A Vermont Table takes over the old Backside Cafe

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BRATTLEBORO — The Backside Cafe closed in 2015 and sat empty for a couple of years. But since 2018 or so, people have noticed activity in the old restaurant in the Midtown Mall in Harmony Lot, wondering exactly what is going on up there.

"We've been catering in this space for two years," said Samual Schwartzkopf, chef and co-owner of A Vermont Table, which was established in Putney in 1993 by Terri Ziter.

"We cater throughout the region," said Cory Bratton, also chef and co-owner. "Weddings at Alyson's Orchards in Walpole, Quonquont Farm in Whately [Massachusetts], Scott Farm in Dummerston ... farmhouses, fields, tents."

Both Bratton and Schwartzkopf, who met each other at Brattleboro Union High School and graduated in 2005, said they have really enjoyed the catering business since they took over two years ago, but they wanted more.

"We wanted to do a restaurant as well because it's a different format," said Bratton. "It allows us to have more flexibility and change our menus more frequently while highlighting the seasonal ingredients."

While using the space of the former Backside Cafe to prepare and cook food for their catering business, they first thought about using the space for private parties and the like.

"It became clear pretty quickly that we wanted to do some sort of dining service," said Bratton.

"It feels like a natural step," said Schwartzkopf. "This space is so beautiful."

A Vermont Table has been serving lunch for about a week and hopes to add evening service with drinks and a small-plate menu of items that people can mix and match.

"Or just come in and hang out and have a drink," said Bratton.

Both Bratton and Schwartzkopf said they don't want to be pigeon-holed when it comes to cuisine.

"It's not a diner," said Bratton, "but we'll have hamburgers, an egg sandwich and steak tips on the menu."

"Cory likes Chinese and I like Mexican, Italian, whatever," said Schwartzkopf.

But whatever finds its way on the menu will be filled with local ingredients, said Bratton.

"We work with a bunch of local farms," said Bratton.

"We get a lot of our food from Full Plate Farm in Dummerston," said Schwartzkopf.

"During the summer, a big part of our week is driving around, hitting up farms and loading up with produce," said Bratton.

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"It's nice to get out of the kitchen," said Schwartzkopf.

Bratton said he and Schwartzkopf enjoy the flexibility of creating a menu on the fly from ingredients they've sourced locally.

"With catering, you have to book in advance," he said. "It's not the time to experiment. Here, in the restaurant, we can take more risks and try different stuff. That's a big appeal for us."

And having a year-round restaurant means they can stay working and keep their employees in the kitchen.

"This time of the year, nobody's getting married," said Bratton. "Come the end of December, after the holiday party season, business basically shuts down for four months. And we've been very lucky. We've had really great people, lots of local people, very talented and dedicated. Until now, we've been unable to provide them with a job through the winter."

A Vermont Table employs about 12 seasonal people on its catering side and another dozen people in the restaurant.

"We are really fortunate," said Bratton. "We have a great selection of some really amazing people. We couldn't do it without them."

Bratton worked in Manhattan for several years at Tom Colicchio's Craft and in Brattleboro under chef Michael Fuller at TJ Buckley's. He has traveled the world studying cuisines from Europe to the Middle East, India and East Asia.

Schwartzkopf worked in Bloomington, Indiana, where he has family, at The Farm under the tutelage of Chef Daniel Orr.

Both said they are happy to be in Brattleboro and starting a new business.

"There is a great community here," said Bratton. "It's important for us to maintain our community connections. That is something that we really value. All over the world there are unique communities but I found it hard to imagine trying to find a new one. I love it here."

"And there's so much good food being produced here," said Schwartzkopf. "It's almost easy to find ways to highlight it."

Bratton said both he and Schwartzkopf have learned a lot from the catering business that they hope can be applied to the restaurant.

"We have sampler menus but we use them as a jump off to talk about what people want," said Bratton. "Especially for a wedding that is very personal. I really like to get to know my clients and find out what is special to them."

"And that makes it exciting for us, to be able to change the menu to what they want," said Schwartzkopf.

A Vermont Table is serving lunch Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To learn more, visit www.avermonttable.com.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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