The Williamsville Eatery
An interview with Lauri Richardson
The general store was once the center of village activities. It was a place one could go in a pinch to stock up on whatever staples you lacked. You would undoubtedly run into friends or catch up on local news, maybe even share a cup of coffee while at it. Several years ago, it closed. It stood shuttered and worn for a few long years, an eyesore that once was the longest continually run general store in Vermont, dating back to 1828. In 2013, the opportunity arose for the Richardson family (son Dylan, parents Glenn and Lauri) to lease this beautiful building and spearhead the Williamsville Eatery. Despite being a departure from its general store roots, their goal was to re-establish the building as a focal point within the community. After more than a year of planning, design, and renovation, it finally re-opened in July, 2014 as The Williamsville Eatery.
Here is the story of a most unusal place, as told by Lauri Richardson.
Janine: Can you describe how the idea of the restaurant came up?
Lauri: So originally I was not planning to be a part of the restaurant. The owner of the general store approached Dylan to turn it into a restaurant. At the time, Dylan was embarking on a photography career and Glenn and I had a home-based graphic design business. Glenn has always loved to cook and friends who would come to dinner would say, ‘you should open a restaurant’... Glenn had no intention whatsoever. However, when Dylan approached him to open an eatery in the very village that we’ve lived in for almost 30 years, in the lovely, historical, once-general store—he changed his mind. And I totally supported them. The three of us were getting tired of technology taking over our professions; we all prefer to work with our hands. So I figured, with them being busy with a new business, I’d have plenty of time for my artwork.
Janine: You have a degree in permaculture, how does this come in to play for the restaurant, knowing the menu is put together with so much care?
Lauri: I’ve studied permaculture, but that is a complex system that I am inspired by, but would not describe the Eatery. Yet, we are always looking for ways to employ circular systems in the restaurant. One example—all of our food waste goes to a pig farmer in South Newfane, who we then buy pork from. For me, having a ‘typical’ restaurant would have held no interest. Art and the environment are my passion and I’ve found ways to express them in the unlikely venue of a restaurant. I have a Masters in Environmental Education, but I didn’t want to work in a center that mainly drew a population who were already engaged in the natural world and taking care of it. Everyone eats. And in a restaurant, you have a captive audience. Guests can experience the ‘fruits’ of the environment— even beyond taste. I offer a visual feast to nourish the more intangible need that, I believe, humans have to be in nature. I collect wildflowers or branches that are available through the year for our guests to eat amidst. I enjoy displaying and discussing interesting natural treasures that I find out of doors—turtle eggs, mushrooms, woodland terrariums... Our guests engage with and seem to appreciate this addition to the dining experience. In our age of technology it can be easy to think of food separate from farming, farming somehow separate from the rest of the natural world—and as if humans can live in isolation from it all. The quote, ‘ We are what we eat eats...’ resonates. I also believe that what humans appreciate, we care about, and if we care about the food we eat and the environment, we will be inspired to take care of it.
Of course you can can’t help but notice the difference between processed or even food that has traveled a great distance, versus locally grown food raised organically. I love to forage wild foods—mushrooms, berries and edible “weeds” are flavors that many people haven’t experienced. So the food speaks for itself. The menu is in the capable, creative hands of Dylan, Glenn and Nate and Wilson.
Janine: What are your hopes/goals for the future?
Lauri: The three of us Dylan (son), Glenn (husband) and I all have goals—some are aligned, others bring in our personal interests which add to the flavor of the place. Personally, I want to grow more food. I’ve started building, with my dad, some raised beds in the back yard of the Eatery. I designed them to be covered by a green house, hopefully in the near future.
I want to have chickens back there, maybe bees, tap one of the sugar maples for syrup, learn more wild edibles—especially the invasive edibles. (I now make a chutney out of the invasive Japanese knotweed.) The possibilities are endless!
Janine: You are also an artist?
Lauri: Yes, and the other goal for me is to get back in my studio. I have always enjoyed delving into themes with my mosaic art. I have ideas for mosaic projects focusing on food and farming.
Janine:The restaurant business is one of the most challenging work environments, what helps you work successfully with your husband and your son?
Lauri: I had never worked in a restaurant before the Eatery. When my husband warned me how challenging it was going to be, I thought—no problem; I have run marathons, raced mountain bike—I can handle it. And I do, but boy—he wasn’t kidding! I thought I was prepared for the lifestyle, but no words could have prepared me for our current work life. We are three years into it now. It’s felt like training and running a marathon and now, in order for it to be sustainable, we all need and are working on ways to conserve (mental) energy—I got a puppy. That may sound like the worst idea, but having him has forced me to slow down. ’Slow Food’ is so much more than a hip fad—it’s a lifestyle. With a dog companion, I make time for exercise and more importantly—am back in the woods. Our beautiful Vermont environment feeds me when I take the time to be out of doors.
Dylan and Glenn and I have our disagreements, but we also sincerely enjoy and respect each other and always go back to the fact that we have the same vision for the Eatery. I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else. I am very fortunate.
And thanks to Lauri and her family, we now have the best pizza and so much more at their beloved restaurant "The Eatery". Come and visit?