- Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
- Jonny Adler at Madbush Falls
Jonny Adler jumped into the natural pool at the bottom of Madbush Falls on the last day of June 2021. He was visiting the property in the Mad River Valley with an interest in buying it. The day was hot; the water was super cold, but Adler swam for a while in the clear pool below the waterfall. When he got out, he had one thought: "I can't buy this place just because this waterfall is so awesome."
In fact, he had other reasons to take the plunge, and two months later he signed a contract to purchase the 20-acre property for $1.5 million, Adler said. The deal closed in November 2021.
The eponymous waterfall and its surrounding land and buildings are now the site of Madbush Falls, a multifaceted business that Adler plans to open — at least in part — on July 1. The ambitious project, centered on mountain biking, will bring together lodging, dining, drinking, and a bicycle store and repair/rental service. Adler is the majority owner and developer.
Located on Route 100 a few miles south of Waitsfield village, Madbush Falls has ample access to biking and hiking trails — and skiing in winter. Its restaurant will be open for three meals daily (though lunch might not be available at first). Lodging will include a 21-room hotel, 10 glamping sites by Folsom Brook and six little cabins near a swimming pond, Adler said. The average price for lodging is $175 a night.
Adler, 44, of Stowe, is co-owner and cofounder of the Skinny Pancake restaurants, which he started with his brother, Benjy Adler. (Jonny Adler has not been involved in the company's daily operations since 2018.) He's an avid outdoorsman who aims to provide trailside amenities — similar to those that can be found slope-side — to Vermont's growing mountain biking crowd.
"When you finish a ride," Adler said, "you want a cold beer in your hand before you let go of the handlebar with your other hand."
Joe Gaynor, programs and partnerships manager of the 9,600-member Vermont Mountain Bike Association, said he can't think of another mountain bike-centric business in Vermont offering the variety of services that will be available at Madbush Falls. The feature that sets it apart, according to Gaynor, is a bicycle shop on the same premises as dining and lodging.
Ranch Camp in Stowe has a restaurant and bike store but no hotel. Madbush Falls will offer barstools in the bike store; a "gear library" that will lend items such as camp chairs, coolers and bike locks; and bike sheds built at the nearby Yestermorrow Design/Build School.
- Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
- Construction at Madbush Falls
Adler has assembled a team that includes executive chef Travis Daniell, former chef de cuisine of Juniper Bar & Restaurant at Burlington's Hotel Vermont. Daniell, 35, is crafting a menu geared toward replenishing riders' energy, while remaining "highly accessible for people in the area." TJ Greenwood is the general manager of Madbush Falls. The Fayston resident is a veteran of the valley's hospitality industry — most recently as operations director at Lawson's Finest Liquids.
"When I heard about this project and talked to Jonny, I got really excited and decided to throw my hat in the ring," Greenwood, 53, said.
The bike shop and repair service, Riders Outpost, is a 2,000-square-foot branch of Burlington-based Outdoor Gear Exchange. Housed in the ground-level space below the restaurant, the business will be open seven days a week. The Mad River Valley outpost will expand the reach and influence of Outdoor Gear Exchange, cofounder Marc Sherman said, and bring its services closer to biking trails and the tourists and locals who ride them.
Sherman is a friend of Adler's who initially visited the property intending to advise his buddy on how Adler could establish a retail bike business as part of Madbush Falls. But he was so taken by the project, Sherman said, that he became a business partner and investor. (Thirty-five people, mostly Vermonters, are investors in the multimillion-dollar project, according to Adler.)
"Jonny's enthusiasm and vision is infectious," Sherman said. "Seeing the property and seeing the extent of what's already developed — and what could be developed — was really compelling."
In the past decade, mountain biking has exploded in popularity in Vermont and become a significant tourism driver. In the Northeast Kingdom, for example, the nonprofit Kingdom Trails Association, which oversees an expansive network of more than 100 miles of trails, estimates that mountain biking brings more than $10 million into the region annually and spurred a growing cottage industry around the sport. Adler is banking on similar results in the Mad River Valley.
Madbush Falls is on the site of the former John Egan's Big World Pub & Grill, which closed at that location more than 20 years ago. The building was mostly demolished in March 2022. Construction of the new hotel and restaurant on the same footprint started the next month under the leadership of general contractor Silas Clark of Bristol's Stone Boat Builds.
The walls of the 58-seat restaurant (not including outdoor seating) are made from pine harvested on the property and milled in Hinesburg; the trim is cherry. Metalwork is by local craftsman Chelsie Bush, and artwork by Vermonters — including ski photos taken by general manager Greenwood — will hang on the walls.
- Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
- Madbush Falls in Waitsfield
Adler calls the current state of the project a "barn raising," and it's not a bad description. Or you could say it's a mad rush at Madbush Falls — though folks appear to be cool and calm.
Daniell installed the walk-in for his kitchen with carpenter Bob Almeter. Retired from his career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Almeter joined the crew at the request of contractor Clark, his son-in-law.
"I don't know if 'awesome' covers it," Almeter, 74, said of the project. "When I first looked at it, I thought, Wow. And then the wow got bigger."
On a recent day at the site, as builders worked on the restaurant patio, development manager Joe Jackson dropped into a conversation about the menu. He had a question for Daniell concerning the width of the top of the railing: Would guests put their plates of food on it?
"They will," the chef confirmed. The design would accommodate that.
As construction continues in full swing, Adler remains confident that the restaurant will launch on July 1, with staggered lodging openings later that month.
"Every hurdle was just surmountable," Adler said of the project's trajectory from day one. "It got to the point where there was no turning back."
One person who's looking forward to checking out Madbush Falls is Alan Goldman, the 65-year-old Montpelier resident who sold Adler the property. Goldman owned the land for about 20 years and said roughly two dozen people approached him about buying it during that time. He didn't know Adler, except by name as an owner of the Skinny Pancake, when Adler showed up at his house to express his interest.
"It sounded like a great use of the site, and he has a lot of good business experience," Goldman said. "He's the first person that really had an idea that I said, 'Hmm, that sounds great.' I'm excited for his team to bring the project to fruition."