March 1985 cover

No Reservations Here

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Restaurateurs still bring passion to the job

Twenty years ago, our March 1985 issue featured what is arguably the best cover we ever produced. We collected a group of popular restaurateurs, dressed them up in medieval costumes from the University of Vermont's Royall Tyler Theatre and just stood back and watched the fun as Sanders Milens took the photo.

  1. March 1985 cover diagramBurr Vail
  2. Jack Hurley
  3. Gene Cenci
  4. Danielle Ducrot
  5. Zeke Church
  6. Tony DiRuocco
  7. Greg Premo
  8. Emily Church
  9. Andre Ducrot

The nine individuals on that cover represented seven popular area restaurants: Burr Vail of Carbur's; Jack Hurley of the Daily Planet; Gene Cenci of the Sheraton and its restaurant Caroline's; Andre and Danielle Ducrot of Café Shelburne; Zeke and Emily Church of Tucker Hill Lodge; Tony DiRuocco of Villa Tragara; and Greg Premo of the Redwood Inn and its Pot Belly Restaurant.

In the accompanying article, we interviewed those on the cover plus a bunch more about the local restaurant scene, zeroing in on the question: Where would you take guests for dinner within an evening's drive, excluding your own restaurant?

In honor of our 20th anniversary year, we thought a trip down memory lane was in order, not only to find out what those folks are doing now, but also to look at a few other restaurants that have opened in the last two decades and, with luck, find out where those restaurateurs go out to eat.

Of the venues represented on that 1985 cover, only three remain in business under the same name: the Daily Planet, Cafe Shelburne and Tucker Hill.

Greg Premo sold the Redwood Inn in the early 1990s and retired to Florida. That Shelburne Road property housed the Olde Heidelberg, a German restaurant, for years, but is now McCarty's.

Nearly 14 years ago, Jack Hurley sold the Daily Planet to Copey Houghton, who says Hurley's "down in Charleston, S.C., and still dabbles in aspects of the business, doing sauces and things along those lines."

Patrick Grangien

Houghton claims he has never been able to choose a favorite dish on his menu he likes them all. As for what he likes about the business?"Just the people themselves," he says, "just being in the hospitality business."

Asked where he'd take guests for dinner, if not the Planet, Houghton mentions four downtown spots: Smoke Jacks, Leunig's Bistro, Five Spice Café and Opaline.

In 1988, Patrick Grangien and his wife, Christine, bought Café Shelburne from the Ducrots. Grangien is a French-trained chef who apprenticed when he was 16 and worked in some of the top restaurants there and in this country.

We loved his response to the question about where he would take guests for dinner if not his restaurant. "I guess I'd take them home!" he exclaims. "I'd cook for them, and I would enjoy doing that." Zeke and Emily Church

Zeke and Emily Church

Tucker Hill Lodge is known as Tucker Hill Inn nowadays. The Churches sold it to Baron Resources Corp. in 1986. Zeke stayed on as a consultant for a while. He was hired to run the Sugarbush Lodging Division in 1989 and, in 1994, bought that division from Sugarbush, changing the name to the Sugarbush Property Group Inc.

In 1985, Church mentioned Al's French Frys as his favorite restaurant; but these days, he tries to stay away from carbo-temptation. "Definitely, the place you can go that's always perfect, every time, is the Pitcher Inn, right here in town. And the place you always take friends when they visit, without question, is Flatbread."

Burr Vail sold Carbur's a few years ago, but food service remains part of his life. He and his wife, Linda, own Hacienda Tamarindo, a 16-room gem on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. It is, in the words of Conde Nast Traveler, "a charming oceanfront inn [that] has a youthful clientele and a terrific (breakfast) restaurant." They have kept their links to Vermont. Linda is the principal of Vail Design Group, a Colchester firm that designs commercial interiors.

Partners Gene Cenci and Gary Farrell sold the Sheraton a few years back, and Cenci, now retired, divides his time between Florida and Vermont. Farrell had bought the Ramada Inn, just a quarter-mile east of the Sheraton on Williston Road and remains its owner, having linked it with Clarion Hotels in 1999 and, just last month, announced that the hotel will become a Doubletree Hotel" a Hilton brand this year.

We caught up with Rick Millikin, general manager at the Clarion, former general manager at the Sheraton, who recently hired Bill Hackett longtime food service manager at various area restaurants, including, most recently, the Sheraton as food and beverage manager. "We have the same team all over here that we had running the food operation at the Sheraton in the '90s," says Millikin.

Trader Duke's, the Clarion's family-style restaurant, is a local institution with a strong following, and it's not expected to change names when the switch to Doubletree is made. "Our restaurant is smokin!" Millikin exclaims, citing a 27 percent annual increase.

"I like to say our business is really a restaurant with a hotel attached," quips Hackett.

When Millikin goes out for dinner, it's usually to Trattoria Delia, he says. Hackett likes to take summer guests to the Inn at Shelburne Farms.

Tony DiRuocco closed Villa Tragara a little over three years ago and sold the property to Swiss-born chef Michael Kloeti, who opened Michael's on the Hill. The classically trained chef offers a European menu featuring rabbit, seafood, beef, pork and pasta dishes. He brings with him experience in Switzerland, New York City and Hawaii.

Kloeti's favorite dish on his menu is wild mushroom gnocchi with truffle butter and chives emulsion. When he's not eating in, he likes to visit the Old Vienna Tearoom or the Blue Moon, both in Stowe.

