Peter Varkonyi and Lauren Stevens, proprietors of Brownsville Butcher & Pantry

Worth Knowing: Brownsville Butcher & Pantry is delightful


Submitted 8 days ago

There's a wonderful new business establishment located in Brownsville just down the road from Skunk Hollow and just up the road from Mt. Ascutney. It is completely worth your while to go check this place out. So let me tell you about it.

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A little history is in order. The Upper Valley has witnessed the loss of several long established general stores over the past few years. In 2012, the Barnard General Store shuttered its operations only to re-open after an infusion of community support in 2013. The Cornish General Store closed in 2013 only to re-open in 2017 and then close again this year. Both the Brownsville General Store and the North Tunbridge General Store closed in 2017. The Etna General Store may be closing this week! (See Etna General Store may close story.) While community members have generally been enormous supporters of their local general stores, the stores haven't been able to remain open without more traffic and more dollars spent on the goods on their shelves

When the Brownsville General Store closed in 2017, the community was distraught. This had been the place for townspeople to rub shoulders, drink a cup of coffee, buy the newspaper and catch up on one another's lives for 47 years. FORTY-SEVEN YEARS!!!! With the store closed, the closest cup of coffee was in Reading, Windsor or Hartland, around 15 minutes away by car. 

The former Brownsville General Store

Enter a group of community investors calling themselves Friends of the Brownsville General Store. They bought the property from Lake Sunapee bank to preserve it as the location for a general store as soon as they could locate the proper proprietor. Then enter Peter Varkonyi and Lauren Stevens.

Peter trained at the New England Culinary Institute and was introduced to the Upper Valley when he was the Executive Chef at Home Hill in Plainfield for several years. After Home Hill, Inn Peter worked as a chef in Denver and San Francisco. After missing the Upper Valley, he returned and met his eventual fiancé and business partner, Lauren—a graduate of the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and who was a Farm Manager in Norwich.

The couple were initially looking to open a butcher shop somewhere in the Upper Valley. They were exploring another location when they learned about the Brownsville General Store location. They met with the Friends group and suddenly their dreams became a reality. They quickly learned that the square footage of the site and the needs of the community were crying out for much more. So they took the model of the general store and transformed it into something much, much more.

Friends of Browsnville General Store loved the idea and were enthusiastic about Peter and Lauren as the operators.

So Peter and Lauren got to work, and over the course of 2018, they've been working tirelessly to update and improve the building. They added tables and chairs and reused the old countertop for the table tops. They poured brand new concrete countertops and added a tap system to host local beer and cider. To top it off, they built an entirely new kitchen and installed a walk-in refrigerator system with a glass wall. And so on.

In mid- November, they were ready to open. Peter and Lauren hosted an open house on Friday November 16th. And guess what? Over 400 people came. They opened theirr doors to the public on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

What should you expect at Brownsville Butcher & Pantry? It's a place for locals to come and drink their morning coffee and buy the newspaper. (I'm told some of the locals who've been coming for the last week are the same people who came to the Brownsville General Store for coffee every day.) But it's so much more than that.

Very happy locals enjoying the new store

It's a restaurant with 24 seats that serves breakfast, lunch and - soon - dinner.

 It's a place to buy locally sourced beef, chicken, pork and duck. (Read: butcher.) 

It's a place to buy local produce, about 90% of which comes from Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, NH

It's a place to buy breads and pastries (freshly baked on-site), craft beers brewed in New England, milk, and coffee beans, all of which are locally sourced to the extent possible. (Read: pantry).

It's a place to buy spices in bulk and winter vegetables.

It's a place to buy a wide selection of wines. 

It's a place to buy fresh fish and seafood that’s delivered by locally owned Black River Produce and sourced by New England's Wood Mountain Fish.

It's a place that showcases works by local artists and craftsmen. 

 

It's a place to order Vermont-brewed craft beer and cider or to have a glass of wine.

Bread and pastry chef Laura Horner-Richardson behind 8 taps

 I'll stop there. Suffice it to say that it's a whole lot more than a place to buy coffee and a newspaper.

When I chatted with Peter and Lauren yesterday afternoon, I asked them what there message was to members of the Upper Valley who are curious about their new establishment. Peter said the message he would give is "Come and see the [Brownsville] Butcher & Pantry and stay to see Brownsville and all it has to offer." Peter and Lauren will be directing visitors to local art studios and workshops as well as to nearby hiking and recreational trails on Mt. Ascutney.

Isn't all of the above reason enough to go visit the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry? Well if it's not, you should be aware that Peter and Lauren are planning to host regular weeknight specials like Barbeque night on Thursday and Pizza and Oysters on Friday. They'ill also be partnering with local purveyors like Artisanal Cellars with which they are hosting a wine tasting on December 22 in tandem with a pizza night.

Brownsville Butcher and Pantry is located at 871 VT-44 in the heart of Brownsville. Go there.

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