Hazel restaurant open for business


BRATTLEBORO -- The owners of Hazel restaurant on Elliot Street say the Toby has been one of their most popular items since the eatery opened in July. The Mason and the Leo have also been hits with the public.

These food items, believe it or not, are pizzas and they are three of the 11 pies named after the children of the new restaurant's six owners. Nathan Rupard, Temple Peterson, Tom Bodett, Bo Foard, Rich Korson and Steven Vakaros held a soft opening at 75 Elliot St. to work out the kinks on June 28 and opened officially on July 1. The menu also includes barbecue, salads, ribs and sandwiches. Rupard, Peterson and Bodett -- the three owners who spoke with the Reformer on Friday -- said Brattleboro have been receptive to the new eatery.

"It's been amazing, actually. I'm really impressed with the feedback. People seem to love the food. A new place in town is always exciting," said Rupard, whose 3-year-old daughter Hazel is the restaurant's namesake. "I think our goal was to build a place that was really comfortable for everyone, families included, and keep our prices low enough that people can afford to come here more than once a month."

The new joint sits in the building Rupard has owned for five years and that used to house Frankie's Pizzeria. Frankie's went out of business in 2012, after moving from a different location, and Vakaros -- Hazel's chef and pizza master -- is the son of its former owner.

Most of the six owners work in other fields and though a half-dozen is a lot when it comes to restaurant ownership, Peterson said it helps to have so many different opinions and specialties.

"In terms of having all of that feedback, anytime you're an analyzing a problem, you can get stuck in a particular mindframe and somebody can walk in and be like, 'Oh, why don't we try this?'" he said on Friday.

Having six owners also generally lowers the financial risk when starting a business, though that is not always the case.

"All of us are in different places in terms of investment, what we need from the place and how that works," Rupard said, adding that no loans were taken out to finance the enterprise. "And, clearly, having six owners can bring about times where we have six different opinions on one issue -- but then we also get to bring six different people's life experience and skill sets to the table and I feel like that's where it can be really good."

A great deal of labor expenses were eliminated because some of the owners work in the trades. Peterson said the cost of opening Hazel, which features 50 seats, would have exceeded $250,000 if that hadn't been the case.

Bodett mentioned the handful of owners also equals more friends and acquaintances stopping by just to check up the grub -- and word-of-mouth does the rest.

"People are coming in because they know us, first of all, then they taste the food and they have a good time and they tell their friends, and they come in and it's been building and it's been great. Essentially, we hung out an 'Open' flag and that was it," he said. "We wanted a place where you can bring your family, have really good food and it doesn't cost a fortune, or you just bring your wife on a Saturday night and really good food and a nice time. It's really hard to hit that sweet spot."

Bodett also said the restaurant has formed its own identity in the short time it has been open and its personality has been produced quite organically. The adorning chalk art that adds to the eatery's ambiance was crafted by Massachusetts-based artist Doug Poole.

Rupard said the pizzas have proven to be popular, but the big surprise has been the Cuban sandwich.

"The Cuban sandwich just flies out of here. People love it," he said. "Who would have thought people in Brattleboro would love Cuban sandwiches?"

He also said the business, which employs about 15 people, has a commercial smoker to smoke its own barbecue and several meats used as pizza toppings.

Rupard, Peterson and Bodett all said they have not ventured much into advertising, but will likely start at least a local campaign in the near future.

Hazel is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed on Mondays.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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