Our 1985 question about where chefs eat out was inspired by a comment from the owner of Kohala Mauna, a Polynesian restaurant on Shelburne Road in South Burlington, who said he liked Italian food. Denny's occupies that space today.

Jim Benware

Jim Benware

Denny's opened here 12 years ago and was recently bought by Jim Benware, who owned the McDonald's franchise until last September. He also bought the Denny's restaurants in Rutland and in West Lebanon, N.H. Benware likes the family-casual dining environment. "I think it's where the move is in the future," he says.

He has literally cleaned house in the properties, fixed ripped benches, ordered new uniforms, and added lights inside and in the parking lot, a real plus for a late-night visitors to the 24-hour-a-day business. While Denny's menus are set by the parent corporation, franchisees may add items. The restaurant serves breakfast all day, and Benware wants to put genuine maple syrup on his menu.

Benware likes the hibachi grill at Koto when he's dining out.

Jack and Eileen Fontaine

Jack and Eileen Fontaine

It's Jack Fontaine's 33rd year at the Rusty Scuffer on Church Street. "I bought it when I was 21, not that I'm that old," he quips. He and his wife, Eileen, whom he married in 1986, put time in daily. Fontaine says he's able to keep prices "very reasonable, because we own the building."

He likes having been in business long enough to meet third generations of customers.

At the restaurant, Fontaine dines on his favorite veal Oscar once a week. He and Eileen make an annual trip to Stowe to a little Italian restaurant right adjacent to TopNotch called Trattoria La Festa. "Eileen's favorite place to take people," he says, "is the Ethan Allen Club on Saturday nights."

Bob Conlon

Bob Conlon

Leunig's Bistro has been a Burlington institution "since 1980 or '81," says Bob Conlon, the manager, who has been in the business since age 15. "I've been here all except the first year it was open." He's been there under more than one owner, too. The current owner is Robert Fuller, who also owns Pauline's in South Burlington and the Bobcat Café in Bristol, and is a partner in Gillian's in Shelburne and Cubber's Restaurant in Bristol.

Leunig's sits at the corner of College and Church, "the center of town," says Conlon, who compares it to Cheers.""We have lots of regular customers, and lots of long-term employees who know their customers by name. Leunig's is also a favorite place for tourists, he says.

Conlon's favorite dish is the duck confit en cassoulet. He says that when people come to visit, his wife always says, "Let's go to Leunig's." Other restaurants he likes are the Silver Palace, the Rusty Scuffer, L'Amanta and Augie's Island Grill.

Yvon Robert

Yvon Robert

No mention of "institutions" would be complete without the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, which has been around for close to 50 years, according to Yvon Robert, food and beverage director. "The Trapps always fed people," he says.

Training dining room staff to be friendly and outgoing is as important to making sure you do things correctly, says Robert, "even though we try to do those, also."

Robert is particularly fond of fish, and eats it often. "We always buy fresh, never frozen," he says. He is noncommittal on the question of where he eats out. "In the Stowe area, there are at least 12 to 15 restaurants I don't mind having dinner at," he says.

Frankie Salese

Frankie Salese

Junior's Italian Restaurant in Colchester was opened 14 years ago by Frankie Salese Jr., a New York restaurateur who came to Vermont to raise his family. He cooks using "old country" recipes, some of which came from his great-grandmother. Junior's is actually three places in one: a main-floor pizzeria, a fine-dining room upstairs and a bakery in the lower level.

The best thing about being in the restaurant business, he says, "is making people happy, satisfying people's culinary appetite."

Salese satisfies his appetite with zuppa di pesce, a concoction of fresh mussels, whole clams, calamari, snow crab and shrimp sauteéd in white wine garlic sauce.

Connie Jacobs Warden, the chef/owner of Chow!Bella Restaurant, opened her St. Albans business eight years ago. It has earned quite a reputation for well-prepared, beautifully presented food at lunch and dinner. "We make our food with love," Warden exclaims passionately. "As strange as that sounds, it's true."

There's nothing on the menu Warden doesn't like. "One day I'm madly in love with the roasted vegetable salad, next day, the hamburger is so great, organic local beef, so it's an unfair question." For dining out occasions, she likes Le Bistro Seely in Dunham, Quebec, "a petite France," she says.

Jon FathJon Fath

Toscano Café/Bistro in Richmond was opened two years ago on the heels of an institution, the Daily Bread, which called the building home for years. "I was a musician for many years in this state, and for me it was a career change in my 30s," says NECI-trained Jon Fath, who owns Toscano with his wife, Lucie.

"We call it 'romantic dining in a casual atmosphere,'" says Fath. "That's what this place is all about. There's a nice sort of Mediterranean/northern Italian scene going on here; we use ingredients from those regions, have beautiful artisan bread at dinner and extra virgin olive oil, kalamata olives we serve with every meal."

Fath especially likes the grilled beef tenderloin with peppercorn demi-glace. "It comes with bacon mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus," he says. When they're not working and can get away, the Faths enjoy the Starry Night Café in North Ferrisburgh and the new Montpelier restaurant The Black Door.

There's little doubt that passion plays a large part in this business. Why else would people put in the grueling hours of work and training it takes to get it right?

Rick Millikin could be speaking for all our subjects when he says, "For me, it's not only the people. Remember, when people come to your restaurant or banquet or wedding, they're coming to celebrate. And if you do it right, they leave in a happy mood, and you get instant gratification ... every day."

Originally published in March 2005 Business People-Vermont