Two Brothers gets a facelift

MIDDLEBURY — One afternoon last week, in the newly renovated kitchen of Two Brothers Tavern’s underground Lounge, executive chef Matt Corrente prepped one Neapolitan pizza after another to the cranked-up backdrop of Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” Surrounded by boxes and soon-to-be installed equipment, Corrente moved about the new kitchen space, whose chic black walls create an open facade that protrudes out of the corner next to the bar.
Since November, Corrente and his colleagues have had to rely on this small kitchen, built to produce a limited menu of Neapolitan pizza and sandwiches, for all of their food sales. The upstairs kitchen — which has supplied Two Brothers customers with the wings, lobster mac and cheese and poutine they’ve come to love over the past 15 years — is undergoing a major renovation.
Make no mistake, Two Brothers is open for business. The Tavern opens at 4 p.m. on weekdays, 11:30 a.m. on weekends and closes at 2 a.m. every night. But operating in the midst of ongoing construction has been tricky, according to owner Holmes Jacobs.
“It’s been creative,” he said. “All the food has to go up and outside — we have food runners that run the food up. So that’s been interesting.”
But the project was born out of necessity. “We were faced with three options,” Jacobs said. “Either pay for the kitchen to get redone, sell the business or move the business. None of those were terribly attractive options, but we didn’t want to go anywhere. We wanted to stay right here. So we decided we had to find the money and rebuild the kitchen.”
According to Jacobs, the former kitchen’s limited capacity forced Two Brothers to occasionally turn guests away at the door, which was not good for the business’s bottom line. Not only will the new kitchen give the kitchen staff the ability to serve a larger crowd, it will also contain entirely new appliances and have better insulation within the basic structure, which Jacobs called a much-needed upgrade in terms of energy efficiency.
“It was just cinder blocks. There was no insulation at all,” he said. “So it was hot as Hades in the summer and just freezing cold in the winter.” The new structure will contain several windows, which, along with the additional space and improved temperature regulation, were included specifically to boost the spirits of the staff.
“We really wanted to get some natural light into the place,” he said. “And that’s another big part of it: A really nice, professional work environment is just great for morale. We really wanted to give that to our staff. They’ve earned it. What they’ve been doing out of that kitchen for 15 years — they’ve been working miracles. It’s amazing.”
For the guests, many parts of the Two Brothers experience will stay the same — the menu, the dollar bills that cloak the ceiling — but they might notice a change at the bar. The expansion will allow the Tavern to significantly expand its draft beer selection, from 16 to 24 lines (32 in total, including the Lounge). Jacobs said most of these drafts will be local Vermont craft beers, and the selection will rotate almost daily.
Those who frequent the Lounge might notice a change in decor, along with new, altered hours. The kitchen, which has supplied Two Brothers’ guests with pizza and sandwiches for the past few months while the restaurant has been in flux, will soon become a separate part of the business. While it will hold on to the nightlife piece, staying open until 2 a.m., it will add a steadier food component, serving the current menu — pizza and sandwiches — every night starting at 5 p.m.
“I reached out to Green Peppers and Flatbread to let them know what we were doing,” Jacobs said. “Neapolitan-style pizza is distinctly different from what they’re doing. It doesn’t make sense for any of us to be doing the same thing.”
Two Brothers will celebrate the end of construction with two grand re-openings: one for the upstairs kitchen, and one for the new setup in the Lounge downstairs. The first, to celebrate the main kitchen, will take place in mid-April, and the second will come several weeks later, when the staff has had time to redesign the downstairs space. Updates will be given on Two Brothers’ website.
Though the renovation has been somewhat tumultuous, taking a toll on revenue and prompting frequent logistical challenges, Jacobs has had the full support of the Tavern’s staff.
“They’ve been absolutely incredible. I get very emotional about how supportive and amazing they’ve been. They’ve been troopers, they’ve stuck by, everyone has seen their income dwindle because of the reduced numbers, and they have been amazing,” he said. “It’s going to be a much more inspirational place, and hopefully the staff will carry that inspiration into the front of the house.”

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