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Side Dishes: Café coming to Middlebury's Marquis Theatre

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Every eatery starts with an idea. So it is with the café set to open inside Middlebury’s Marquis Theatre next year, offering moviegoers the chance to nosh on pizza or sip wine while taking in first-run blockbuster and independent films.

Owner Bill Shafer, who bought the historic building in 2006, hopes to transform one of his downstairs vaudeville-era theaters into a 60- to 80-seat café serving small plates, soups and salads, and beer and wine. “It would be mostly tapas, and comfort and finger food. There’s already a lot of restaurants on the block, so this wouldn’t necessarily be an eating destination,” says Shafer, who counts Waitsfield’s Big Picture Theater & Café (and its co-owner, Claudia Becker) as one of his inspirations.

Driving the Marquis’ transformation is Shafer’s belief that small-town screens need to forge creative ways to survive, especially as they invest in digital projectors that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. “I know I’m not alone in small-town theaters reinventing themselves,” says Shafer.

He also feels passionately that venues like his must become gathering places; on his project website, middtownarts.com, Shafer outlines his ideas for transforming his screening room into a community center that could stream live sports and music events. He’d eventually like to create a 150-seat live music venue, something that is sorely needed in Middlebury, he says. “The limitations are left to the imagination,” he writes.

Shafer is seeking investors, each of whom could potentially help shape the scope of the café. He hopes it will open in early 2012.

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