George and Tonja Kendall grew up on the same street together. They graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School in the same class in 1996. They have been married 14 years, but this is their first time working together.
They opened Kendall’s Kitchen on May 12 in Saxtons River. The restaurant has been busy ever since it opened, with lines out the door for three hours at times.
The all-homemade menu was developed with input from the community. It includes popular breakfast items like George’s hash and sausage gravy, homemade biscuits and homefry plates.
“Nothing comes from a can,” Tonja said.
While George has been cooking all his life, with experience working in anything from fine dining restaurants in Florida to Applebee’s, serving up to 1,500 people for lunch, this is a major career change for Tonja.
Tonja most recently worked as an insurance agent in Keene, New Hampshire.
“I went from being yelled at to smiling faces,” she said. “Food makes people happy. Unfortunately, insurance is a necessary evil. It’s a much-needed, pleasant change.”
The Kendalls have catered weddings together on the side for the past seven years. Owning their own restaurant has always been a goal.
“It was definitely trying in the beginning,” said Tonja.
Tonja always had day jobs in the past, while George worked in kitchens on nights and weekends.
“Being together ... has definitely been a learning curve,” Tonja said.
They’ve settled into a routine. Tonja runs the front of the restaurant, while George runs the back.
Kendall’s Kitchen is the only restaurant in the area besides the Saxtons River Inn. It has received rave reviews on Facebook, with its low prices and all-day breakfast.
From left, Jacinta McAllister, George and Tonja Kendall, and Julia Martin.
Kendall’s Kitchen is a family-run business. Their 18-year-old daughter, 12-year-old son, and Tonja’s sister all help out. Family friend Jaime Dolloph and her 17-year-old son also work at the restaurant.
The Kendalls catered Dolloph’s wedding in 2008, making her a wedding cake and serving barbecue chicken.
George Kendall’s love of cooking began as a child. He grew up in a big family where he would help in the kitchen. Cooking was a creating outlet for him.
He learned to cook at culinary classes as student at Bellows Falls Union High School. As a teenager, he washed dishes at Vermont Academy, and learned to do meal prep work.
He then went to Northlands Job Corps Center in Vergennes for culinary arts before receiving a scholarship to attend New England Culinary Institute.
George was the food service director at Bentley Commons, an independent and assisted living community in Keene, New Hampshire, for six years before he and Tonja took over Kendall’s Kitchen at 16 Main St., formerly Pleasant Valley Brewing.
George said he enjoys making most anything for others, but that when it comes to cooking for himself, “I’d rather go out and order Chinese food,” he said. “I’m a true blue chef.”
Kendall’s Kitchen is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, and is open for dinner Thursday and Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
-- KATY SAVAGE