarah-Jane, knowing that this was an idea some 15 years in the making, it seemed everything but a crisis. This was a chance for Adrian and Kurt to follow through on a dream born during their college years while soaking in the charm and nostalgia of Saratoga Race Course.
Less than 24 hours later, Adrian boarded his flight from Toronto to New York City for a night that he and Kurt would likely never forget.
Adrian Szamreta and Kurt Rossner first met while playing college baseball at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. The pair quickly became friends and developed a love for the annual summer tradition of horse racing at Saratoga. Through their college days, the pair got a tremendous amount of enjoyment by taking an ever growing circle of friends to the track. After graduation, it was only natural that a group of friends would return every summer for a reunion of sorts--always timed to coincide with the race meet at The Spa.
Amid the laughter of friends and the flowing of race day cocktails, Kurt would often "hold court" as Adrian puts it, telling stories of the many traditions of horse racing. Stories like why there is a canoe which gets a fresh coat of paint each year in new colors peacefully floating in the Saratoga infield pond. Stories of a man dressed in red and black who faithfully signals fans and riders and horses alike that it's almost post time. Stories of how the art and science of perfectly combining mint and sugar and bourbon can serve as a time machine, taking your senses on a magical journey back to the first Saturday in May.
On one particular Sunday evening during their 25th summers, with the excitement of the weekend's festivities just starting to wane, the pair of friends sat in one of their favorite Saratoga hangouts--Gafney's Pub--and the thought hit them: wouldn't it be great to hang on to this forever?
"You know by the time we're forty, it's not going to be cool with our future wives for us to just be hanging out at the track all summer and just having fun," Kurt thought out loud.
But what if they made horse racing and going to the track their business somehow? Ideas started pouring out in spite of their slightly hung over condition, and the one thing that seemed to resonate most with them was starting a racetrack appropriate fashion line. It seemed logical, as most of their friends who didn't really know much about racing still LOVED the raceday tradition of getting dressed for the track.
Now THAT would be a way to hang on to this warm, nostalgic feeling for years...even when they were old and, someday, forty.
The discussion of starting their racetrack fashion line became as much of a tradition as going to the track itself. They always thought that someday it would be right. As often happens though, life got in the way and months turned into years, but their collective dream was always right there beneath the surface, a quiet little whisper speaking to their hearts.
Meeting at their hotel in New York, Adrian and Kurt checked in to their rooms, dropped their bags, and rushed to Cooper's Craft & Kitchen in Manhattan's Chelsea District to meet with their prospective designer. Surrounded by the brick mason walls, rustic wood floors, and timber beamed ceilings of the gastropub, the trio discussed their ideas for creating a clothing line fitting for the finest of racetrack clubhouses, complete with seersucker suits, blazers lined with colorful jockey silks, and bow ties.
The conversation was lively and productive, but despite how exciting the prospect of finally launching their dream brand seemed, that quiet little whisper was there telling them that something just didn't quite feel right. Finishing dinner, Kurt and Adrian said their goodbyes to their companion and headed out in search of a suitable place to recap the meeting and think about their next steps.
Being that it was approaching midnight on a Sunday in early December, many of their options were already closing, leaving the other places that were open too crowded and noisy for a productive conversation. Seemingly running out of options for their post-meeting meeting, the pair of college buddies stumbled across a quaint looking spot called The Chelsea Bell and stepped inside.
The Chelsea Bell was dimly lit. A row of pendant lights, each one carefully accented with a red holiday ribbon, hung over the bar, and the backlighting of the liquor shelves and beer refrigerators provided the rest of the illumination. Evergreen garland with strings of white holiday lights hung along the tops of the red masonry walls, signaling the upcoming holiday season. The bar was completely empty save for the bartender, who was obviously preparing to close for the night. Asking if he had already closed up shop, he replied in a thick Australian accent that he'd be happy to stay open for as long as they wanted, so Kurt and Adrian sat down at the marble bar across from their newfound friend from Down Under.
While they KNEW in their hearts that now was the time to act on their dream, something still didn't feel right. As their bartender pulled several of his favorite craft beers from the taps along the wall for them to sample, their discussion turned back to memories of those days spent at Saratoga and the stories that went along with them. Then it occurred to them.
"We aren't high end fashion guys; we are t-shirt and jeans guys. Let's make products for who WE are."
Grabbing a stack of cocktail napkins, Adrian and Kurt (and possibly some of the artfully mixed cocktail concoctions) began sketching design ideas on the white squares. Their Aussie companion now wore two hats-- mixologist and one man focus group. Each design they put to a cocktail napkin was rooted in a story--each one paying homage to a racetrack tradition or legend:
Man O' War... The Saratoga Canoe... The Weathervane over Ole Pimmy...
One napkin quickly turned to five. Five napkins quickly turned to ten. One Old Fashioned turned to three. Ten napkins turned into fifty.
All the while, that quiet little whisper that had spoken to them for those 15 some years was becoming louder and louder...
"THIS is it!"
A few hours later, two college baseball teammates stepped out of The Chelsea Bell into the chill a late autumn New York night. Optimism and excitement blended with a sense of relief, as the pair knew that they were finally headed in the direction that quiet whisper had hinted at all along - and Old Smoke Clothing Company was born.