Trio to launch new Middlebury restaurant

MIDDLEBURY — The former “51 Main” space in downtown Middlebury will soon give way to a new, 60-seat BBQ restaurant called The Rough Cut, expected to debut in early November.
The Rough Cut will offer “southern comfort” food at reasonable prices, according to Ben Wells, the leader of a three-person team collaborating with Middlebury College on the new restaurant. The culinary foundation of the menu will be built on locally sourced poultry, beef and pork that will be given authentic BBQ treatment, as well as other items for non-carnivores and folks with gluten-free diet requirements, according to Wells.
Diners will be able to wash down their food with a wide variety of beers, wines, whiskeys and bourbons that will be carried at the new restaurant.
Unlike 51 Main, The Rough Cut won’t be staging live entertainment. But diners will be able to provide their own, courtesy of a mechanical bull that will be available for people who aren’t afraid of being thrown for a loop.
“This a really exciting project for me,” Wells said during a Monday phone interview. “I’ve done everything from washing dishes to cooking, and I waited tables for years. I’ve managed award-winning restaurants in Boston, Jackson Hole and Denver. For me, to step in and be the owner of my own place is definitely really exciting.”
The prominent spot in Middlebury’s Battell Block became available a few months ago when Middlebury College pulled the plug on 51 Main, a restaurant the institution had launched in 2008 to give students a hands-on, off-campus entrepreneurial experience that featured food, drink and occasional musical acts.
Unfortunately, 51 Main was consistently in the red, according to college officials.
“The college has been operating 51 Main at a significant loss for several years,” Middlebury College Director of Community Relations David Donahue said through an email. “We’ve tried different approaches to try to improve the bottom line, but we haven’t been successful. At the same time, student interest in 51 Main has ebbed and flowed over the years. We felt it was time to try something different. We are excited to work with a partner, someone that will bring new ideas and energy to the restaurant.”
College officials found that partner in Wells and his two associates in the venture, Sean Flynn and Sara Giard.
Wells is a year 2000 alum of the Middlebury College Language Schools and serves as a volunteer coach with the Panthers’ rugby team. He has owned the Marquis Theater since 2014 and has previous experience in the restaurant industry. Wells has had a longtime goal of bringing a restaurant from concept to reality, and The Rough Cut will give him a chance to do so.
Flynn is co-founder of New Haven-based Silver Maple Construction, which is renovating the 51 Main space. The ongoing renovations — which the partners were not quite ready to showcase this week — will create a more open layout and better flow within the new restaurant. A larger bar seating around 25 will be placed at the rear (Otter Creek side) of the space, Wells said.
Giard will serve as general manager of The Rough Cut. She has past experience working at area restaurants.
Middlebury College is helping the three partners put The Rough Cut on the local dining map. Specifically, the institution is “discounting the lease to make the opportunity more attractive and to give the venture a better on-ramp to success,” Donahue said.
Middlebury College’s lease for the property extends through June 30, 2020. College officials have suggested some student-friendly ideas for The Rough Cut, but Wells and his colleagues will have full autonomy in its operation.
“We have discussed programming to attract students with the new ownership group and they are very interested in this kind of collaboration,” Donahue said. “Beyond programming,  the new ownership group will have control over all other facets of operating the restaurant. We did have the opportunity to review the proposal for the restaurant and to react to the concept and naming. And the group has been very responsive to our feedback.”
The college’s lease for 51 Main also includes the floor below the restaurant, and Donahue would like to see that space used by students for creative purposes.
“I think that space has tremendous potential,” Donahue said.
Plans call for The Rough Cut to be open for dinner five days per week, Wednesday through Sunday. Wells said the restaurant might offer lunch service in the future.
The three partners are currently interviewing chef candidates, and will soon be in the market for restaurant staff. The Rough Cut team is currently hiring all positions, Wells said, adding those interested could email resumes to Giard at [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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