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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Lunch Clients Continue to Storm Cafe

Author: Anne DeWitt Local News Editor

Despite its rural location, Middlebury is a great place to eat. From whole-wheat pretzels and glazed fruit tarts at Otter Creek Bakery to raw milk cheddar at the Middlebury Co-op to a nearly all-organic farmer's market, unusual and sophisticated items are surprisingly available. And the focus is on fresh produce and creative preparation at many local restaurants, including Mary's in Bristol, Christophe's in Vergennes and The Starry Night Café in Ferrisburgh.

Much to the chagrin of gourmands in Middlebury and surrounding communities, one of the area's best dining venues recently downsized and reorganized its business. The Storm Cafe, which last spring underwent a metamorphosis, re-opened on May 1.

Located in Frog Hollow Mill next to Otter Creek, The Storm Cafe opened in September of 1997, initially for lunch and dinner five days a week. Now, however, the restaurant has switched to serving lunch Tuesday through Saturday and providing a carryout dinner business.

Lunch, always a busy time for the restaurant, has continued to attract customers in the same crowds as previously. The carryout dinner business, on the other hand "has been taking off kind of slow," according to John Goettlemann, who owns the Storm Café along with his wife Karen Goettlemann. He also described efforts to build up a catering business.

Although the food remains the same—soups, salads, sandwiches—lunch has become a more casual affair, with customers ordering from a blackboard as they walk in rather than being waited on. The carryout dinner, available between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., also features the sorts of dishes that characterized The Storm Cafe before its renovation, with a menu that changes weekly based on produce and popularity. Nightly offerings include pasta, fish, chicken, a vegetarian entrée and a bouillabasse or jambalaya, as well as lasagnas, quiches and a selection of desserts.

"We decided to try and have a life," said Goettlemanm. He explains that the birth of a baby boy 18 months ago prompted them to reduce the demands of the restaurant business in favor of family necessities. He calls the new schedule "more manageable timewise."

According to Goettleman, The Storm Cafe just finished its busiest time of year. Tourists up for the fall foliage season provide a lot of business, as does the College's start of the fall semester and its two parents' weekends. The next few months, as winter arrives and tourism drops, usually constitute the restaurant's slowest season and will serve as the real test of whether the adapted business will succeed.

"Dinner is where you make money," said Goettleman, who has been in the restaurant business since high school. In addition, as a chef he finds dinner more inspiring. "Personally, as a cook, that's what I'd rather be doing."

From where the restaurant now stands Goettleman is unable to predict whether it will succeed in its new format. While he hopes to continue the lunch/carryout dinner/catering focus, Goettleman admits that falling back on the dinner business "is in the back of our minds."