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Statehouse Shake-Up

Side Dishes: Legislators get local lunches

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Visitors to the Vermont StateHouse Cafeteria this week will notice a few changes. The kitchen has been refurbished; there are new carpets. Even the marble has been polished to a new luster. But the most substantive adjustment is to the food and the people who make it.

Between November 2003 and November 2007, FitzVogt, a dining-service provider based in Walpole, N.H., managed the lunchroom. But when it came time to run for re-election, the company lost out to a Vermont-based biz, the Abbey Group, headquartered in the tiny Franklin County town of Sheldon. The AG employs about 250 staffers in schools and businesses throughout the state, and, according to VP of Operations Scott Choiniere, is responsible for feeding 25 percent of the state's elementary and high school students.

"We've been awarded the [StateHouse] contract for the next three years," boasts Choiniere. "We had the better package, evidently." One possible deciding factor: "We specialize in buying local, as close to Vermont as possible." He also notes that the AG used to cook for Vermont legislators before the larger FitzVogt came to town.

"We have an almost exclusively Vermont supply, but not totally," Choiniere says, noting that diners will feast on local products "from A to Z." These include the usual suspects, such as milk, bread, eggs and cheese, as well as condiments, candies, mints, pickles and pies. The cafeteria will have two homemade soups, a salad bar, a deli station and one to three "chef-created entrées" each day.

The AG serves breakfast and lunch to politicians and plebes alike - the eatery is open to the public. But, Choiniere warns, "It's really hectic when the legislature is in session."

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