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Bar Antidote owner to open new brew pub in Vergennes

VERGENNES — Chef-owner Ian Huizenga of Vergennes establishment Bar Antidote will soon double the collection of hyphens before his name.
Huizenga, a Bristol-area native, is set to become the chef-brewer-owner of Hired Hand Brewing Co. when it officially opens this weekend at the corner of School and Green streets, upstairs from Bar Antidote — Friday is the target date.
Hired Hand will offer at least a half-dozen of Huizenga’s craft beers, including in growlers, plus wine and soda on tap, other cocktails, and a menu of pizza, salad, house-smoked meats (which will be found on the pizzas and on their own platters), and other light fare.
In some ways, Huizenga said, Hired Hand will tap into the same vein that he believes has allowed Bar Antidote to succeed in the tough restaurant sector since it moved from the Stephens House on Main Street to Green Street seven-and-a-half years ago, when Huizenga came aboard.
“We want to expand on the Antidote business,” he said. “Just another completely unpretentious place where people can come and hang out and enjoy themselves.”
But unlike Bar Antidote’s basement space, which Huizenga describes as “cozy,” Hired Hand, to be open seven days a week, will offer big windows at street level facing west and north.
“It’s going to be above-ground, with a lot of daylight. The ambiance is going to be night and day. The silver paint is going to reflect the light bulbs,” he said. “In daylight this place glows.”
Certainly, Huizenga has the cooking background to produce two menus. At 39, he already has 25 years of experience in the restaurant business, starting at Cubber’s in Bristol. 
After that, he worked in the Basin Harbor Club kitchen, and also took seasonal jobs in Florida, Rhode Island and Massachusetts “learning to cook, working under people,” he said.
Back in Addison County, Huizenga cooked for East Middlebury’s Waybury Inn and Middlebury’s Storm Café, and then after a stint in Stowe returned here to join former partner Harper Michaels to move Bar Antidote to its current location.
“We’d been talking for a while about adding a food component to the Antidote,” Huizenga recalled. “Vergennes never had a place where you could have a burger and a beer and sit and hang out, so we wanted to create that element.”
They settled on the downstairs space at the corner of Green and School streets. At first, Huizenga said, he and a dishwasher produced a 10-item burger-and-salad menu. Now, Bar Antidote, open Tuesday through Saturday, offers a regularly changing variety of appetizers, sandwiches and entrees, in the summer months serves on a small patio, and presents musical acts.
“We spent three months gutting that and rebuilding it, really with just the idea of putting in a really simple pub menu. And then the food component just grew from then on. I wasn’t really planning on doing half the stuff, or three-quarters of the stuff, we’re doing down there now,” Huizenga said. “It slowly started gaining traction as we started adjusting our cuisine and making better food.”
Bar Antidote survived the recession, its basement space and the lack of a sign — in late September a vertical sign finally arrived advertising both Bar Antidote and Hired Hand. Huizenga described it as a roller coaster ride.
“We’ve never had any curb appeal. We’ve been in a basement,” he said. “So from the very beginning we’ve had to make an exceptional product and build word of mouth. The people in Vergennes have been tremendously supportive of us.”
The decision to add the new venture came from a combination of opportunity and motives: The first-floor space opened when longtime tenant The Clock Shop moved to Kennedy Brothers; the idea of above-ground space was tempting; Huizenga could grow sales of his beer, which is already on tap at Bar Antidote and Bristol’s Bobcat Café, where it is brewed; and the creation of Hired Hand allows longtime employees to assume greater responsibilities.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have good staff,” he said. “And if I want to keep good staff, because they’re going to want to grow and make money and have their own input, the only way I was really totally comfortable doing that was, OK, we expand up, we grow vertical in the same building.”
Another benefit Huizenga foresees in expanding upstairs is to better take advantage of business in the summer months, typically among the most profitable for Vermont restaurants, but not the best for Bar Antidote. His customer feedback has been telling.
“They’ve said, we’d definitely dine with you in the summertime, but it’s gorgeous out and you’re in a basement,” Huizenga said. “My summers are not the greatest months, and those are good months for most places.”
As well as being thankful for his customers and their feedback, Huizenga is grateful to Hogback Brewing for helping him distribute his beer, Erin Chamoff and Sanderson Wheeler at the Bobcat for cooperating with his brewing venture, and to his landlord, Hans Vorsteveld of Panton, for working with him on helping get this project off the ground.
Among other things, Vorsteveld agreed to apply to the Vergennes City Council for a $95,000 loan from a city revolving loan fund. Of that, $20,000 will help create handicap access to and extra outside seating space for Hired Hand and handicap access to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, and the remaining $75,000 will allow Huizenga to consolidate and save money on debt incurred to get Hired Hand off the ground, including credit card payments.
“Hans Vorsteveld has been absolutely awesome,” Huizenga said. “He’s been so proactive with this property and with me.”
As for the name of his new business, Huizenga said many local grains are used in his beers, and his family has a strong farming background.  
“Always on my grandparents’ farm we had hired hands who came in and worked,” he said. “This is an agricultural community.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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