Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Rep. Birong has been attentive to his constituents

My husband Steve and I moved to Vergennes in Winter of 2006 and recently sold our house last year, moving us closer to our restaurant in Middlebury. I first met Matt Birong when he bought the cafe in town. I remember that he immediately reached out to the community, asking for suggestions in naming his new restaurant. At the time I thought it was risky, but now I see that it was a successful attempt at letting the Little City know that this was their place — not just his. 
This inclusive philosophy continued to grow over time. Matt accomplished this first doing the most important job in my book: building a great restaurant at which people could gather by offering delicious food, consistently cooked very well, and building a team of friendly and hardworking employees. When they decided to relocate the restaurant a couple of blocks down the road, community members happily “grabbed a chair” and made the move with him, and one even painted a picture of the old location that proudly hangs on the wall of the new space. 
I have admired Matt’s willingness to take time with his neighbors, whether it’s fellow restaurant owners, other business neighbors or guests in his restaurant, looking at their roles and relationships in Vergennes as a forum for good communication and collaboration. This pairing has ultimately resulted in great options for outside tourists, fairness for the Vergennes small business community and most importantly, a tangible source of local pride. 
When Steve and I decided to open a restaurant of our own, Matt was gracious enough to offer his experiences, thoughts, ideas and warnings (even if a little disappointed that ours would not be a part of the Vergennes community!). 
When the pandemic hit our industry in March I reached out to Matt as a friend and colleague to see what his experiences were and what his plans might be for the café. Matt wasted no time in answering my questions about how he was fairing with the various loans, grants, unemployment, mandates and policies piling up — and even though we were all in a position of complete and utter uncertainty, he kept his cool while assuming the responsibility of finding the answers none of us had at the time. He connected with The Vermont Restaurant Coalition to foster their efforts. Matt’s trusted relationships with legislative leaders in Montpelier and our senators and congressman was invaluable. His voice spoke for all of us on how dire the effects of the pandemic were on our industry, citing concrete evidence from his own small business.
Due to an unimaginable workload with his business, constituents and legislative responsibilities, Matt asked me to serve as a “liaison” of sorts to the restaurants in the Middlebury area, in order to promptly relay information to which others might not have access. This helped me realize the level of commitment he took on in service to not just his community, but the state as a whole. When the time came, he trusted his counterparts in Middlebury and around the state to step in where they could so he could focus on his direct responsibilities. 
It was Matt’s good nature and willingness to work hard at all hours of the day and night, while involving others, that helped save our industry in those early days. I believe that, in part, it was because of Matt’s early and consistent attention to our needs, that we were able to directly speak with Congressman Peter Welch about our strong concerns and increasing despair, resulting in much-needed economic relief.
It is such a comfort to know that Matt, the only legislator that owns/operates an independent restaurant, is working for us all during these unbelievably trying times. Small business is one of the things that makes our state so great, and he needs to return to continue this work for all so that we can not only survive, but thrive again.
Danielle Boyce
Cornwall

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