- Julianna Brazill
Inside the entrance to the Hinesburgh Public House sits an antique wooden shelf full of cookbooks such as Gourmet Vegetarian Cooking, Jane Fonda's Cooking for Healthy Living and The Great American Seafood Cookbook. The lower shelves hold children's books and cribbage boards.
It isn't just an entertaining collection for customers to leaf through while they wait for tables. It's a lending library.
"We've had it forever," founder Will Patten said. "My wife has an abundance of cookbooks, and I thought a bookshelf was a nice addition to the space."
Patten doesn't know how many customers actually borrow the books, though at least one local resident stops in a couple times a week to browse. It's a cozy corner of the industrial, loft-style building that hints at the community focus of the decade-old restaurant.
Before opening the Public House in Hinesburg's redeveloped Saputo cheese plant in late December 2012, Patten and his wife, Kathleen, sold $500 shares to raise the necessary operating capital.
"There were a lot of people that wanted to come," Patten recalled. "I knew the town needed a place like this."
These days, in the spacious dining room and the often packed bar, customers from all walks of life dine on chickpea Caesar salads, Thai curry mussels, local sirloin steaks, and simple pub fare such as chicken wings and burgers. As one of just a few full-service eateries in Hinesburg — a town without seasonal influxes of tourists or college students, Patten noted — the Public House has to serve the full spectrum.
"We are truly a public house, in every sense of the word," said general manager Alex Dziurzynski, who joined the Public House team in 2016.
The New England Culinary Institute graduate had cooked all over the country and been executive chef at the Inn at Essex, but he wanted a job in Hinesburg, where he was raising his kids. Now majority owner of the Public House, Dziurzynski will acquire full ownership from Patten within two years.
Over the years, the restaurant has hosted regular Monday burger nights and community suppers supporting local charities as ways to give back to Hinesburg and its residents. Young musicians often use the piano to practice and perform. All these activities enhance the culture at the Public House, Patten said — where more than half of the staff consists of local teenagers working their first jobs.
"The parents trust us," Dziurzynski said. "They know they're going to come here and get life experience — but be respected."
During the pandemic lockdown, the Public House closed for only three days before switching to low-cost takeout family meals and bringing back its staff as quickly — and safely — as possible.
That sort of holistic thinking is central to the Public House's operation: It's a mission-driven benefit corporation, meaning that it works equally to serve customers, staff, the community, area farmers and food producers, and investors.
"Socially responsible businesses don't make any more money [than others]," Patten said. "But the life expectancy — that's where you get your payback. People will support a restaurant that they know is giving back."
To celebrate the restaurant's 10-year anniversary in December, Patten and Dziurzynski offered $10 burgers and $10 drinks between Christmas and the New Year. Half of the customers came for the specials, Patten said, and half came to say thanks.
"As the town grows, we're gonna grow," Dziurzynski said. "We are a reflection of the community."
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