Backstretch Dinners Draw a Crowd in Saratoga

Dinners catered by Morrissey's Restaurant are held every Sunday evening in Saratoga for the backside community courtesy Backstretch Employee Service Team

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Sunday evening dinners have always been a hit among the many backstretch appreciation events that go on throughout the Saratoga race meet, but this summer the affair has become an ever bigger attraction now that Morrissey's Lounge and Bistro at the Adelphi Hotel is catering the weekly celebration.

Every Sunday just before 6 p.m., upbeat music and savory smells reach Union Avenue as a crowd gathers at the Marylou Whitney Pavilion. With dozens of volunteers on hand, the vast smorgasbord of food remains open until 8:30 so that workers who were busy in the later races on the day's card have plenty of time to join the party and sit down for a warm meal.

The team at the Adelphi has planned a different cuisine for each week and attendees are always eager to find out what will be on the menu.

“We work with all fresh food and ingredients and we cook everything to order,” said the Adelphi's Director of Restaurants Patrick Toomey. “We picked different theme nights–like Mexican, Carribean, and Southern–so we have a lot of fun with it. I love the community that you see back here. I love to hear the chatter and see their faces enjoying good food.”

The Adelphi Hotel is owned by the Roth family of LNJ Foxwoods Stable and their partner, fellow horse owner and philanthropist Michael Dubb. Toomey said that when the Roth family was first presented with the opportunity to support this event, they were eager to participate.

“The Roths have been big backstretch contributors before in other ways at different tracks and this was an easy one,” he said. “We were definitely going to give it our all and provide great dinners here every Sunday night.”

After the passing of his wife Marylou Whitney in 2019, John Hendrickson has remained active in supporting a multitude of backstretch initiatives. In addition to the organization of the Sunday evening dinners, as a tribute to his late wife he funded construction for the Saratoga Backstretch Clinic, which is also new this year and is located across from the pavilion.

“We've been doing [dinners] for 16 years as part of the Backstretch Appreciation Program that Marylou and I started,” Hendrickson said. “Marylou always said that this should be the summer place for everyone. They should have the best food and now they have the best health care as well.”

This summer, the Sunday evening dinners have been attracting crowds upwards of 500 backstretch workers.

“This year, there's new energy,” said Hendrickson. “Everybody dresses up and everybody is happy. It's first-class food. The Roth family is very generous and they've really put on a great show.”

Every evening with the exception of Saturday night when racing runs late, an event is on the schedule for the backstretch workers. In addition to the Sunday evening dinners, Wednesday night bingo also draws a crowd. These events are made possible through the work of the Race Track Chaplaincy and the Backstretch Employee Services Team (BEST) in New York.

BEST'S Program Director Nancy Underwood said that events like the Sunday dinner allow their team to check in on members of the backstretch community and invite new workers to join their community.

“We really try to create a sense of community and we're able to do that because of John and his donors,” said BEST's Program Director Nancy Underwood. “Everything we do with this population is really about trust and relationship building. We believe that a connected person is a healthier person. We bring everybody together. We're able to serve them, celebrate what they do and really appreciate what they do for the industry.”

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