Cabot, News

Dueling Eateries Pop Up On Main Street

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CABOT – The town hosted dueling restaurant debuts last month with the reopening of Headwaters Restaurant and Pub and the pop-up launch of Stag & Thistle across the street.

photo by Catherine Morrissey, UVM Community News Service
Headwaters and the Cabot Library, where Stag and Thistle’s dinner was held, face each other across Main Street.

The simultaneous eatery openings on Friday, March 22, set up something of a competition on Cabot’s Main Street.

Shane and Ruby Baker, the owners of Stag & Thistle, worked at Headwaters before that restaurant closed in January after just four months of operation. Russell Statman, the owner of Headwaters, said he paused the business to rebuild with a new staff.

“We were successful in terms of putting out a great restaurant, and people who came here had a good time enjoying themselves,” Statman said while circling the Headwaters dining room during that first Friday night of new operation. “But behind the scenes, things just weren’t working smoothly.”

photo by Catherine Morrissey
Chris Porter, vice president (left) and Russell Statman, owner of Headwaters Restaurant and Pub.

Statman lives in Burlington and had a general manager running Headwaters before it closed. He is no longer designating that role and now commutes to Cabot to take a more hands-on approach with the operation, he said.

Headwaters blends fine dining with a New England pub atmosphere, sitting on Main Street with the Winooski River running behind it. Across the street from Headwaters, on the upper floor event space in the Willey Building community center Stag & Thistle held its pop-up dinner to raise money for a permanent brick-and-mortar location, the Bakers said.

“We were opening tonight first, and then they decided to open,” Ruby Baker said. “They will do what they do, and we will do what we do. Frankly, we’re booked.”

Statman said he held the Headwaters reopening on March 22 because the following Friday was Good Friday, which he expected to be an unpopular day for patrons to dine out.

The Bakers, who served as “front and back of house team” at Headwaters, with Shane in the kitchen and Ruby at the bar, said they wouldn’t discuss their reasons for leaving the restaurant.

photo by Catherine Morrissey
Shane and Ruby Baker (right) take a moment before the Stag and Thistle dinner in Cabot last month.

“Now that we’re here, we’re just moving on with our lives,” Shane said.

The Bakers met while working at the Stowehof Inn in Stowe, where Ruby was a server and Shane a line cook. Since then, they have dreamed of opening their own place.

After they parted ways with Headwaters, the Bakers said they received much support from the community. Many customers suggested they should continue in the food business.

“So many people reached out and were like, ‘We miss it, we want it,’” Ruby said. That’s when they said to themselves, “This is the moment, and the time is right,” she added.

During the pop-up, which cost $50 per person, Stage & Thistle served braised beef short ribs with cheddar polenta and homemade fettuccine with mushroom brandy cream sauce. Ruby favored the seared cauliflower with butter bean puree and chimichurri, which she called “a sleeper dish.”

Stag & Thistle focuses on pairing game meat dishes and dark liquor, including whiskey and bourbon.

“We’re getting our bread locally, we’re getting our cheese locally, we’ve got a lot of our meat from Hardwick,” Shane said. “Everything that we’re doing here is trying to support the network of people right here in Cabot.”

The Bakers said they need about $75,000 to secure a permanent location. During the pop-up, they raised about $6,600 with about 100 reservations. The Bakers turned people away for weeks, they said.

“If we thought we could’ve handled it, we could’ve done 150” or more, Shane said.

The space was tight with tables set up in long rows for the specialty dinner’s single seating. “You can see there’s not much room to fit more people in,” Ruby added.

The couple plan to host more fundraising dinners, as well as a barbecue for the solar eclipse on April 8. The a la carte barbecue menu will cost $10 to $20, Ruby said.

Before the Headwaters reopening, coming just two months after Burlington newspaper “Seven Days” reported on its closure, Statman ran an ad declaring, “Rumors of our demise were greatly exaggerated,” a reference to the well-known Mark Twain quote, denying reports of the author’s death after a premature obituary was published.

Around 6:30 p.m. on reopening night, diners populated Headwaters’ three dining rooms: the Fireside Lounge, the Pub Room and the Mural Room. The resurrected restaurant has revamped its dining experience with new menus, new staff uniforms, a larger wine list and more frequent live music. Guitarist Mark Hayman played for diners on that Friday.

The most important addition, Statman said, is servers with more fine-dining experience.

Headwaters has yet to hire a permanent chef but is testing out “guest chefs” to find the best fit. For now, the restaurant will operate Friday through Sunday on most weekends until a chef is in place for a consistent schedule, Statman said.

“A restaurant is a business,” he said. “It has to run economically, and we weren’t efficient. So, we’re working on that tonight.”

Statman plans to add a new lawn area where patrons can enjoy drinks and appetizers, to replace grass that washed away after the July floods. Once the weather warms, Headwaters will begin dining service on its outdoor deck.

The revived Headwaters brought out customers new and old. Jeannie Johnson, a Cabot resident and editor of the “Cabot Chronicle,” the town’s community newspaper, said she came to dine when she learned the local restaurant had reopened.

“People come from anywhere in Central Vermont and even beyond” to eat at Headwaters, Johnson said, gesturing to one of her dining companions. “He works in Montpelier.”

Johnson said she enjoyed the addition of live music. “From time to time, I might come by myself,” she said. “It would make it that much nicer.”

At the Stag & Thistle dinner, Emily Dale said she came to support the Bakers.

“I’ve had a lot of food that Shane has cooked, and it’s amazing,” Dale said. “They had it going on (at Headwaters), and they want to continue it, so I’m really grateful for that.”

Luis Guzmán, a well-known actor and Marshfield resident, also attended the Stag & Thistle dinner. “I want to support [the] chef and his wife and their team,” said Guzmán, who is known for his numerous character roles, including in the Netflix series “Wednesday” as the title character’s father. He added that he wanted “to be a part of making their dream come true, and to have a restaurant that we, as a community, support.”

Cabot and nearby towns are all about community and neighbors coming together, Guzmán said.

“When we had the flooding this past summer, it was just amazing how everybody came out to help, whether they brought equipment, their labor, their manpower, their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Guzmán said. “This town is definitely a family, and I find that a lot in this area.”

Baker, who grew up in Cabot, likes the idea of starting a restaurant that brings economic benefit to the community.

“I care about the town surviving and thriving,” she said, looking down from a balcony onto the musicians providing the evening’s entertainment at Stag & Thistle. “This is my high school teacher playing guitar and my next door neighbor playing guitar, and these kids go to school with my kids.”

The MetroGnomes, a student band from Cabot School, also provided live music for the pop-up.

From Statman’s point of view, the more dining spots in Cabot, the better.

“Growing the pie is better than fighting over the small pie,” he said. “We can grow the pie if we work together.”

Noah Diedrich reported this story on assignment from The Hardwick Gazette. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.”

Noah Diedrich, Community News Service

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