Vermont Butcher Block & Board Co. opens doors
By Jess Wisloski
When David Glickman, the owner of Vermont Butcher Block & Board Company, moved to this state, he was giving up the kind of Manhattan-centric lifestyle that to some sounds just like the dream of “making it.”
Working as a pharmaceutical project manager, he and his wife faced raising their first child in the city he grew up near as a suburban kid in Montvale, N.J. A switch flipped for them, he said. And he was sick of the suits.
“I just wanted to take off my tie and wear tie dye for the rest of my life,” said Glickman in a recent interview. When they made the move out of the city with their one-year-old, it was his wife’s job at the Williston’s Dorothy Alling Memorial Library that anchored them to their new home in the Green Mountain State.
That leap was the first time he had a chance to explore what he wanted to do next: that’s how he found woodworking.
“Growing up, my parents were very much professionals and white collar, but once I realized New York was no longer the right place for us to live, I took woodworking classes, and that’s when I realized, ‘Hey, I could sell this stuff,’ and I started making pieces,” he said.
That was 13 years ago, and Glickman’s dabbling turned into a more lucrative career than he could’ve imagined when he was a student at Shop Talk, an educational center that’s now closed. Now he’s got a business that does millions in sales, hires up to 15 employees at a time, and a new showroom in Williston, where he’s lived since that jump.
The Vermont Butcher Block & Board Company’s new factory store and handcrafters gallery opened on May 2 in Williston, at 160 Boyer Circle. The little wood products business Glickman dreamed up back in the fall after he first took lessons is now a world-renowned manufacturer of high-end wood tables, chopping blocks, boards and more. He now has three children, two of them at Williston Central School, and one in the high school — and the dream continues to grow.
After a few years of independent workshop production, which he did from his South Road home, and online sales, he was able to hire a few employees in 2006. By 2010, the company had enough product, and interest, to open a College Street location, and soon after relocated to Church Street in Burlington.
He auditioned for and wound up on the television show “Shark Tank” — in which entrepreneurs get a chance to convince business investors to sink money into their ideas — in 2012, in a wacky bid to try and find investors to seed an expansion. Though the funding didn’t work out, the show did, in a roundabout way, enable the company’s eventual growth.
Though it was making a killing during the four years it had a retail store downtown, the Vermont Butcher Block & Board Co., which featured the signature tables, chopping blocks and cutting boards in the windows, had a fundamental problem. The pace of manufacturing was unsustainable given the size of the company, Glickman said.
“We couldn’t get enough product in the store. We were just selling through everything too quickly,” he said. But when his “Shark Tank” episode aired in 2013, he was contacted by representatives for the Flexible Capital Fund, a royalty-financing investment fund that invests in growth-stage Vermont businesses.
Specifically, the fund looks for companies with products in the agricultural or food sector, like wood products and clean technology. (Royalty financing is a mix between equity and angel investors.)
So Glickman walked away from another stuff-of-dreams situation: he shuttered the massively successful store on Church Street. The company didn’t renew the lease when it came up on five years, due to the inability to keep up with the demands for inventory.
Still, it’s the fawning over that store that has led him to reconsider retail, and ultimately open the new factory store, he said.
“I get so many people saying, ‘Oh, I miss your store,’ and there’s almost been a following, a cult following. We sold millions and millions of dollars of our stuff out of that store over the five years, it was just crazy,” he said.
So what does the company do when it’s not basking in retail glory? Large-scale restaurant work, and lots of it. Daniel Boulud, the esteemed French chef who has seven restaurants in New York, and six international and national restaurants, is one of his main clients, he said. Most of the Vermont-grown wood products actually go out of state, he said.
The new store won’t necessarily feature the kind of thing you’d see in one of Boulud’s chic Manhattan bistros, but it will have items with steep markdowns.
“It will help us move some of our seconds that we can’t sell online or elsewhere,” he said. “We’re bringing in a lot of other handcrafters, so we’re going to have kind of a 6,000-square-foot art gallery.”
When asked why he thinks so many executive chefs, many based in the larger cities of the U.S., are drawn to his products, he said he thought it was largely the Vermont factor. “When people think of Vermont, all they think about is wood and syrup and stuff like that. They think of startup companies like Ben and Jerry’s and some of those other businesses. That’s what we are. We were basically a startup,” he said. “I will tell you, having Vermont in the name of any company just helps it.
And Glickman can actually wear tie-dye shirts now whenever he wants. Plus, for a boy who grew up just outside of the city, he still finds himself in surreal moments of success.
Whenever he and his wife are in New York, a Board & Block client – one of which is Blue Ribbon Restaurants, owned by Michelin three-star chef-trained Bruce Bromberg — insists upon hosting them. “Whenever we go there, we get treated like royalty,” he said. When he arrived at one restaurant filled with suit-wearing diners, even though he was in a tee-shirt, accompanied by a friend in flannel, he was still spoiled. “The chef knows us, the maitre’d knows us, we sat in the corner… and they brought out free food. And everyone kept staring at us like we were celebrities,” he said. A real New York City dream.