It was a win-win situation. After eight years, Kim Evans had decided it was time to sell the Village Cup, a café/bakery which had quickly become a Jericho institution. At the same time, Stephen Burke, slowly recovering from the death of his wife, Kathy Maguire, was looking for a new challenge. Burke had never worked in the food industry before, but that didn’t stop him from taking the plunge and purchasing the popular eating/meeting spot in November of 2008. In less than two years, Burke has made all kinds of improvements to what is now a hub of activity in Jericho Corners.
The 63 year old Burke is a native Vermonter who has lived in Underhill for more than twenty years. His wide-ranging background includes working as an export manager for a medical equipment company and running a paintball facility. The first thing Burke did after purchasing the Village Cup was survey his customers about their likes and dislikes. The questions were open-ended to ensure that customers could provide as much information as possible. This led him to create an improvement plan.
Burke set five goals: 1) maintain the café as a community meeting place and resource; 2) redesign the parking area; 3) rehabilitate the façade to maintain its historic integrity and create a welcoming and inviting gateway to the historic Jericho Corners Village District; 4) make the business more efficient and responsive to customer needs; and 5) maximize energy efficiency. Burke happily admits that he met his all his goals within his first eighteen months of owning the business.
Many changes are evident even before you walk through the door of the newly renovated 175-year-old structure which is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The parking area has been enlarged and improved, and there are dedicated entrance and exit lanes into the business. A pedestrian path from the parking lot is separate from the travel lanes. The new handicap ramp is protected from the elements, and a covered porch wraps around the side of the building, offering customers a chance to watch the sun set in the west. Ceiling fans ensure the deck doesn’t get too warm in the summer.
Inside, other changes are also immediately apparent. The interior has been completely turned around so the serving counter now backs up against the kitchen. Previously, servers had to walk through the seating area to get food. The seating capacity has more than quadrupled to 87, including the outside seats, and there is a pellet stove in one corner of the room. The new floor plan takes advantage of a large window which looks out on a neighbor’s field. Several countertops with electrical outlets are provided for those who want to make use of the Village Cup’s WiFi.
Changes which are less evident to customers include added insulation, new windows and doors, an energy efficient walk-in cooler, water saving devices on the dishwasher, sinks and toilets, and a kitchen that has tripled in size. Efficiency Vermont estimates that the new improvements will save 12,000 kWh and over 2,500,000 gallons of water a year.
In addition to its signature pastries and coffees, Burke has added an evening bistro menu and weekend brunch to the café’s offerings. Brunch is prepared by Chef Joseph Ianelli of Richmond, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Menu choices include a variety of omelets, eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, stuffed French toast, paninis, wraps, and a weekly special. The more recent bistro menu expands the Village Cup’s hours to 8 p.m. with sliders, wraps, and flatbreads. In addition to the desserts visible in the display cases, there are special offerings including chocolate fondue.
There are more changes to come. Burke is renovating the first floor of the building adjacent to the Village Cup to serve as a more formal restaurant. Previous owners lived in that building, but Burke maintains his Underhill home. The restaurant, to be named Caroline’s in honor of Burke’s mother, is scheduled for a soft opening on Labor Day to be followed by a grand opening when all the pieces are in place. There will be some historical touches such as old photos and newspaper clippings in the entranceway, and both the maître d’s table and the wait station will feature antique cherry furniture. The style of the old windows was maintained, even as the single panes were replaced by better insulated glass. In addition to the main area, there are several smaller rooms and nooks including one intimate setting which has already been informally dubbed “the proposal room.” As with the rest of the Village Cup menu, Burke will continue to use local products like vegetables from Paul Mazza and beef from the LaPlatte farm.
Burke thinks the new restaurant will contrast nicely with the bistro. He sees the bistro as an informal, affordable place where friends might share food with one another, while the restaurant will be a fancier setting, priced accordingly. The parking lot will be further expanded for the additional clientele. Even before the restaurant opens, Burke expects an increase in visits since he has just procured a license to serve beer and wine. Prior to gaining the license, the Village Cup was seeing up to 300 people a day; some just dashing in for a take-out coffee and pastry and others whiling away the hours with a group of friends. “We still have a very strong community base here,” he said, “but there are more people coming in whom we’ve never seen before.” Receipts from July 2009 to May 2010 were up 224 percent, even though during much of that time the café was undergoing major renovations.
When Burke purchased the Village Cup there was one pastry chef and one all purpose chef. Burke has retained these two professionals, but added an executive chef, a sous chef, three line chefs and several part-time kitchen staffers, in addition to expanding the service staff. “We have someone capable of putting out a professional meal from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week,” he said.
Although the expansion means Burke is spending most of his time at the Village Cup, he isn’t daunted by the work. “It’s still fun.” he said, “It’s definitely keeping me busier than I anticipated but I don’t feel tired.”
Burke looks around his community and sees an active older crowd whom he would like to emulate; people like Underhill native Bob Northrop who hiked the Long Trail from end to end when he was 80. He thinks back to his own father who built a house in his 70s. “People who retire and don’t do anything are missing out on so much,” he said. “I don’t see myself retiring any time soon. There’s an excitement here. People really like what we’ve done and that makes it worthwhile.”
This article was contributed by Phyl Newbeck.