The Saratoga 25

Photography by Rachel Lanzi/The Content Agency

In honor of Saratoga Living‘s silver anniversary, we selected 25 people who have made Saratoga what it is and who will continue to shape its future for years to come. From the couple that literally built this city to a star high school student with high hopes for her hometown, meet The Saratoga 25.

Join us in celebrating these movers and shakers at our Saratoga 25 party on Thursday, June 8 at Putnam Place. Get your tickets here.

Maddy Zanetti and Marianne Barker

Sonny and Julie Bonacio

Claim to Fame: The power couple behind Bonacio Construction and Julie & Co. Realty

There’s arguably no one alive today to which you can credit the actual physical appearance of Saratoga more than Sonny and Julie Bonacio. The power couple is responsible for the construction or renovation of local museums, horse barns, concert venues, apartments, condominiums, medical offices, fire stations, banks, stores, restaurants, golf clubs…Need we go on? Most recently, Bonacio Construction has undertaken the behemoth Adelphi Hotel expansion, as well as the redevelopment of Longfellows and, outside of town, a sprawling 36-acre resort in Schroon Lake.

Oh, and the Bonacios don’t just create the structures that define the look and feel of Saratoga Springs today—they sell them, too. In 2015, Julie opened Julie & Co. Realty, a boutique brokerage firm that to date has closed more than $1.7 billion in sales combined, opened a second office in Schroon Lake, and recently hired six new agents. This, in addition to her role as vice president of her husband’s construction company, which he started in 1988 right before the duo said “I do.” Power couple indeed.

Thirty-five years later, the Bonacios have built a bona fide empire on the promise of what Saratoga has to offer. “We create a product for people who want a different level of quality of life,” Sonny says. “At the end of the day, it’s the quality of life and the interesting things—”

“—that Saratoga has to offer,” Julie jumps in, a regular occurrence after more than three decades of marriage. “It’s the arts, the track, the downtown that’s so pedestrian friendly, all our great restaurants, boutiques…people really love to be here.”

Ed and Lisa Mitzen

Claim to Fame: Cofounders of Business for Good, a foundation that transforms the traditional philanthropic model by buying businesses and donating profits to charity, supporting minority-owned businesses with capital and resources, and assisting charities with donations

Ed on Saratoga: “With Fingerpaint [the marketing firm he founded] being in Saratoga, it gave us instant recognition all over the country. There were so many clients that had heard about it, been here for a concert or for the track. There’s a nice national cachet to the city.”

Lisa on Saratoga: “We’d like to see more attention given to diversity in Saratoga. Close the income gap so that you can help people that struggle with homelessness or food insecurity.”

Carmine DeCrescente

Claim to Fame: Vice president of DeCrescente Distributing Company, the Saratoga County–based business that his great-grandfather started 75 years ago this year

On Saratoga: “I love wakesurfing on Saratoga Lake. Just going out there, stopping at one of the bars or restaurants that are on the lake, hanging out, spending time with my family.”

Taylor Rao

Claim to Fame: Co-founder, head of business development and “Buttonista” of Two Buttons Deep, which is known for Gen Z-luring videos—that can garner tens of thousands of views —and unconventional sponsorship opps, such as a recent car wash scavenger hunt

On Saratoga: “I’m one of those people who loves the tourist season. I don’t hide or go to Ballston Spa to get dinner during track season. It goes by so fast, but the energy… It puts a nonstop smile on your face for eight weeks.”

Tony Panza

Claim to Fame: Panza’s Restaurant’s personable, tireless owner who greets every one of his regulars himself—if they can get him out of the kitchen

On Saratoga: “Looking back, at one point there was only the Wishing Well, the Trade Winds, our place on the lake, Mangino’s and a place called the Country Gentleman. After the track, there was nowhere to go. You look at the number of restaurants that have moved in—there’s amazing competition. Everybody’s got to step up their game to compete.”

Garland Nelson

Claim to Fame: Owner and bandleader of Soul Session Entertainment, self-proclaimed “edu-tainer,” and quite possibly Saratoga’s most beloved musician

On Saratoga: “I remember being at the Arcade building, setting up my full drum kit and having people come and join me and just jam out. Why? Just for the sake of jamming. Foot traffic made it really easy for me to be on the street and just play.”

Helen Watson

Claim to Fame: General manager of The Adelphi Hotel in the midst of its mammoth expansion to add 33 rooms and 79 condominiums, and dog mom to Adelphi regular Jackson, her 40-pound Goldendoodle

On Saratoga: “Saratoga has so much to offer. It’s not just about the racetrack, it’s not just about SPAC. It’s about a collaboration of a lot of different entities in town that make it a special place to be.”

Jason Golub

Claim to Fame: Saratoga’s Commissioner of Public Works, the City’s first Black commissioner ever, and a calm voice of reason during a particularly raucous local government spell 

On Saratoga: “Working for the City, there’s never a dull day. You get to interact with lots of different people, residents and groups on problems that impact our community. You get to make a significant impact on the residents’ lives day to day, which I find to be the best part of public works.”

Marcella Hammer

Claim to Fame: Resident Unicorn—a fitting title that really means COO—at Palette Community

On Saratoga: “I love the Spa State Park. When I die, I’ll be a ghost there haunting everyone—just preparing you. I would love to see Saratoga become a really bike-friendly city that’s more walkable. We already have such a lively downtown but we can make it even better.”

