Storm Cafe to close its doors
MIDDLEBURY — It’s a storm that many Addison County residents had hoped would rage on, unabated.
But unable to extend their lease in the historic Stone Mill building in Middlebury’s Frog Hollow, Storm Café owners John and Beth Hughes have decided to end the restaurant’s 25-year run after the last meal clears the kitchen on Nov. 11.
“It’s really hard,” John Hughes said during a recent interview. “If I could stay in this location, I wouldn’t be done.”
Still, there will be some sunny skies after the Storm.
Hughes in just a few weeks will begin his new job as cook at the Salisbury Community School, and his new customers will include some familiar faces: His wife and their 7-year-old twin daughters, Molly and Lilly. Beth Hughes has for the past three years worked as a paraprofessional at the school, where Molly and Lilly are students.
“For the first time in 20 years, I’ll have my weekends off,” John Hughes said of an added bonus of his new job.
The Hughes’ acquired the Storm Café 13 years ago. Beth and John had previously met and worked together at the Huntington House Inn in Rochester, Vermont. She was the innkeeper and he was a sous chef.
John’s resumé also includes a stint as assistant general manager at Middlebury’s Fire & Ice Restaurant.
Soon after marrying, the couple began dreaming of a new challenge.
“We were looking for our own place,” Hughes said.
“This was our dream — to own our own business together,” Beth Hughes said.
They learned through a broker that the Storm, then owned by chefs John and Karen Goettelmann, was for sale. With its good track record and enviable downtown location right along the Otter Creek, they quickly made an offer.
“I knew the name and reputation of this restaurant and (its commitment to) fresh and local products,” Hughes said. “It was what I wanted to do. We came right after it.”
While Beth managed the books and front of the restaurant, John headed the kitchen. He remained faithful to the restaurant’s tradition of offering “innovative American cuisine,” with meals made from scratch using fresh ingredients.
“I was advised by many of the regulars to leave the menu alone,” Hughes said with a smile.
And that formula has worked well, according to the Hughes.
“This restaurant has supported a lot of families through the years,” he said.
Hughes noted several of his staff and many of his customers have stuck with him for all 13 years.
“There have been some ups and downs, but I’ve enjoyed all the years I’ve been here,” Hughes said.
“I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Well, perhaps a few things.
Hughes last summer suffered a stroke. While he thankfully came through with no major health deficits, he confessed he’s slowed down a little and is no longer up for what have occasionally been 18-hour work days.
A health crisis can force one to re-evaluate life’s plan.
So when Middlebury College — owners of the Stone Mill building — announced it was entertaining new uses for the building and proposals to develop it, the Hughes’ agreed they wouldn’t take on the intimidating chore of continuing the Storm at a different location.
“I don’t want to start over,” Hughes said.
Bill Burger, Middlebury College’s vice President for communications and chief marketing officer, provided the following update on the future of the Old Stone Mill building:
“The college has been evaluating future use of Old Stone Mill for some time,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “It’s a landmark in our community that also is in need of significant investment in internal systems and to ensure it meets accessibility requirements. We are committed to ensuring that any possible change in its use benefits the town first and foremost, while continuing to create opportunities for our students to use the building in creative and meaningful ways.
“We’re sorry to see the owners of Storm Cafe make what I’m sure was a difficult decision to close,” Burger added. “Running a successful restaurant for 20 years is an impressive feat in this day and age and we wish them well.”
Hughes estimated roughly 80 percent of the Storm’s business, between September and May, has come from Middlebury College customers.
While the Storm will wind down on Nov. 11, the Hughes’ will leave with a lifetime of fond memories.
John Hughes said he will miss his employees, loyal customers and getting the adrenaline rush from seeing a bunch of food orders needing to be filled.
But it is “serving great food and working with great people” that he’ll miss most, he said.
Suddenly, the Hughes will be together more than the Storm has ever allowed them to be.
Beth is looking forward to family vacations and more time with the children.
And that’s fine with the twins, who are also looking forward to Dad making their lunch at school. Perhaps Poppa will even make their favorite: Pancakes.
“I’m really excited,” Lilly said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].