BRATTLEBORO -- About three years ago, the owners of Peter Havens on Elliot Street got a visitor at the door of their restaurant.
Zach Corbin, who grew up in Brattleboro and who had worked in a number of high-end restaurants, wanted to move back to his hometown and open up a food cart.
Corbin thought the small patch of patio right outside of Peter Havens would be the perfect site to sell his hand-cut fries and locally raised burgers, so he asked the owners, Gregg Van Iderstine and Thom Dahlin, if they would consider renting him the space during the warm months.
Dahlin says he never considered such a deal before.
The popular restaurant at 32 Elliot St. kept him busy enough, but he liked Corbin and recognized a passion for good food in the young entrepreneur.
Now, after three busy summers where he was able to establish his small eatery, Cafe a la Cart, as one of the best places in town to get good lunch, Corbin is taking over Peter Havens.
After 23 years, Van Iderstine and Dahlin are turning their keys and spatulas over to Corbin and leaving restaurant ownership.
It is time to move on and try something new, Dahlin said, though as the business partners work with Corbin during the transition, Dahlin says he is excited to be leaving, knowing that another, younger, Windham County son is going to be carrying on the long tradition of serving good food from the Elliot Street building.
"This place has always been a restaurant and there is an inherent spiritual vibe here that has always helped us," Dahlin said this week after the deal was finalized. "We've been really impressed with Zach and we want to do what we can to make sure this works."
Both Dahlin and his partner Van Iderstine are from Windham County and Dahlin says it feels good to be turning the established business over to another local chef who is committed to keeping Brattleboro's downtown alive, and well fed.
Neither Corbin nor Dahlin thought the partnership between Peter Havens and Cafe a la Carte would one day lead to a restaurant deal. But over the past few summers, as Dahlin watched Corbin build his business he says the partnership developed.
"I never put two and two together, but I know I liked his chicken quesadillas," says Dahlin. "We have had an incredible 23 years and the community, and our staff have supported us all of the way. Now it is time for us to get out."
Last year Van Iderstine and Dahlin began to talk about moving on from Peter Havens and as soon as Corbin heard about their plans, he made his bid to move up from the cart to the building.
For the past few years Corbin has been working under a variety of experienced chefs, from a classically trained French chef on Nantucket to an expert on Italian cuisine in Naples, Florida.
As he was honing his skills, Corbin imagined a day when he would be able to serve his food in Brattleboro. When the opportunity arose to take over one of the town's most established eateries, it was too good to pass up.
The two sides negotiated a deal over the past few months and on Thursday night, Corbin served up his first meal at Peter Havens.
"I want to keep what makes Peter Havens special here, but I will put my rendition as a chef on the food," said Corbin.
Corbin says he plans to open the cart back up in the spring, but now he'll have his prep kitchen just a few steps away.
Much of the staff is remaining and Dahlin is going to work with the new owner over the next few weeks.
"You have to love the restaurant business to succeed in it and Zach loves to cook. We want him to succeed. We believe in him," said Dahlin. "People come to a restaurant for the food and Peter Havens is going to remain a chef owned restaurant. We are looking forward to coming here to relax and eat a meal."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.