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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

51 Main, Crooked Ladle Catering set to open downtown in March

The empty space at 51 Main Street will be empty no longer. Crooked Ladle Catering in conjunction with Everything Nice — the funding source for the Giving Fridge — has purchased the 4,300 sq. ft. space on a two-year lease and will be officially open for business on Wednesday, March 29. 

51 Main Street represents one the largest spaces in the Battell Block building and has been vacant since 2018, when the Rough Cut restaurant closed its doors.

The space will primarily be used to house Crooked Ladle Catering, where they will take advantage of their brand new kitchen seven days a week to service the wider Vermont community. In addition, they will open up the space as a restaurant and bar, called “51 Main,”  for three days a week, Wednesday through Friday. 

On off days, the space will be offered as an event venue for graduation parties, rehearsal dinners, fundraisers and the like. 

Prior to founding Crooked Ladle Catering in 2022, co-owners Loren and Jennifer Urban began as the catering leg for Bobcat Cafe in Bristol, where Loren worked as a sous chef for seven years. They worked in that role part-time for two years before the demand for their business warranted going off on their own.

According to the Urbans, they needed a much larger kitchen, and that of 51 Main Street was the only available space in Addison County that fit their needs. The large storefront was an added plus. 

“We’ll have good food, good drinks and just a good place to hangout,” Jennifer said. “It will be a welcoming space where everyone can enjoy being together.” 

Everything Nice and the Giving Fridge — a nonprofit organization that provides free meals for those in need, founded in December 2020 as a response to the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic — will also occupy the space on off-days. 

The Giving Fridge works in conjunction with Vermont’s Everyone Eats program to  “provide nutritious meals to Vermonters in need of food assistance, as well as a stabilizing source of income for Vermont restaurants, farmers, and food producers,” according to the program’s website. Since its inception, the Giving Fridge has reinvested more than $200,000 into the local economy, according to The Addison Independent. 

Conveniently for Crooked Ladle, at the time of their search for a new space, founder and operator of the Giving Fridge Bethanie Farrell was also looking for a new space — a larger, more permanent one — for her nonprofit to inhabit. Prior to 51 Main Street, she was using a singular, industrial fridge to store her meals.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Jennifer said, referring to the partnership.

A variety of businesses have come and gone in 51 Main Street, but the Urbans believe their multifaceted business model can stand the test of time.

“We are taking a very different approach to this space,” Loren said. “We are not relying on this place being packed seven days a week.”

Urban noted that prior businesses at 51 Main Street have not operated this way — sharing the space while relying mostly on their catering business for revenue — and they believe their model will be more sustainable.

As for the supposed “curse of 51 Main,” attributed to the space partly due to the difficulty past occupants had in keeping the doors of their businesses open and partly due to its former purpose as a casket factory, the Urbans aren’t worried.

“We saged out all of the ghosts,” Jennifer joked.

President of the Better Middlebury Partnership Karen Duguay shares the Urbans’ sentiment that this kind of business model will work and is glad the space is filled once again.

“Traditional restaurants have faced historic challenges in the last few years between the pandemic, supply chain issues and staffing shortages,” Duguay wrote in an email to The Campus. “This idea combines food service, entertainment, event space, retail and charitable giving all under one roof, which means it will not just count on one revenue stream. I think this concept is wonderful and has all of the ingredients to be successful.”

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Duguay noted that 2022 was a fantastic year for downtown Middlebury, with seven new businesses opening during the calendar year. She believes the addition of a new business at 51 Main Street — a location directly in the center of town — will increase foot traffic and vibrancy in the area.

“Between the businesses that received [funding from Kickstart Middlebury] and the ones who came on their own — we're feeling really good about the state of downtown Middlebury right now,” said Duguay. “We have a lot of wonderful businesses — some who have been here for many, many years who serve as solid anchors — and some who are brand new bringing an infusion of energy. It's a great combination, and we're looking forward to a really wonderful summer downtown.”

Sam Lipin

Sam Lipin '23.5 returns this fall for his third semester as an editor for the Sports section. A Classics major with an Italian minor, Sam worked as a reporting intern this summer at the Addison Independent. He has hosted four radio shows through WRMC and tells his friends he plays rugby though he has not been to a practice in a year and a half.