On October 3, Tilley's Café in downtown Burlington — known for its seafood dishes, valet parking and tank full of tropical fish — will close its doors. Owner Suzanne Johnson explains, "I'm a single mom. I have full custody of three kids. They're my primary responsibility."
Last year, when she took over the full operation of the restaurant from her ex-husband, the plan was always to "find a business partner so I could be home and more present for [my children]." During the ensuing months, Johnson made lots of upgrades, she says, "cutting expenses, becoming a green and sustainable restaurant and educating the public about that."
Payoff came in August, when the Vermont Hospitality Council named Johnson "Restaurateur of the Year," lauding her as a "creative entrepreneur." But despite the accolade, says Johnson, finding a new business partner was tough. "With the economy, most of the [potential] buyers wanted to own and run it themselves."
Luckily, Johnson found someone she trusts to take the turnkey operation and help it thrive under a new name. Although she wouldn't divulge the buyer's identity, yet, she noted that he's "extremely knowledgeable... and will make this a successful place."
Before she closes, Johnson hopes that Tilley's fans will swing by for one more meal, and to say goodbye. "Out of respect for the people who love Tilley's, it was important for me to [tell them] ahead of time," she says. "I didn't want them to come here and find a padlock." Wanna get one last order of calamari or a Hanalei roll? Be sure to make a reservation. "Next weekend is UVM parents' weekend," she notes.