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Grand Opening



Published July 1, 2009 at 5:46 a.m.

“Nan — you actually taking the afternoon off?” I asked my old customer. “I can’t believe it.”

Nan shot me one of her patented gleaming smiles and said, “I can’t believe it, either. I’ve got to de-stress or I swear, I’m gonna explode. Yesterday, for instance, I spent five hours cleaning the bathroom. This is after eight weeks of the contractors coming and going. Jeez frickin’ Louise. So, my friend in Colchester’s having this afternoon barbecue and I’m, like, ‘Donna, I am, like, so there.’”

Nan is poised to open a new restaurant in Burlington. Talk about a leap of faith. The Queen City, I’m told, has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the country. How’s that for competition? Plus, the economy isn’t exactly zipping along, in case you haven’t noticed. But Nan has a great concept, a culinary degree in her pocket and a couple of well-heeled partners who believe in her. Godspeed, I say.

“Hey, how’s the head chef hiring proceeding? Didja make an offer to that guy from New York City?”

A couple of weeks ago, Nan had me transport a sous-chef from Le Cirque, arguably the most renowned restaurant in the Big Apple. Driving with me, the man expressed his excitement about the chance to step up and actually manage his own kitchen.

“Nope; that guy was terrific, though. We’ve been taking the candidates to the farmers market and having them choose the ingredients and cook for us. Yeah, he was good. But ultimately we went with a cook from the Inn at Shelburne Farms.”

Whatever the odds, I thought as we cruised up the Northern Connector, this woman is going to succeed. I first drove Nan about 10 years ago when she was a wild and crazy St. Michael’s student. After graduating, she coached field hockey for a couple of years; then came the culinary degree, and now this. Is it strange to say I feel a little bit like the proud papa?

The thing is — now that I think about it — even at St. Mike’s, Nan was always a doer and an organizer. Her friends sometimes may have thrown caution to the winds, partying like there was no tomorrow. But even as Nan kept up with them, she never lost her head. This girl always had plans, and no college craziness was ever going to take precedence. It’s not surprising to see her now walking the path of an entrepreneur.

“So, you’re still thinking you’ll be able to open this summer?” I asked

“Oh, absolutely. We’re shooting for a soft opening within a few weeks, and then a more gala thing a little later on. We’ve jumped through just about all the regulatory hoops. What a frickin’ process. Dude, I feel like I’m ready to join the Cirque du Soleil.”

I considered how business owners are always complaining about the sticky “red tape.” As a small businessman myself, I can relate to the sentiment. But, having traveled widely through the U.S., I’ve seen firsthand the devilish social and environmental consequences of lax governmental oversight of business activity and development. To my mind, Burlington — and Vermont as a whole — strikes a pretty fair balance. (By way of full disclosure, I should add that I have been spotted hugging a tree or two.)

“Well, c’mon, Nan — tell me more. I want details. How about the waitstaff? Are you hiring up? How ya gonna dress ’em?”

“I guess we’re hiring,” she replied. “Every day now we’re interviewing and making offers. It’s scary, to tell the truth. We’re actually gonna have to open this thing, or there will be a lot of unhappy people! And, yeah, we did decide on the uniforms. They’re gonna be black, with black bibs and a white pinstripe.”

“Sweet — that sounds really nice. Classy but not over the top, if you know what I mean.”

We crossed the formidable Heineberg Bridge and rolled into one of the five or six distinct sections of Colchester. Cruising down the long beeline that is Porter’s Point Road, I said, “You know, I hate to tell this to ya, Nan — it doesn’t get better once you open. In fact, things get twice as crazy. I was involved in a restaurant start-up years ago, and it felt like the preopening process was one long creaking ride up the rollercoaster hill. On opening day, you crest and then ... well, you get the idea.”

As we eased into her friend Donna’s driveway, Nan began to chuckle. Taking out her money, she said, “Thanks a lot for that little insight, Jernigan. If I wasn’t freaking out already, now I’m, like, ready to take a flying leap off Perkins Pier.”

“Is that right?” I said, not missing a beat. “Just let me know when you’re ready, Nan, ’cause I’m in. I’m even gonna fish out my Speedo.”

“Don’t tempt me, dude, because I will call your bluff. You know I will.”

“Date and time, kiddo. You just say the word.”