Every good Saratogian knows that their home and the surrounding region lays claim to a number of delicious food inventions. From pie à la mode (see saratoga living‘s “The Best Of Everything” issue for more) to half moons (don’t confuse them with New York’s iconic black-and-white cookies) and yes, even the perennially popular potato chip (see our “I Do!” issue), all have ties to this general area of Upstate New York. While it might only have a Saratoga-specific legend tied to it at the moment, local restaurant Esperanto would like to add the Doughboy to that list of historic culinary creations—and it’s attempting the feat with a little bit of marketing magic.
Esperanto has started a rebranding campaign of its delectable cream-cheese-and-chicken-filled snack to the “Oboy”—also styled with an umlaut over the second “o”—in an effort to take the baked snack regional and, hopefully, at some point, national. (The restaurant’s even dropped an origin video.) “We’re in a great position because we have a really good crew that manages the restaurant,” says Esperanto’s Co-owner, Will Pouch, who helped found the restaurant in 1995. “I’ve really been able to turn my attention to putting a great business plan together around the Oboy.”
The idea of the Doughboy, as it was called until just last month, lies with Pouch, his wife, Belinda, and one of his old professors and close friends, Sheldon Soloman, a popular psychology professor at Skidmore College. “Sheldon had this idea of a cream-cheese-and-chicken filling, but he didn’t really have a use or an application for it. I urged him to make it anyway,” says Pouch. “I kind of knew instinctively to just wrap it in pizza dough [and] make it into a chicken cheese roll.” So Pouch combined Soloman’s filling with his tireless testing and experimenting, and before too long, they had perfected the snack that would become the Doughboy. Shortly before the snack’s invention, Pouch and his wife, along with Sheldon and his wife, Maureen, had conveniently opened up Esperanto, and they thought it would be a perfect signature item to offer the public. Boy, were they ever right. The truth is, almost from the very beginning, keeping up with the incredible demand for Doughboys was, ironically, one of Esperanto’s biggest challenges (it’s just one restaurant with a four-person kitchen, after all). Pouch says that he knew he had something big when, in the early days, they kept running out, and people would get angry and, sometimes, fistfights would even break out over the day’s last Doughboy.
Skip ahead 23 years and the Doughboy has now been officially recast as the Oboy. “We’ve changed it to Oboy mostly because we’re going farther and wider,” says Pouch. “Plus, the name’s already taken.” To fans of the old name, it’s sad but true; in many neighboring states, a “Doughboy” is a popular treat at state and county fairs, a square of fried pizza dough with powdered sugar on top.
To Pouch, the name-change was a natural one, and he and Belinda are already opening up a separate but affiliated baking company called the Red Brick Bakery in Mechanicville to finally produce Oboys on a commercial scale and with a variety of fillings. Even though the new bakery won’t be ready until this December or January of next year, the Oboy is already catching on in other regions of New York. “Just this morning at my yoga class, somebody told me that they were up in North Creek and they had Oboys at the Stewart’s store there,” says Pouch. “So we’re already spreading out over the region, thanks to Stewart’s.” Pouch plans on taking the product to other popular convenience store chains such as Jiffy Mart (where Oboys are already available in Troy) or WahWah in New Jersey, where there’s a large potential customer base of Skidmore alumni who are already familiar with the Oboy’s (née Doughboys) gooey, cream-cheesed-filled goodness (they’re a regular item on campus now; I know I certainly ate my share when I was a Skidmore student).
As for locals, who’ve loved and known the baked snack as a Doughboy for 20-plus years now, some like the name change and some are having a hard time with it, says Pouch. “Customers tell me that they’ll always refer to it as a Doughboy. But I don’t mind; we’re just happy to serve it.”
Hmm, Oboy or Doughboy? The debate might just become a new chapter in regional New York food lore.