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Entrées and Exits

Side Dishes: Local Restaurants Turn, Turn, Turn Over


Avenue Bistro
  • Avenue Bistro

Generally speaking, a restaurant that loses its liquor license is . . . out of business. When Burlington city councilors voted last Monday night to revoke the one at Avenue Bistro in the New North End, because the owners were behind on their taxes, co-owner and operator Susan Luce made the tough decision to shutter her restaurant for good. “I owe the city $3900 and they closed me down. I’m out of business. Seventeen people are out of work,” she laments.

How did something so drastic happen over such a small sum? Luce admits that last spring she’d worked out a plan to get caught up but hadn’t been able to stick to the terms. Given the economy, “I bit off more than I could chew,” she says.

Last Thursday, the council gave her a final warning. She and Jonathan Leopold, B-town’s CAO, had to come up with a new plan that Luce could manage. Late the next day she called his office, she says, but Leopold didn’t get the message.

At 3 p.m. on Monday, Luce, a single mom, was picking up her son at school and heading to her 50th birthday party. That’s when she got a call from Leopold’s assistant asking if she could be at his office in an hour. “Not knowing they were going to decide the fate of the restaurant” that evening, she says, she scheduled a meeting for Wednesday morning instead. “I thought I was within the confines of working out what we could work out,” she says.

City Councilor Clarence Davis, head of the commission in charge of renewing — and revoking — liquor licenses, has a different take on the situation. In last Thursday’s meeting, he says, “we were very clear with her that she needed to have an approved plan in place” by Monday night. Contacted by phone, Leopold points out that as Luce fell further and further behind on her previous payment plan, she never contacted his office to come up with a viable alternative.

Davis — who says the vote to revoke Avenue Bistro’s license was “not an easy decision” — also notes that if Luce had gone forward with creating a new payment plan, the council was willing to expedite the process of returning her license.

But with a third of her revenue stemming from alcohol sales, Luce was convinced she couldn’t make it without the license, even for a few weeks. “I had employees jumping ship,” she says. They reasoned their tips would suffer too much if they couldn’t sell alcohol. The restaurant is now on the market.

On Avenue Bistro’s last day of business, Luce’s regular customers came in to say goodbye: “People brought flowers, people cried, they said it was the core of the neighborhood. It blew my mind the place touched so many people’s lives.”

Alexander’s Pub, the bar located inside the Lincoln Inn at Five Corners in Essex, has served its last pint of beer … almost. The building, including the bar, is owned by a property management company called McEwing Services. According to Director of Operations Kerry Aliesky, owner Alex McEwing “made the decision that he wanted to close the bar and focus on his other endeavors … He’s much more of a developer than a restaurateur.”

Despite shutting down the taps, McEwing Services is continuing planned renovations on the historic structure and hopes to find a new operator for the pub. “We’re 100 percent committed to the building itself and what it represents to people. We’re actively looking to lease the space,” Aliesky insists. “We’re really looking forward to having someone new — someone who’s excited to run a bar.”

Although it has already closed, the current incarnation will host a last hurrah this Saturday night to “celebrate five years of business,” Aliesky says. “We’re going to open the doors at 7. Quadra is playing and we’re going to have some really great drink specials.”

Has the change impacted The Belted Cow, a classy eatery that’s also located at the inn? Not a bit, Aliesky says reassuringly. “We support them completely. They’re still here and they’re doing well. I’m in there at least once a week.”

In case you missed it … Tilley’s Café on Church Street is being sold. Owner Suzanne Johnson — recently named “Restaurateur of the Year” by the Vermont Hospitality Council — plans to close on October 3 after giving fans a chance to snag a farewell meal.

Although she can’t yet name her buyer, Johnson is excited about his credentials. He’s “extremely knowledgable … and will make this a successful place,” she says.

Check out Blurt, the Seven Days staff blog, for the full story, including a comment from Johnson about the transition.