Restaurants, hotels begin to open up

DINERS ENJOY A meal from Two Brothers restaurant in a properly spaced, outdoor seating area in front of Otter Creek Bakery. Two Brothers on the roundabout in downtown Middlebury has almost no outdoor seating, but the neighbors at Otter Creek Bakery came up with a generous solution.

It has been an unbelievable emotional roller coaster.
— restaurateur Paris Rinder-Goddard

ADDISON COUNTY — Whether you are an avid restaurant goer, or prefer to cook at home, it is hard to not feel concern for the restaurants and lodging services that have taken a serious financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some restaurants were able to shift their services to takeout and have remained flexible as regulations have lifted, others had closed completely and have just recently reopened under limited circumstances.
Those circumstances were updated this past Friday, June 5, by Gov. Phil Scott, as he announced restaurants were allowed to open 25% of their indoor seating in addition to what they are already using for outdoor seating. 
Hotels were also given the go ahead to open 50% of their rooms, or accept 25 guests, whichever number is higher.
Those new steps were what many area restaurants were looking for in terms of bringing staff back on and gearing back up to greater capacity.
In Middlebury, Two Brothers Tavern, owned and managed by brothers Beal and Holmes Jacobs, says they’ve seen strong community support and enthusiasm with their recent efforts to reopen.
Two Brothers has limited outdoor seating capacity, but Otter Creek Bakery down the block offered Two Brothers their outdoor patio space, Holmes Jacobs reported, saying the bakery insisted it was a “no-strings-attached deal.”
That generous gesture, along with help from town officials to make that offer viable on short notice, has left the staff at Two Brothers humbled, Jacobs said: “The community support has been great. The people have been absolutely incredible, and it’s been a real silver lining to the whole process.” 
Two Brothers was due to open some indoor seating on June 10 and will continue to serve in their outdoor dining spaces just outside of their building and on the nearby bakery’s patio space.
Over at Middlebury’s Fire & Ice restaurant, owner Paris Rinder-Goddard says that despite sales being a far cry from normal, he has seen a huge community effort rally around the restaurant, as well as local officials speeding up the permitting process for building outdoor decks and seating. Those decks, Rinder-Goddard said, came together with generous free labor from family and friends and has allowed reopening with outdoor seating for the past couple of weeks. The popular restaurant had scheduled additional indoor seating as of Wednesday, June 10. 
“It has been an unbelievable emotional roller coaster,” Rinder-Goddard said. “I know a lot of us, especially myself, feel like giving up some days, but the support of the staff and family has kept us going… The silver lining in this all has been the realization that while all of our businesses are technically competing amongst one another, we succeed and fail together.” 
Representing area inns, John Zahn, general manager of the Middlebury Inn, reports that Morgan’s Tavern, the inn’s restaurant, will be re-opening next Monday, June 15 for lunch and weekend brunch. They have outdoor seating on their porch and some additional indoor seating. 
Zahn said the inn hopes to open half of its rooms along with their state rooms next door by Monday and that while the inn did feel the loss of many customers, he was thankful that many have rebooked instead of cancelling their stays outright. Relieved to be back open, Zahn reflected the tenor of most inns and restaurants when he said: “We are taking things one step at a time.” 
In Bristol, The Bobcat Café and Brewery, run by Sandy and Erin Wheeler, reported they were doing much better than they could have expected. Erin Wheeler admitted “the first couple of weeks were scary, but once we started doing takeout there was plenty of business and now, we are really in the groove.” 
The Bobcat has not had the opportunity to open outdoor seating due to the construction on Main Street in Bristol, but they are thinking about opening some limited indoor seating on weekends at some time in the near future if business demands it. Wheeler says she feels lucky to live in a community that “fosters respect and understanding, especially during a time as challenging as now.”

Ian Huizenga chef, owner and brewer of Bar Antidote Hired Hand in Vergennes, described the challenges that restaurants have faced since COVID-19 struck the nation. 
“We are all really in a learning phase,” Huizenga said. “It is going to be a very different landscape with social distancing remaining in play. If it does, then the normal standard of restaurants is gone.” 
Bar Antidote Hired Hand is in their fourth week of being open for takeout and has opened some outdoor seating. Huizenga reports that business has, for the most part, gone as well as could be expected, but, as with most restaurant owners, he feels uncertain for what is to come. 
“This is not going to be a quick turnaround kind of thing,” he said. “It’s the death of an old thing and the start of something new — the new is what we don’t yet know.” 
Hard times in mind, Huizenga appreciates the close-knit restaurant community in Vergennes and said he was “hoping for the best.”
Karen Duguay is executive director of the Better Middlebury Partnership, whose mission is to help foster connections between people and businesses. She said she felt “taken aback” at the rapid shift in regulations that first happened when COVID-19 struck Vermont. Despite the sudden challenges that businesses faced, Duguay says that businesses have picked each other up with simple gestures — washing each other’s windows, helping with websites and building outdoor seating are just some examples. 
And she reminded area residents that there are many opportunities to support local businesses. 
“Call businesses (or look in the newspaper’s ongoing restaurant guide that updates each week which restaurants are open, when and for what) if you are unsure of what is available,” Duguay said. “Do what you can to support your local economy. This is really when your support is needed the most.”
Editor’s note: For a complete update of restaurants that are open, for what and during what times, consult the Restaurant Guide that runs each week in the Addison Independent (38 area restaurants were recently listed) and in the Friday Addison Independent Business enewsletter.

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