Friday, August 24, 2007

Investing in Community

Many of you have heard us talk about the Bobcat Café model. Briefly, Bristol residents asked restaurateur Robert Fuller to open a local establishment. At first, he was hesitant, but agreed to proceed with the project if 12 local people came forward to demonstrate their commitment to the restaurant by lending $5,000 each. In a week, Fuller had 18 commitments and he soon had to cap the number at 32. Those 32 people, plus their families, friends and neighbors, are a vital part of the Bobcat Café's success. We've visited the Bobcat Café and met with Robert Fuller, and his approach has inspired both our community investment model and fueled our desire to create a "third place" in downtown Hardwick. To read the full story of the Bobcat Cafe, visit the Preservation Trust of Vermont at

As in the Bobcat Café model, our community investment model invites everyone to participate in the success of Claire's, and draws on local sources of capital. Many of you have heard about the Community Supported Restaurant Coupons. Thank you to everyone who has purchased a coupon already! We have commitments for almost half of the 50 we have to offer. Each coupon is $1,000, and provides discount of $25 one time per month, for ten months of every year, during the first four years of operations. We encourage you to buy yours now. Contact us at if you have questions or to reserve your place on the list to purchase a coupon, or if you don't have questions, go ahead and send a check payable to Claire's to P.O. Box 1127, Hardwick, VT 05843.

Additionally, the Hardwick Restaurant Group, LLC is raising capital for leasing and equipping the restaurant space, and Claire's Bar and Restaurant, LLC seeks funds for operations and working capital. Both the Hardwick Restaurant Group and Claire's Bar and Restaurant are raising capital in what are called, under the law, "separate private offerings to qualified investors." We strongly believe in a community investment model, where everyone in the community has a vested interest in the proposed project and a stake in the future of Main Street. In order to comply with applicable securities laws, these offerings are limited to a small number of qualified investors. Any form of general solicitation is prohibited.

You are invited to be in touch with us if we haven't contacted you. Please write to Linda Ramsdell at or telephone 586-9964. We'll respond with additional information about investment opportunities. Any actual offering of securities will be subject to additional disclosure and a waiting period prior to any acceptance of any investment.

Purchase your CSR Coupons Now:

A total of only 50 CSR Coupons will be available, in the amount of $1,000

Provides 40 $25 dining coupons
Enough for four years of dining
Spendable ten months of each year
Only one per monthYou pick the months it applies
Unused certificates expire

Your friends and neighbors have already signed up for nearly half of the available coupons!

To get on the list, email or send a check payable to Claire's to P.O. Box 1127, Hardwick, VT 05843.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

E-Claire's - Our Electronic Community Meeting

(with apologies in advance for an extended post)

50+ friends and neighbors come to the Galaxy Bookshop to learn about Claire’s Restaurant and Bar; enjoy chocolate and raspberry cream cookies (pictured below during cooking)

Opening Date: February 2008
Join us for a Valentine's Day Celebration!

Mission Statement:
To offer expertly prepared and affordable meals,
Utilizing the best local ingredients direct from the growers and artisans,
In a comfortable and convivial setting with attentive service,
Supporting local farming and the rural economy.

The New Rural Economy:
In The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg introduced the idea of the "third place," separate from home and work, where people gather for conversation, community, and conviviality. This concept has been at the heart of the success of Robert Fuller's Bobcat Café in Bristol, Vermont, and serves as a model for a philosophy of welcome and community that motivates us at Claire's Restaurant and Bar - named to celebrate Claire Fern. Until recently, a Third Place, as we imagine Claire's, has existed on or near Main Street. The last such space, Benny's, a bar and later sandwich shop, was housed in a part of the space Claire's will occupy in the Bemis Block and closed as a result of the fire. Egress was a well supported dining space to the east of the Bemis Block. In 2003, Claire's partner and Galaxy Bookshop owner Linda Ramsdell convened a community based planning group to pursue a local restaurant. Despite overwhelming enthusiasm and the participation of nearly 60 local individuals, the group could not identify a team to operate the dining space envisioned for the Daniel's Building.

