July 22, 2014

Restaurant closes after two-year run

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New owners sought for Old Brick Cafe

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Old Brick Cafe, a homegrown oasis in a town full of chain restaurants, has served its last meal.

The eatery on U.S. 2 in Williston Village closed for good last weekend after dishing out its final Sunday brunch. Owner David Herskowitz said many factors were behind the closure, but in the end he simply tired of being a restaurant proprietor.

“I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” he said. “I’d rather be a landlord, not a restaurant owner.”

The business but not the building itself has been on the market for about a year. Herskowitz hopes to lease the cafe’s first-floor dining room and kitchen in the historic structure to another restaurateur. He said the Ayurvedic Center of Vermont, which offers holistic health services on the building’s second floor, will continue to occupy that space.

Since opening in March 2005, business at the cafe has been reasonably good, especially during weekend brunch, Herskowitz said. But he has struggled to find and keep quality staff. And he recently learned that chef Jake Williamson, who had worked at the restaurant for almost a year, would be leaving.

Some previous employees weren’t ideal, Herskowitz said, leading to sometimes inconsistent service and food quality. And he acknowledged that he was not always there to supervise the operation.

Online reviews of the Old Brick Cafe have been mixed. Some reviewers at www.insiderpages.com praised the restaurant, while others panned the food and service.

But customers who live and work nearby said they never had a bad meal at the cafe, the only eatery in the village. They said they would miss the convenience of having a nearby restaurant.

Steve Bradish said he could easily walk to the cafe from his home in the village. He and his wife, Linda, ate there once or twice a month.

“We just enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a lively addition to the village. We always ran into someone we knew.”

Williston Central School teacher Julie Longchamp said she, too, ate at the cafe once or twice a month. She and her fellow teachers also frequently picked up fresh-baked cookies at the cafe, bringing them back to school for a shared treat.

“They made the best chocolate chip cookies,” Longchamp said. “That’s what I’m going to miss the most.”

Though the restaurant found loyal customers, the town of Williston itself wasn’t so welcoming.

Herskowitz struggled to accommodate customers in his small parking lot. His attempts to expand the lot were thwarted by town officials, who denied a permit for more parking, saying it would impact wetlands and noting that parking was available across the street at Town Hall.

But Fire Chief Ken Morton and Public Works Director Neil Boyden urged the town to keep cafe customers away from Town Hall’s parking lot. They said those spaces were needed for municipal uses.

Herskowitz said he has no way of knowing if or how much the parking situation affected the cafe. He said over time it could have eroded his customer base and perhaps even hurt his ability to attract employees.

But he also acknowledged that he never planned to spend the rest of his life running a restaurant. He said he enjoyed renovating and converting the historic home, which was built in 1842, but it is time to move on.

Though the restaurant has been listed for sale for about a year, Herskowitz said he has yet to receive a serious offer. He wants to lease the space to a restaurant operator, saying it would be ideal for a chef who wants his own place. But if there is still no interest within the next few months, he said he will consider offers from other types of businesses.

Herskowitz said he will miss his customers. The cafe allowed him to meet new people, and many of them said how much they appreciated having a restaurant nearby.

“I know people are really going to miss us,” he said. “We served a need in town.”

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