Discriminating diners will drive to - not through - hardscrabble Hardwick if a team of foodies has its way. Next spring, Chef Steven Obranovich, Mike Bosia, Linda Ramsdell and Christina Michelsen intend to open Claire's in the Bemis Block, which was damaged by fire last year.
The restaurant and café will be named after Claire Fern, a local artist known for her hospitality. "She extended a warm welcome to everyone; she was a wonderful cook who very much appreciated what everyone brought to the table," says Ramsdell, who is also the owner of Hardwick's Galaxy Bookshop.
The group will utilize a financial model similar to the one Robert Fuller used to start the Bobcat Café in Bristol. A group of local investors each ponies up a small amount of cash to launch the restaurant; they're repaid in food.
And how will it taste? The partners describe the fare as "New Vermont Cooking," a.k.a. eclectic, moderately priced comfort food. Dishes will range from spaghetti and meatballs to special-occasion items such as herbed leg of lamb with potato au gratin and string beans. The menu acknowledges local roots with sides of molasses-baked beans and French-Canadian poutine.
"New Vermont Cooking reflects both the values we care about and the direction that local farmers and restaurants have taken," says Obranovich, who worked briefly at Greenboro's now-defunct Lakeview Inn and is currently sous-chef at Michael's on the Hill in Waterbury Center. "Opening a restaurant is a challenge. Emphasizing local and organic produce while maintaining affordability is even more so. We don't expect to get rich - I just want to make a living by doing something I love for a community I care about."
Claire's will be more than just a place for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. There will be live music on Thursday nights, with a focus on folk and country. Michelsen, a lawyer and a musician, plans to book lots of local entertainment.
Says Bosia, a political science professor at St. Michael's College, "We're looking to make a long-range investment in the future of Hardwick."