Meet the chef: The Marquis; it’s more than just the movies

MIDDLEBURY — There are plenty of reasons to love Addison County. We’ve got sprawling farmland, a giant summer fair, historic villages, a vibrant shiretown, lakes for swimming and mountains for hiking — you name it. But there’s one thing our beloved home has sorely lacked.
Mexican food.
Washington County’s got the Mad Taco. Chittenden County’s got El Gato Cantina and El Corjito. Windsor County’s got the Mojo Cafe. So what can Addison County residents do when we crave spicy peppers and guacamole?
The somewhat surprising answer lives inside The Marquis, Middlebury’s downtown movie theater. From the building’s exterior, you might not guess that inside, chefs are serving up homemade Southwestern cuisine five nights a week. The kitchen is open Wednesdays through Sundays, and the chefs aren’t messing around.
Anywhere else, you might expect movie theater nachos to come with goopy imitation cheese, but at the Marquis, your tortilla chips are topped with Cabot — their choice brand for all the restaurant’s dairy products, right down to the butter on your popcorn.
The newest menu item: a quesadilla with tequila-caramelized onions and peppers, shredded cheddar, homemade queso fresco, pico de gallo, the diner’s choice of meat, and a new fan-favorite sauce called “garlantro” (combining garlic and cilantro).
“We’re making everything from scratch now,” says Sarah Giard, the theater’s general manager. “We use real tomatillos — we don’t open No. 10 cans. We cook beans, all of our sauces are homemade, we make the adobo that we use in our sauces — everything.”
Giard is no stranger to Vermont’s restaurant business. She’s worked at Britsol’s Bobcat Cafe for seven years and still tends bar there when she’s not at the Marquis. When she first joined the theater’s team about a year ago, she planned to manage the staff and bar. But with her culinary experience and a culinary degree and hospitality training from Paul Smith’s College, she now oversees the kitchen and its three staff members, including the main chef, Thomas Ahearn.
Giard signed on soon after current owner Ben Wells bought the theater from Bill Schafer, who had been a joint owner until then.
It was Schafer who thought of adding a restaurant to the theater — he had managed the Big Picture theater in Waitsfield for a number of years (and therefore understood the euphoria that occurs when food and movies exist in the same space). Then he met Wells, who had recently moved to Middlebury to attend the college’s language school.
“Somebody made an introduction, and (Bill and I) started talking,” Wells said. “He thought he wanted to do Southwestern, and I thought it was such a good fit because I managed a southwestern restaurant for five years in Boulder. So when he said that, it was like, ‘OK, this is meant to be.’”
Since Giard has arrived, the Marquis’s restaurant (located through a door to the right of the ticket counter) has seen new layers of blue, green and red paint. Chili-pepper lights adorn a blackboard, which lists menu items in colorful chalk: burritos, tacos, nachos, salads, quesadillas and sides.
And it’s not missing an essential feature: A fully-stocked, tequila-themed bar, featuring small-batch spirits from local distilleries like Stonecutter’s, App Gap and Whistle Pig, now sits beside the kitchen. A robust collection of local craft beer is displayed in a fridge to the right.
With so many different components, Giard thinks the Marquis is an ideal venue for a first date.
“If you’re going for a movie, you grab a couple of burritos, something awesome to drink, and you go snuggle on the couch,” she said. “Where else can you do that? It’s just this whole different level of intimacy. You’re sharing food, the alcohol loosens you up, you’re on the couches — you’re so much more comfortable than you would be in a movie theater where you have to sit in a seat and awkwardly share a popcorn. It’s the next level of what going on a date to the movies should be.”
For a more interactive experience, the theater holds weekly events, including open-mic nights, trivia, Retro Game Show Night, stand-up comedy, movie roasts and ladies’ nights.
“And then on Fridays,” said Wells, “if there isn’t something specific happening, we just put up a movie in the cafe. People come in and just hang out. It’s a very casual but social kind of thing where you can sit at the bar, you can eat some dinner, you can have some cocktails, you can hang out with your friends.”
In most cases, these events are free, and the kitchen is always open. For up-to-date information about events, visit the Marquis’s Facebook page and website, middleburymarquis.com.
Wells has seen considerable growth in the last year, and he hopes to continue to draw new Addison County residents into the theater, away from the stressors of daily life.
“The chance to go to the movies has always been that suspended disbelief,” he says. “I think every time you go out to dinner, part of why you’re going out is the food, but so much more of it is the broader letting go, being social, just having fun.”

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