Late summer opening!

Peter Varkonyi and Lauren Stevens have big plans and Brownsville is a lucky town.  The Brownsville General Store was bought by a local group of twenty couples and residents. And plans are now underway for an extensive renovation.

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Now some of you may remember Varkonyi from his days as executive chef at the Home Hill Inn in Plainfield, N.H. between 2011 and 2014.  He is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute who also honed his expertise in Napa, then in San Francisco, eventually returned east via a Denver stint, and landed at Wild Roots in Royalton.

We wondered whether something was afoot when we caught up with Peter and his partner, Lauren Stevens, at Abracadabra Coffee in Woodstock.  They had staged a bagel and coffee pop-up last winter which featured home-made bagels slathered in melting cheese and eggs.  They were again in Woodstock at the East Ends Eats event-this time the fresh bagels were baked alongside the most outrageously delicious deep-fried doughnuts.

Lauren is a graduate of the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry.  Her love of nature is compounded with her lovely disposition and fondness for interaction with people.  The two love growing their own food and are now looking at the next phase of their lives together in Brownsville.  Having just recently put down roots in town, they share a common wish to emphasize quality of life in one’s own community as opposed to a traditional restaurant setting.  They realize that there is a  need for more affordable food and this has led them to their goal of a true community store-quite a change indeed from other gourmet country stores who cater primarily to tourists.

Varkonyi and Stevens as they avidly discuss their future

Besides the fact that there is no grocery source for about a 10-mile radius near Brownsville, a lot of the general maintenance at the store had fallen behind.  With this in mind, the substantial potential of the location, not to mention the historic charm, combined to ignite the genesis for this next phase.  Varkonyi and Stevens had actually been looking at property in Bethel when they received a phone-call from their financial advisor.  Basically, forty hours later, these two young entrepreneurs met with the owners of the Brownsville General Store and determined that they were indeed ready to be the operators.  

Brownsville Butcher & Pantry is born.

With regards to the community need for quality and savings, did any of us know that Varkonyi is a master butcher?  One of the highlights of the store’s future floor-plan will be carcasses of meat, carved and prepared for sale right on the premises.  This will take out some of the ‘middle-men’ factors that go into pricing and will allow him to pass on the savings to patrons.  A locals’ country store complete with butcher shop, useful grocery items, a prepared food counter and cafe will round out the project.

It was fun listening to these two young people spout their plan with such excitement.  With its focus on the meat, Varkonyi hopes to educate more people about the process and using or consuming meat responsibly.   The center of the store is to inform the public and allow visitors and patrons to see the bandsaw, the meat-cutting countertops, the grinder. What is visible in a particular case will be what pertains to that animal.

With atmosphere and experience as key components to one’s visit, the renewed and reclaimed shelves will carry local jams, pasta sauces, breads, bulk bins of grain, rice, spices, nuts but also essential toiletries, and bike parts for the large community of Ascutney mountain bikers.  (Ascutney Outdoors is now trying to restore rope tows, tubing, mountain biking and equestrian activities. Click here  Wine, beer, dairy, stews and casseroles, hot and cold prepared food and ready-made sandwiches for the local working crews will make up the take-away.  An open kitchen with a long bar will serve as the cafe portion serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily as well as beer and wine on tap.

The fish will be provided by Wood Mountain Fish, a New England seafood purveyor.  I am quite sure the supply of freshly baked bagels, cookies and the odd doughnut will fly off the shelves and counters.  There is additional chat about what you might label ‘raw’ pizzas or crab-cakes, partially cooked foods for take-away all set to be fired up and finished off back home.

With regards to highlighting other upper valley specialties, we know that La Pizza Lupo does special events, catering and pop-ups locally. Varkonyi and Stevens hope that every week or every two, they might convince these pizza masters to fire up their oven at Brownsville Butcher & Pantry as well. And with the abundance of local ice cream makers, why make it when surrounded by the likes of Kiss The Cow Farm, Walpole Creamery and Strafford Organic Creamery as prime candidates at the ice cream window?

Lauren’s future plans also include annuals and hanging pots in spring and summer and the two of them are excited about providing school lunches to the Albert Bridge School which sits about 100 yards from the store.  

With Varkonyi’s culinary gifts and Lauren’s love of people, they look forward to greeting their customers and encourage grocery shopping based on a relationship, leaving brand behind, and putting Brownsville on the map.  Might we anticipate a late August grand opening...

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