Green Pepper’s Mark Perrin dishes out pizza — alongside generous helpings of community service

MIDDLEBURY — When you think of Green Peppers Restaurant in Middlebury what comes to mind? Build your own pizza? Huge family salads, shrink-wrapped in cellophane? Hearty homemade soups or subs? How about those Magic Eye posters that used to line the hall?
If you don’t remember, Magic Eyes were a fad in the ‘90s. Technically they’re called random dot autostereograms; 2-D patterns that become 3-D when you look at the image just right. They were so popular, that a series of three books were published and, according to Wikipedia, they spent a cumulative total of 73 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Anyway, Green Peppers had the books and a bunch of framed Magic Eye posters — the perfect way to spend a few minutes waiting for your order.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve taught” how to see the 3-D images, said Mark Perrin, who established Green Peppers with his wife, Donna, in 1993. “You’ve got to let your eyes cross and look at your reflection in the glass.”
Though taking the time to teach a customer how to see a Magic Eye seems simple, it’s a small example of how committed Perrin is to education and his community. Perrin, himself, counts 46 years of school board experience (if you count a separate year for each board he’s on). Right now he’s a member on the Mary Hogan, Patricia A. Hannaford and ACSU school boards; he’s also a member of the State Board of Education.
Perrin has also been involved with agriculture. “We’ve had one foot in ag and one foot in the restaurant business,” Perrin said. It’s been that way ever since his family raised sheep on his wife’s family farm on Creek Road. The Perrins bought the farm in 1990 where they raised their four children and had their own agri-tourism yarn shop.
Perrin’s ag-side-of-life brought him to NOFA, Vermont Fresh, Vermont Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce; he’s also been active with Hunger Free Vermont since its inception in the early ‘90s.
“Being in the food industry and understanding nourishment and proper nutrition really turned me on to Hunger Free Vermont,” said Perrin, adding that the work he does with Hunger Free Vermont dovetails nicely with his school board and restaurant work. He said that Green Peppers produces very little waste; they give pre-consumer waste to local farmers who use it to feed their pigs. “We’ve never had a shortage of farmers wanting our scraps,” he said.
“My wife and I have always viewed the restaurant business as a form of income, but also a way to do good in our community,” said Perrin. “We are supported so much by local people — it’s really the locals that drive this business — so we try to give back as much as we can.”
One way Perrin gives back to locals is through employment.
Green Peppers hires a lot of high school kids. “One of the first things I tell them is that this job is their fifth responsibility in life,” he explained. “Your first responsibility is to yourself, what makes you tick? Then to your family, school, extracurriculars and finally your job here.
“Everybody who works here is transitioning somewhere,” said Perrin, who counts himself, his step-daughter Amy Sweet (who’s the general manager and has been working at Green Peppers for 25 years) and a few others as committed “full-timers.” Sure that means he’s got a fair amount of employee turnover, but Perrin doesn’t view that as a bad thing. “These kids are taking different pathways to success, and while they’re here we teach them hard work, stress management, team play and responsibility… we really are teachers.”
It makes sense that one of Perrin’s mantras at work is “always teach someone how to do something.” Not only is it good for someone’s education, but having employees who are versatile and well-rounded in the fast-paced pizza business is a necessity.
“The restaurant business is pretty much 24-7,” he said. “It stops short of the commitment a dairy farm takes, but it’s a close second.”
Perrin learned the restaurant business while on the job. In fact, he was on track to become a commercial pilot and earned his aeronautical degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., before switching gears, moving back to his home state and attending the University of Vermont for a degree in business. Perrin asked UVM for a leave of absence in 1982 to pursue the opportunity to run a pizza business with his brother, father and one of his father’s friends. “I took another big turn,” he said. “It happens… It was part of my path to be a contributing member of a community.”
The four business partners bought Zachary’s Pizza in the spring of 1982 and ran five Mr. Z’s restaurants in Vermont for about a decade. When kids started coming onto the horizon, the family broke up the chain and the Perrins took over Middlebury’s Mr. Z’s. They changed the name to Green Peppers in ‘93. Through it all, the pizza recipe is pretty much the same Greek recipe Charlie Zachary used in his original pies.
“The pizza recipe is really a bread recipe,” said Perrin. Chefs at Green Peppers don’t throw the dough up in the air; it’s rolled and flattened into pans. Aside from the switch to Full Sun Company’s sunflower oil, and more local ingredients, not much has changed on the Green Peppers menu.
“We want a good consistent product that’s affordable,” said Perrin, who’s pretty much handed the day-to-day operations over to Sweet. “I come in to fix the water faucet,” he said half-joking.
A few years ago when the establishment got a makeover — new ceilings, walls, floors… you name it — the Magic Eye posters came down. But people kept asking about them, so Perrin put two back up: Lady Liberty and Guardians of the Deep. If you haven’t tried them yet, stop by and see if you can see the 3-D images. If you need some help, don’t be shy; Perrin’s a great teacher.
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