- Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
- The Bearded Frog in Shelburne
Austin, 43, director of operations, and Cousineau, 39, executive chef and general manager, told Seven Days by phone that the lingering effects of the pandemic, including staffing challenges, made it impossible to keep the Bearded Frog open.
Both were mentees of the late Michel Mahe, a chef and entrepreneur who helmed a small group of restaurants that also included the now-closed Lobby in Middlebury and the Bobcat Café & Brewery in Bristol. The latter is now owned by Erin and Sanderson Wheeler, whom Mahe also mentored.
The Bearded Frog was more of a dining destination. “People weren’t really driving from Malletts Bay for [Bearded Frog] takeout,” Austin said. “Driving 20 minutes home with poached haddock didn’t really work.”
The restaurant’s location also hampered hiring efforts in a tight employment market, the pair said. Housing is especially expensive in Shelburne, and the Bearded Frog’s proximity to Burlington created stiffer competition for qualified applicants.
Cousineau, who manages the restaurant group’s shift schedule, said she was dreading summer’s end “like a cliff coming.” That’s when employees of high school and college age — such as Mahe’s son, Jonah, 19, who cooked at the Bearded Frog during vacations — leave or cut their hours significantly.
“We’ve been actively looking for staff,” Austin said, “but when a couple staff members decided to transition away … that was what tipped [the balance].”
Asked what it would take to reopen the restaurant, Austin said, “My jokey response is, ‘If a bus of restaurant employees shows up and is willing to work for us and is willing to live in that bus…’” In short, it’s unlikely.
Austin is working to combine point-of-sale systems so that any unredeemed Bearded Frog gift certificates can easily be used at Black Sheep, the group’s French-inspired bistro, and Park Squeeze, which offers a casual menu of burgers, flatbread, rice bowls and house cocktails.