'Pie' in the Sky: Airport Restaurateur Blames the State for Failed Biz | Business | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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'Pie' in the Sky: Airport Restaurateur Blames the State for Failed Biz


Published June 8, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated June 10, 2016 at 10:07 a.m.

Cavan Meese - DON WHIPPLE
  • Don Whipple
  • Cavan Meese

At Parker Pie in West Glover, the calendar is peppered with regular events: Trivia Night, Oyster Night and Music Night. Over the past 11 years, owners Cavan Meese and Ben Trevits have built a funky, popular pizza parlor and beer joint that has become both a local hangout and a destination for the farther flung.

That's just what Meese, a 38-year-old Glover native, had in mind when he moved back to Vermont from Philadelphia and realized his hometown didn't have a gathering place. But his plans to put on bigger concerts have long been stymied by a lack of room to grow — and to park cars — in the tiny Northeast Kingdom hamlet.

So in 2011, when he and Trevits had the chance to open a roomier restaurant at the airport just outside nearby Newport, it seemed like the ideal opportunity.

"We could do more shows," Meese said. "We were trying to build a place for the local community. We were trying to carve out a local niche."

That was the vision. Reality proved much different. Parker Pie Wings opened in August 2013, but it never hosted the larger dinner crowds or concerts Meese planned. It closed less than two years later, in May 2015.

Today, the restaurant's peeling sign is one of the only remnants of the business — along with the owners' shredded credit and a pending lawsuit against them.

Of course, many new restaurants never get off the ground. The case of Parker Pie Wings is different, Meese argued, because state government is to blame. As owner of the airport, the Vermont Agency of Transportation was responsible for obtaining the environmental permits essential to the restaurant's survival. The state failed to do so in the timely manner Parker Pie was promised, Meese said.

State officials acknowledge they were eager to add a local restaurant to the airport expansion plans, but said permits hit unexpected snags.

Surprisingly, Parker Pie's problems had nothing to do with other Northeast Kingdom expansion projects that imploded this spring. Developers Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger, both of whom have been charged with fraud, had plans to bring commercial flights to the little airstrip and build a passenger terminal there.

But Meese doesn't lay the blame for the restaurant's demise at the feet of Stenger and Quiros, with whom he never interacted.

"The whole thing feels unfair," he said of his unsuccessful partnership with the state. "We weren't provided with what we thought we were going to be provided."

While they waited for the promised septic, water and Act 250 permits, Meese and his partner outfitted the former airport café. They invested in equipment for a 50-seat eatery, installing a large oven, walk-in cooler and freezer.

When it was ready to open, though, the state still hadn't come through. So Parker Pie Wings launched with seating for 25 customers — half the capacity it required to operate successfully.

"We were always told that we should be all done within six months," Meese said, calm but clearly angry. "In January 2012, we were told June. In June 2012, we were told by winter. In the fall, it was 'First thing in the spring.'"

If he'd been working with private developers, Meese said, he would have been dubious of such promises. "The only reason I believed that was because it came from a state agency," he said.

"Nothing happens overnight," said Guy Rouelle, aeronautics administrator at VTrans. "We made it very clear. I think he has a different opinion."

In an email exchange with Meese in May 2013, Rouelle pledged he had "made it a personal mission of mine to push these permitting issues through." More than a year later, in July 2014, Rouelle told Meese he was still working on those permits, but said he had made "significant progress."

Rouelle said he did make it a mission to push through permits, but, he repeated, permits take time, even for a state agency dealing with other state agencies. He said he thought at first the restaurant project didn't need an Act 250 permit, then discovered it did.

Of the key septic permit, Rouelle said plans to connect the restaurant to the Newport sewers turned out to be too costly and the airport's clay soil complicated plans for on-site disposal. The state has since opted for a mound septic system that will cost roughly $1 million. Finding the right configuration took longer than anyone anticipated.

Delays in opening cost the restaurant the chance to debut during the more lucrative summer season, Meese said. A manager moved on. But the real killer was not being able to host larger crowds. Parker Pie Wings sometimes had to turn baffled would-be patrons away, he said.

More than a year after it served its last airport meal, Meese said the restaurant had lost $250,000. That means investors likely won't be paid and the owners' credit has been damaged because they borrowed $20,000 from a loan company that is suing for its return. The original Parker Pie in Glover, a separate company, is still doing well, he said.

"If I had known that this was my one shot at a project this decade I probably would have chosen something else," he said.

The septic permit finally came through and construction on the system should begin this year — nearly four years too late for Parker Pie Wings.

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