The result is that Hardwick currently has no space as comparable in size or mission to Claire's and no Third Space to bring the community together. In the summer, classical music performances occur at the Hardwick Townhouse, and blues at the Grange in Greensboro. But there is no space providing beer, wine, or cocktails, food, and music closer than Bees Knees in Morrisville and River Run in Plainfield. Hardwick even lacks visible gallery space for the artists and artisans who live in the area. To meet these needs, Claire's intends to offer table side service, a full bar and separate bar seating, weekly music nights that focus on local folk and country musicians, weekly afternoon "open mike" events for high school performers, access for special events or meetings in one of two interconnected spaces, rotating exhibits that include local artists, full service or bar or coffee service from 11:30 am through dinner on weekdays, and afternoon wifi access.

Hardwick, with its historic Main Street buildings and rich history as the center of regional economic activity, has been targeted for support of opportunities on Main Street and in agriculture. Beginning in 2005, and under the auspices of a Creative Communities grant, local residents and business people formed a steering committee to solicit ideas and through community participation identify a series of projects centered on the expansion of the Hardwick area's creative economy. Completed a year later, the report highlights the need to enhance existing recreational opportunities, expand local support for the arts and rural production, and refocus development on Main Street, including a restaurant. Initial planning for Claire's began in 2003 at meetings that included the participation of 55 area residents and business owners. By 2005, planners had secured a chef and developed a business model, and identified space for the restaurant on Main Street in 2006. Claire's founding partners were invited to participate in the 2006 annual "Retreat for Community Projects" hosted by the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

The focus on Main Street is in conjunction with profound changes in the agricultural economy. Since 1999, the High Fields Institute in Hardwick has promoted on-farm composting to help preserve the richness of Vermont soil and watersheds and promote the agricultural economy. In 2006, the Center for a Bio-Based Economy formed as a cooperative effort of farms throughout the region to nurture a sustainable agricultural economy through education and the promotion of local value-added products. They currently operate a community garden in Hardwick and are in the process of purchasing a local historic site that includes buildings, with plans for a year round farmers market, education fields, sales, and greenhouses. Pete Johnson at Pete's Greens in Craftsbury continues to expand and is now the largest organic produce supplier in Vermont. With Hazendale, Snug Valley, Surfing Veggie, Riverside, and Wild Branch Farms, the Hardwick area is one of the most fertile growing communities in the country. The Meyer family's dairy in North Hardwick recently converted to organic operations and opened Vermont Soy. Award winning cheese makers are expanding operations at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro and Bonnieview Farm in Craftsbury, and local artisan bread bakers have "risen" at Patchwork Farms and Bohemian Breads. Since its founding 10 years ago, High Mowing Seeds has expanded mail order sales from 350 packets of seeds grown locally to about 750,000 packets. The Hardwick Industrial Park is home to Vermont Soy and the Vermont Dairy Company production facilities, and Sugarman maple syrup operations.

All this is in a statewide context of a growing market for local foods and the emphasis on new rural economies. Significant media attention in Vermont has focused on "localvores," those consumers who commit to eating food produced within 100 miles of where they live. In the last year, dozens of books and articles on all aspects of sustainable eating have been published, from Bill McKibben's account of eating locally in Gourmet magazine to Barbara Kingsolver's just published book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. These new ideas about consumption are mirrored in a new model of rural production, which views the local economy as a network of creative activities, services, and agricultural production integrated into the social life of the community. Federal, state, and non-profit development programs have begun to target these new opportunities. This includes a variety of programs offered by the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which has identified locally owned restaurants as vital to the success of rural downtowns, as well as the Vermont Council on Rural Development through their Creative Communities programs.