Mark Mulholland

Claim to Fame: “First on 13”: Breaking news guru/anchor/reporter and Saratoga-North Country news chief at NewsChannel 13, and founder of Kelly’s Angels, a charitable organization created in honor of his late wife, who died of breast cancer at 37

On Saratoga: “I’m reminded every day through Kelly’s Angels that most people are good and want to do good. And in this community, they do. They step up.”

Daniel Chessare

Claim to Fame: The notoriously pessimistic owner of Saratoga’s Broadway Deli, outspoken social media commentator (aka The
Deli Lama), and provider of free rotisserie chickens to those in need

On Saratoga: “My favorite part of Saratoga summer is when the tourists leave. Obviously, they are a great boon, but I’ve always worked in the restaurant industry and frankly, as nice as all that tourist business is, we do fine without it.” 

Kim Weir

Claim to Fame: Director of donor engagement and main spokesperson for Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary

On Saratoga: “This is a very special place for a million reasons, but one of them is that people from around the world come here. And when you are an organization that’s devoted to the welfare of horses, everyone we’d ever want to talk to—our whole universe—literally comes to us. No other organization has that kind of home-court advantage.”

Charles V. Wait

Claim to Fame: Chairman of the board of directors of Adirondack Trust Company and key player in Saratoga’s Plan of Action, which revitalized the city’s downtown beginning in the 1970s

On Saratoga: “One of the things about Saratoga that makes it possible to have a thriving and financially strong local institution is that people have an identity as Saratogians. Saratoga has such a strong self-identity, and people are so interested in supporting local stores and local institutions. It’s kind of in the DNA not only of people who grew up here, but people who move here too. There’s this tremendous sense of community.”

Jill Johnson VanKuren

Claim to Fame: Appointed president and CEO of Saratoga Hospital after the toughest healthcare crisis of our generation

On Saratoga: “I’ve lived most of my adult life in DC/Baltimore. There’s so much opportunity there, but people live so far apart from each other. You work and live in two very different places. In Saratoga, you work and live all together. The biggest change for me is being part of a real community where I see people I work with and I see our patients. It’s very nice to be a part of something bigger, even though it’s smaller.”

Marc C. Conner

Claim to Fame: President of Skidmore College, who moved to town during the height of Covid lockdown to navigate the school out of the pandemic

On Saratoga: “I’d never been here until my last interview at Skidmore. I knew Manhattan. I knew there was something north of Manhattan, but I didn’t know what, and now I’m discovering this amazing state and loving it.”

Marianne Barker and Maddy Zanetti

Claim to Fame: Co-owners of longtime—and dog-friendly—Spa City gift shops Impressions of Saratoga and The Dark Horse Mercantile, the latter of which is celebrating its five-year anniversary on June 17 (expect a visit from mascot Upset, their miniature horse)

Maddy on Saratoga: “Over the next few years there are going to be a lot of new entrepreneurs and new ideas coming to the city with the way people have moved around during Covid.”

Marianne on Saratoga: “You know, it has its pains and its little bumps and warts, but there isn’t any place else I’d want to be.”

Jim Bond

Claim to Fame: Longtime owner of H. James Bond Racing Stable, Thoroughbred Breeders board member and Saratoga Race Course enthusiast

On Saratoga: “I cannot tell you what it means to have a horse win in Saratoga. It’s the most special thing in the whole wide world. My heart flutters when I go on the backside of Saratoga and realize the people over the last 200 years that have touched that surface, walked on that dirt. It’s second to none.”

Zac Denham and Clark Gale

Claim to Fame: Co-owners of Bocage Champagne Bar—which just celebrated one year in business—who married at The Adelphi after hiding out from big-city life in Saratoga during the pandemic

Clark on Saratoga: “We always had a hunch that people in Saratoga would get what we’re into. There’s certainly a rich food and beverage scene here, and we thought we would fit into that.”

Zac on Saratoga: “This summer, we’re putting a focus on prioritizing our locals by giving them access to reservations that the general public can’t see in an effort to keep bringing people to downtown when they typically would avoid downtown.”

Heidi Owen West

Claim to Fame: Owner of downtown clothing boutiques Lifestyles of Saratoga, Caroline + Main and Union Hall Supply Co. (and its upcoming sister store in Albany); Downtown Business Association VP; and mastermind behind some of downtown’s most elaborate window displays

On Saratoga: “People that I’ve met throughout my life know that I’m here, so anyone who’s passing through Saratoga will pop in [the store]. Those unexpected moments with people I haven’t seen since high school are super fun.”

Susan Dake

Claim to Fame: President of the Stewart’s Foundation and chair of the SPAC board, among other philanthropic endeavors

On Saratoga: “In Saratoga, there has always been this commitment to giving back and making the community stronger. The Waits, the Dakes, the Grandes…I’m probably going to leave out all the other very important people because I wasn’t here then. They really made this community what it was, but also set it up for people to understand that if you’re going to be a member of this community, you’re going to be supportive. You’re going to give of your time and your talent and your money.”

Ciara Meyer

Claim to Fame: President and co-founder (supported by a teen A-team CFO, VP and others) of Stories for Success, a nonprofit that provides literacy materials and a children’s book to every baby born at Saratoga Hospital

On Saratoga: “We founded Stories for Success to improve childhood literacy, because that’s a big issue everywhere—even in a community that’s perceived as being well off like Saratoga. Saratoga has so many amazing opportunities, but not everyone has access to them.” 

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