For more than 20 years, the Country Pantry was a Fairfax community hub known for its head-scratchingly inexpensive home cooking. In 2009, owner Sulaiman “Sam” Jadallah sold the restaurant after he was charged with a pair of sexual offenses. The incident started the place on a wild ride that took it through two more sets of owners in as many years and a new identity as the Vermont Breakfast Company, which closed earlier this year.
Starting the first week in May, fans looking to enjoy the Country Pantry again will be in luck. According to Lisa Middelton, who co-owns the restaurant with several of her family members, her team plans to restore the restaurant to its glory days with a throwback menu — and low prices.
Middelton, whose family started Land Air in Essex in the 1960s, has recruited a friend, Keith Neil, to run day-to-day operations of the restaurant while she continues to style hair at the Carriage House Beauty Salon in Montpelier. A Vermont native who spent years managing “three-, four- and five-star restaurants” in California, Neil says his vision for the Country Pantry is based as much on memories of the Fairfax restaurant as on his childhood favorite, Berlin’s Wayside Restaurant & Bakery.
In fact, he’s hired Terry Salls, a Wayside and Soup ’n’ Greens alum, to be chef. Neil says to expect stocks, gravies and soups made from scratch using house-roasted turkey and chickens, along with hard-to-find New England classics such as liver and onions. Pies will be cooked either locally or at the restaurant.
More than anything, Middelton, her family and Neil are interested in giving locals a treasured taste of the past. “I think people are looking for something ... they grew up on,” says Neil. “It’s not going to be the same owners, but the goal is to bring back the same country feel, home-cooked meals, and call people by their first name. That’s something the community here wants.”