Business Plan and Philosophy:
From inception and conceptualization, Claire's will be "Open to the World" and dedicated to serving everyone in Hardwick's community, blending into the social fabric of the town and region. Because we see business as a social activity, within relationships of trust, at Claire's we intend to generate economic activity through our employment policies as well as our menus that emphasize local products to the greatest extent possible, with pricing that provides a variety of options to ensure affordability as well as excellence, and hours of operation that ensure our guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a meal at lunch or dinner, or a cup of coffee or a beverage during the afternoon, access the internet, catch up with friends, or read a good book. Claire's will strive for a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, a comfortable, distinctive, open and inviting space, to serve as a center of community life and social activity. As social entrepreneurs, Claire's management team has a modest financial goal: to generate the moderate profit necessary to continually improve our operations and service to the community, and to provide a decent wage and benefits to our entire staff.

Space in the Bemis Block has been secured from the building’s owners by the Hardwick Restaurant Group, a limited liability corporation founded by Linda Ramsdell. To finance inventory and operations, Claire's will pursue a community-based investment structure drawing from a variety of sources, modeled on the success of Bobcat Café in Bristol, Vermont and of Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions/shares. At Bobcat, Robert Fuller received generous support from the community in the form of $5,000 notes. Our plan also includes but is not limited to small business and rural development funding as well as CSR (community supported restaurant) coupons, for a total from all sources of approximately $100,000. Currently, 50 CSR coupons are available for $1,000, with individuals receiving coupons worth $25 per month for 10 months of each year for 4 years. Only one coupon can be used per month, and unused coupons expire.

Our Chef and his Cooking:
The local farm is the most important place to start a recipe, according to our chef, Steven Obranovich. Raised on produce from a small plot he tended with his mother, trained in San Francisco, Chicago, and the French provinces before he moved to Vermont, Steven learned to appreciate the ingredients, loves to roll up his sleeves to harvest the food he cooks, and understands that a chef’s job is to enhance the natural flavors that come from the farm. He often says that he loves French cooking – especially the rustic flavors and dishes that feature cheese – but at home he prefers the spicy flavors of Mexico and has a high tolerance for heat. And in his career, he has cooked with chefs specializing in Southeast Asian, Italian, Latin and Caribbean, and Middle Eastern foods – we all like to say that Steven can make a mean Tagine.

Steven will craft a menu that changes frequently, drawing from local ingredients and the traditions of generations who harvest and produce the rustic foods of the world. His mission is flavor – the natural palette of food, with herbs and spices that complement and enhance a dish. But he’s not rarified. You won’t see a lot of “fussy fusion” at Claire’s. Steven will bring an international authenticity to your meal. From every day foods to restore you when life is hectic, small plates you can savor for a light meal, or special entrées and desserts for a celebration or romantic evening, our Chef will give you a menu you can love each week.

A sample: a summer menu might feature falafel with mint coleslaw or a quesadilla of local cheese and peach salsa; you can select from a big Chef’s Salad with feta or an herbed leg of lamb with potatoes au gratin. In the winter you would find empanadas or flash-fried onions and carrots with curry, our Big Bowl of molasses baked beans (vegetarian or meat), Asian sticky fried chicken or a pork chop with poutine. Desserts feature an upside down plum pie, lemon pudding, and of course, éclairs. There will always be steak and a burger (beef and veggie), ample vegetarian items, and chocolate for dessert.

Purchase your CSR Coupons Now:

Only 50 CSR Coupons will be available, in the amount of $1,000:

Provides 40 $25 dining coupons
Enough for four years of dining
Spendable ten months of each year
Only one per month
You pick the months it applies
Unused certificates expire

Certificates represent repayment for potential goods and services and include no investment, share, or ownership.

CSR coupons are available on a first come, first served basis. Already, people have signed up for more than a dozen. To purchase or inquire about a CSR, email us at

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Pete at Pete's Greens has started a beautiful and informative blog on their farm, Good Eat CSA, local farming and food news, as well as food trends and more global debates. With a very nice layout, colors, and photographs. The link is in our Friends and Neighbors section on New Vermont Cooking, but for your convenience, here it is as well: