Meet the Chef: Cora Waag from the Halfway House in Shoreham
As she stood behind the long counter at the Halfway House Restaurant, owner Cora Waag explained her family’s secret to 40 years of success in small-town Shoreham.
“We’re in a rural spot. You either live in this area or you’re on your way somewhere,” she said. “Shoreham is not necessarily a destination. We’re our own draw. We have good, hearty food and big plates. No one leaves hungry.”
The Halfway House — located on Route 22A half way between Vergennes and Fair Haven, and Rutland and Burlington — was built in 1951 by Cecil and Florence Barrows. In 1976, Waag’s mother, Denise Gibeault, bought the restaurant and ran it for 23 years.
When she was ready to retire, Gibeault went to her daughter for coffee and a deal.
“She came over one morning and said, ‘How about a cup of coffee and you buy the restaurant?’” Waag recalled.
Waag and her husband, Dave, bought the restaurant, kept the staff, kept the menu and for the past 17 years, have remained dedicated to the hard work of running a restaurant daily from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For the Waags this includes maintenance, which Dave takes care of; interior decorating, Cora’s specialty; cooking; painting; cleaning and anything else that needs tending to.
“This is a homemade spot,” Waag said.
It’s also a family-run spot. Waag’s cousin Chrissy LaRoche is in the kitchen, preparing the delicious food that keeps locals coming back and travelers walking in.
Waag’s two children, Kali Waag, 30, and Justin Waag, 28, helped out when they were kids and now Kali’s own kids, five-year-old twins Justin and Zoe, are part of the crew.
“When my mom owned it, we got off the school bus and did dishes,” Waag explained. “My own kids stood on buckets and washed dishes. They peeled potatoes, bused tables and made pizza. Now Justin and Zoe, at five, are peeling potatoes and standing on buckets too. Everyone is helping out like in any family business.”
Even many of the recipes are passed down from Waag’s mother and grandmother. Their pickled beet recipe, for example, was originally Waag’s grandmother’s, tweaked for the Halfway House of today.
“The menu and the food has been developed over the years,” Waag said. “There are things that have been here since my mom was here. We taste, and adjust them though. We ask, ‘What do you think? Taste it, what does it need? A pinch of this, a pinch of that.’”
And yet, some things at the Halfway House never change. Thursday and Saturday chicken and biscuits, corn chowder on Wednesdays, breakfast all day and a top-secret gravy recipe; these are staples at the local spot.
So are the old-school decorations, bright green booths and metal bar stools lining the counter.
“We hold a lot of memories for a lot of people,” Waag said. “Kids come and sit on the stool with their grandparents. We have customers who are third and fourth generation. Their families have been coming here for that long.”
And if they’ve been there once, Waag is sure to remember them when they come back.
“We know lots of people by their first names,” she said. “Or by their faces, if we don’t know their name, we know who they are and what they eat.”
The restaurant is also an important part of the Shoreham community. As patrons of Dinners with Love for the past five years, the restaurant provides a meal for families in hospice once a week. They also source most of their ingredients from local farms and orchards.
“We use local foods. And we’re just doing it because we’ve always been doing it,” Waag said.
As customers filed in for breakfast one day last week, Waag greeted each by name, and sat them down to explore the daily specials, including a pancake and egg extravaganza.
“We’re small and homey place,” she told a visitor. “It’s like eating with your family, if you have anything private, this isn’t the place.”
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