Life to return to city restaurant: Black Sheep head adds to portfolio

VERGENNES — Local restaurateur Michel Mahé will soon have two operations on Main Street in Vergennes — and five in the Champlain Valley.
In April, Mahé plans to open the Park Squeeze, keeping that name, adding it to a restaurant portfolio that already includes the Black Sheep Bistro further west along Main Street, Bristol’s Bobcat Café and Shelburne’s Bearded Frog.
By later this year, the native of France intends to open a new venture on Otter Creek in Middlebury in the building that most recently housed Jackson’s on the River and once was home to Tully and Marie’s and Woody’s Restaurant.
The new Vergennes effort is now on Mahé’s front burner. He will lease the Park Squeeze space from an Alexandria, Va., concern that does business as Two Creeks LLC, which bought the Park Squeeze property from former owner Betsy Vick for $225,000 in October.
Mahé said he will open a 60-seat eatery in the narrow, two-story space in April, although he cannot at this point predict an exact date.
“There are too many balls in the air right now,” Mahé said. “But definitely in April.”
He is surer of his concept. Mahé will retain the Park Squeeze name that Vick created in 2006 when she opened in the former Park Restaurant space, and essentially duplicate the formula he said has worked well at his Bristol restaurant.
“It’s just like the Bobcat Café, except it’s on two floors,” Mahé said, citing 35 seats downstairs and 25 upstairs, including barstools and tables.
That means pub décor, a full liquor license (aldermen approved it at their most recent meeting), craft beers on tap, and what he called affordable fare, most notably flatbread pizzas and burgers with an average entrée priced at $12 or $13. 
“It’s really going to be a local pub atmosphere … with flatbread, burgers, bar bites, with when-you-don’t-want-to cook-at-home prices,” Mahé said.
The chef-owner has in mind a specific third major food line, but is trying to determine if the Park Squeeze’s not-so-large kitchen can accommodate the plan. Regardless, he pledged plenty of variety on the menu.
“There’s another core concept … but it’s driven by the space we can do it in,” Mahé said. “It will be a little more no matter what.”
Mahé said residents can plan on dropping in almost anytime, although he will let the quantity of late-evening sales eventually determine the closing hour.
“We’re working on hours right now … It all depends on the bar business,” Mahé said. “We’re going to be open seven days, I know that, but I don’t know how late it will be (each night).”
Knowing that the Park Squeeze plans were in the pipeline, Mahé closed his Main Street, Vergennes, tavern the Up Top Café in November. He said it didn’t make sense to keep the Up Top open during the slow winter months.
“Now that we have another bar in town, I know there won’t be enough room,” he said, adding, “The real draw to the Up Top was that outside deck.”
The heart of the Up Top will also beat at the Park Squeeze.
“I’m moving my management team over, and I’m moving my equipment over,” Mahé said.
The new venture will also mean additional employment on Main Street. Mahé joked he was one of the “job creators” mentioned so often in the November election.
“Most likely 15 jobs are being produced,” he said.
As for the Middlebury venture, he said permits, architectural and design work, and final menu (which he has said will also include flatbread and burgers, as well as a more extensive entrée selection) and concept planning will require much more of his attention.
Although Mahé expects some demolition work at the Bakery Lane building to begin next month, a target opening date on Bakery Lane is in August or September.
“It’s a much more complicated project,” he said.
Given that he will be overseeing four restaurants by then, waiting until then to open in Middlebury is fine with Mahé.
“I don’t want to have two new ones in the summer,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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