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Jaci Reynolds, the owner of The Pit Mistress, in Brattleboro, Vt., works on preparing food on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

BRATTLEBORO — The Pit Mistress takes barbecue food seriously and has big plans for her business. 

Jaci Reynolds of Brattleboro has been in the restaurant industry for about 20 years, working in positions from line cook to general manager but backing off when she had children. She said she always thought she would open her own place if she ever returned.  

When Reynolds was at home during the COVID-19 pandemic recovering from surgery and taking care of her daughter, whose Down syndrome made her considered high risk, she became more serious about the idea. She said she was doing all the administrative work for her husband's small construction business when it dawned on her that she was working a lot harder than him and she should start her own enterprise.

She ended up giving notice to the Brattleboro Food Co-op, where she was employed as front end manager, that she would be leaving. 

Her father has a big piece of property where Reynolds said he keeps what some people might consider junk. He helped repurpose things for her food truck, which formerly was a boat trailer. The smoker was welded from an oxygen tank. 

The name came from her mother when the family was watching the TV show "BBQ Pitmasters." She asked why men get to call themselves "pit masters" and said Reynolds should be the "Pit Mistress." 

"I was like, you're right," Reynolds said.  

Her focus is on serving fresh meats. She said it might take a little more time and effort but the results are worthwhile. 

The meat comes from Food Connects, meeting another goal of hers, which is to prioritize everything local. 

"I just went with the stuff that made the most sense for me," she said. "It's worked out so well because local meat is so delicious." 

At the co-op in her first non-restaurant job, Reynolds spent about a year and a half as front-end manager. She learned a lot about local eating habits, "better than I would have known from just a restaurant," she said. 

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Her menu isn't finalized yet. She's waiting until she opens a brick-and-mortar location, although she will still run the food truck as long as she has enough staff.  

For now, she's serving food at different events such as the Retreat Farm's Food Truck Roundup on Thursday evenings and Baconfest at Kampfires on Sept. 11. She also will be at Scott Farm Orchard on Saturdays in August. 

Her goal is to always offer two different meats to make a sandwich. She also has grilled cheese sandwiches, slaw, mango salsa, and the vegan barbecue bowl, which is based on what's seasonably available. 

Reynolds makes her own Vermont maple mustard, sweet blueberry sauce and classic barbecue sauce. She hopes to start bottling and selling sauces. 

"As soon as I can, I will," she said.

She said she always has gluten-free rolls.

Reynolds makes it a point to try and hire staff who are differently able. She said her daughter, 2, who has Down syndrome, is "a wonderful ray of sunshine."

"She pulls everyone into her orbit," she said. 

Reynolds said the world is not built for differently abled people and she wants to find ways to change that. 

"I personally believe I can train anyone to do anything," she said. 

She would like her daughter to take over the business when she's older and wants it to be a place where everyone is accepted. 

Reynolds also is on the Windham Southeast School District Board. She recently championed a project to add on to Academy School, which is expected to improve the way special education is delivered. 

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