3 Squares Cafe to change its address in Vergennes

VERGENNES — In early March, after nine years of serving items like challah French toast and turkey, bacon and Swiss panini, Vergennes restaurant 3 Squares Café will move about two blocks north from its long-time home at 221 Main St.
The destination is 141 Main St., the former home of Luigi’s Italian Specialties, which about a year ago after a lengthy planning phase decamped for 193 Main St., which once housed the former Hungry Bear Restaurant.
“We’re all playing musical restaurants right now,” said 3 Squares owner Matt Birong, 38, a Chittenden County native who bought the former Eat Good Food eatery in January 2007 and changed its name.
Birong said his construction dust will be settled in about six or seven weeks, when his business — for now still hopping at 221 Main in the Stone Block — will have closed and re-opened in its new location. 
Birong said he has enjoyed working with Stone Block owners Tom Jackman and Andy McCabe and that his business has done well despite the timing of his purchase just before the 2008 recession struck.
3 Squares’ revenue stream has doubled in its nine years, he said.
“We’ve shown very steady growth,” Birong said. “It was a little nerve-wracking for the first two or three years, but even in the first two or three years we still actually managed to maintain growth.”
In fact, with their most recent lease set to expire at the end of March, Birong and his wife, Danelle, a real estate broker, had been looking at buying into the Stone Block.
But at the same time, Birong, who cooked in New York City and Burlington after training at the New England Culinary Institute, said the layout of 3 Squares’ space was never ideal.
“It’s just been, I don’t want to say difficult, but cumbersome to work in that space,” he said.
And the former Luigi’s space, while almost the same size, including outdoor seating, offers more accessible storage and cooler space, a larger and more functional kitchen, and better customer access to the service counter and rest rooms.
“They’re virtually identical, they really are. It’s just that there is a better flow to it,” Birong said.
The larger kitchen will allow him to expand both his catering business and his workforce, he said, estimating he will add between two and five employees in the May to October boom months and probably one year-round.
“We’re turning away catering business as it is right now because we don’t have the ability to do the work out of the space,” Birong said. “Now, with this build-out we’ll be able to take on a lot more catering work and grow that end of our business in the peak season.”
Birong is also excited to be able to customize his own kitchen for the first time in his career.
“This is an opportunity for me to build out a kitchen that for the most part will be how I want it,” he said.  
Once 3 Squares’ customers have adapted to the change, Birong will look to using that new kitchen to expand the menu.
“We want to do more with the food, absolutely. We’re going to have a lot more toys in the kitchen,” he said.
Rent at the new location will be comparable, and Birong estimated the fit-up costs at 141 Main, which is in the Ryan Block next to Sweet Charity and across from the Vergennes city green, will end up at around $50,000 or $60,000, less than the Birongs planned on spending to retrofit the basement and make other improvements at 221 Main.
They had been working with the National Bank of Middlebury on buying into the Stone Block, and Birong said it took just “two phone calls and an email” to switch over to a construction loan for 141 Main.
That construction, going on behind the paper blanketing his new space’s plate-glass windows, is on schedule, he said.
“We’re targeting the first week of March right now to be up and running,” Birong said. “Where we are right now, we’ve pulled the whole place apart, and we’re putting it back together again … and we didn’t hit any unforeseen expensive problems, and we’ve checked the majority of the big stuff off the list.”
The Birongs did debate the pluses and minuses, the latter including 3 Squares’ visibility from its elevated corner and its customer base’s familiarity with the existing site.
But they are confident customers can find a new nearby location, and the new home has its positives, Birong said.
“Now we have direct access to the park and everything that goes on there,” he said. “It’s a little bit more of that Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell shot, with the park, the gazebo, the opera house, the church. It’s that sort of quintessential Vermont town square sort of thing.”
That small-town atmosphere is important to the Birongs, he said.
“It’s been a wonderful stay in the town so far. The community has been fabulous,” Birong said. “We truly feel we have become a part of it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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