Eatery opens in vintage trailer at KOA
DUMMERSTON -- Like any conscientious chef, Bart Foster is interested in using fresh ingredients and, in his words, delivering "quality and consistency every time."
The difference is that Foster is plying his trade inside a newly restored 1969 Banner Travel Trailer parked at Brattleboro North KOA Campground in Dummerston. But he says the unique, compact setting does not deter him from whipping up homemade offerings such as fish and chips, coleslaw, onion rings and tartar sauce.
"Homemade takes more time," Foster said. "But in the end, you've got a better-tasting product."
Foster spoke in a tent erected outside the new Vintage Victuals Snack Bar, where KOA campground owner Beverly Kenney said the eatery -- which currently is open Thursdays through Sundays -- meets several needs.
"There has been demand among campers for delivery of food to my campground, and there really isn't anything," she said.
There also has been demand for easily accessible breakfasts. And those towing large campers may not be interested in navigating traffic and finding parking in nearby towns.
"Oftentimes, people who are here for one night would rather not unhitch," Kenney said.
Separately, Kenney noticed a growing interest in vintage campers. She has hosted vintage rallies at her Route 5 campground since 2012, and the next such session in September already is booked full with a waiting list.
"Vintage-camper restoration is just exploding," she said. "It started out west, and it's moving east."
So it wasn't much of a stretch to combine that interest with the campground's need for a restaurant. Kenney said the plan kicked off last year when Brattleboro North KOA received the donated 1969 camper, which measures 16 feet long and 8 feet wide.
"It was the perfect size for a kitchen," Kenney said. "Some of the vintage campers would have been too small."
She added that, "we were fortunate that this was actually in pretty good shape."
That's not to say, however, that there wasn't a significant renovation project ahead. That began last fall, when the roof was resurfaced and the floor reinforced.
This year, the restoration fell to Bob Dorr, a campground employee who also has extensive carpentry experience.
"I looked through the window, and I said, 'You want me to do what?'" Dorr recalled with a laugh.
He went to work, outfitting a 45-year-old camper as a modern kitchen. Some original components were reinstalled inside the camper including, appropriately, a stove. But Dorr said the project included new flooring, ceiling and wall materials.
"Basically, we stripped out everything except the cupboards that were on the back side," Dorr said.
"It was challenging, and frustrating at times," he added. "But it came out pretty good."
Renovation wasn't the only obstacle to opening Vintage Victuals. Kenney also had to obtain local approval, which came in April via the Dummerston Development Review Board, as well as state approvals including an Act 250 plan amendment, a wastewater permit and a health permit.
The snack bar opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner on July 10, and Kenney said she has seen "lots of interest, lots of good reviews from people who are eating here." She is marketing Vintage Victuals to both her campers and to local residents; to that end, there is an open house planned from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 17.
Vintage Victuals diners can order from a covered wooden porch, and those who don't do takeout can eat under a nearby tent with tables. There are restrooms available, and some of the campground's activities for kids also are available to the snack bar's patrons.
But Kenney is hoping the biggest draw is the menu, which ranges from "summertime food" like chili dogs and hamburgers to seafood such as batter-dipped fish and chips, whole-belly clam dinners, clam cakes and seafood chowder.
Breakfast offerings include waffles, pancakes, eggs and granola.
Foster was hired specifically to operate Vintage Victuals; he has experience running restaurants including establishments near the ocean in Portsmouth and Dover, N.H. His specialty is fried seafood purchased from Adam's Seafood in Brattleboro.
Foster said he has worked in small kitchens before, so the camper's size is not an obstacle. But the direct connection with diners is a welcome change.
"The upside of it that I enjoy more than anything is being able to interact with customers," Foster said. "It's more personal than just being a cook or a manager."
Vintage Victuals operates on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.; from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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