Meet the New Chefs on the Block

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How have your backgrounds and passions influenced your vision for BB&P? 

When we first began the process of business planning, we knew that we wanted and needed our business to mimic the homes we were so fortunate to grow up in – warm, welcoming, abundant with good times and wholesome food. It was important that we recognize the needs of the community and determine how our skills and passions could best suit those needs. After many months of conversations and due-diligence, we determined that this business had to be quite diversified, with access to basic essentials of groceries in addition to prepared foods (both dine-in and take out). 

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What inspired the Brownsville Butcher & Pantry name? 

In December 2017, we began game-planning for our biggest adventure yet. By that time, we had gone through many iterations of our dream business. With our skills and backgrounds revolving around the production of food, we knew that this business would be related to culinary/hospitality. One day we asked ourselves, if there was one thing we could wake up the next day and do, what would it be? The answer was, "a deli." We threw this crazy idea out to friends over dinner the following evening and their enthusiasm only spurred us further. We began considering the abundance of local proteins and Peter’s skill in butchering, and so the business began taking on its identity.

We knew this business was going to be a focal point for local farmers and producers, and that it would also provide the essentials to any kitchen. After realizing we had the ability to make this business a reality, we challenged one another to scribble down five of the best names we could think of in a set amount of time, which we would then compare.

We both wrote, “Butcher & Pantry.” 

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It was important to us that we capture the word “Butcher” in the title because, to us, it resembles a time when consumers visited specialty shop to get their items for making a meal, a time when things weren’t built solely on convenience.

It also symbolizes our desire to reconnect people to the food they eat; the proteins we serve are coming from our neighbors, we are building a stronger economy by supporting one another. The word “Pantry” symbolizes wholesomeness and abundance. We fill our pantry every summer with food we preserve from the garden, while it also stores our pasta, beans, flour, sugar and much more. "Pantry" also felt like a homey word, which is what we hope people feel when they shop in the store– comfortable as if at their very own home. 

Most importantly, we felt the need to keep “Brownsville” in the name of the store. We changed the name for various reasons, including: change in product and layout, “General Store” can be a vague identifier to anyone outside of rural New England and we felt the need to differentiate from other general stores. 

The identity of this general store has changed, but it was important to us to provide homage to this town and the history of this building with Brownsville Butcher & Pantry.

As managing partners, what are the ingredients for a successful, collaborative working style? 

Communication, organization, planning and strategy. 

Starting this business together has taught us a great deal and made us comfortable with delegating, when necessary. As a managing team, we have had to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and rely on one another to accomplish certain tasks related to our strengths and interests. This is something that will continue as we look to expand our staffing at the store- building a team that complements one another’s abilities.

Most importantly, communication throughout this process as been essential. Being an effective and efficient communicator is vital to be a part of a management team. We need to remain on the same page with one another, the Friends of the Brownsville Store, the community, our staff as well as our customers. Having an effective strategy to obtaining our goals is also vital to our working style. 

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Since creating BB&P, have there been any surprises you hadn't anticipated? 

When we were first introduced to this project of re-opening the Brownsville General Store, we were told that the store used to be the heart of this town, and that its closing completely devastated the community. Coming from a few towns north, it was easy for us to empathize, but until we moved to Brownsville in May 2018, it was impossible for us to fully comprehend the importance of this store to this community. It both shocked and surprised us. Food is inaccessible in a retail setting in this town, and without the store, the traditional social hub is missing.  

Brownsville is a small town with a giant heart. We band together and the amount of support and enthusiasm for opening this store has been tremendous! We have been most surprised, and incredibly grateful, by how welcoming everyone has been to us, it feels like we have lived here for years. 

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As leaders in your respective fields, who/what inspires you? 

FOOD: The idea that food has the ability to bring people together has always inspired and fueled us to create something big, something with purpose. Food is one thing that everyone has is common – we all eat it and we can all relate to experiences shared over it. 

PERSEVERANCE: The perseverance of this rural community has inspired us to be a part of the energy happening here. When Mount Ascutney closed, the town persevered. When Hurricane Irene flooded many homes and properties, the town persevered. And when their general store, their only store, closed, they persevered. It inspires us to provide them with the best store they could ask for everyone in this community  deserves it. 

ONE ANOTHER: This may sound incredibly corny, but we inspire each other every day. We are constantly amazed and impressed with how hard the other person works; we inspire one another to make something even better than the last time and to put all our effort and passion into a project.

That is what this business is, that is how this came about. 

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What has been your favorite/most rewarding part of this journey so far?

Meeting our community members and getting to know them and their backgrounds has been incredibly fun and rewarding! Interacting with individuals to understand what their needs are for this store, knowing that we can make a space and a business that suits their needs–  it doesn’t get much better than that. 

Taking a “hands-on” approach to remodeling the store has also been extremely rewarding. We are putting a significant amount of blood, sweat and tears into this project, knowing that by doing so, it will feel that much better when those doors are open to the public. Opening a business requires a considerable amount of stepping out of ones comfort zone, which has allowed us to grow as individuals and entrepreneurs. We have learned to be creative and open-minded with business planning, budgets, and construction which are all so gratifying. 

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Realizing what we are capable of as a couple also ranks up there on the most rewarding aspects of this journey. Starting this business together has enlightened us on our strengths and weaknesses, as individuals and partners. We have learned to divide and conquer most efficiently and effectively, to communicate as clearly as possible as much as possible, and to support one another when obstacles arise. 

Any fun facts about the building you've come across whilst working on renovations? 

Many fun and interesting things are unfolding throughout the renovation process! We get visitors that poke their head in as we work and share stories of the store through its many iterations, which is always fun to hear. We have met some family of the original owners and heard of the days when folks farmed with horses on the other side of Millbrook before most of the surrounding buildings existed. 

We also came across pieces of sheetrock that had initials and signatures of folks who have passed through. It was fun to post it on Instagram and watch as people took ownership of their marks and to see where those individuals are now. 

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We will be putting a time capsule in one of the walls as we put things back together…

How will BB&P engage with the Brownsville community? 

We are looking to engage in any way we possibly can! Here's a peek at a few of our ideas... 

  • Annual float in the July 4th parade
  • Extending hours when possible for special events like races on/around the mountain
  • Working with local organizers for big events to help provide necessary food and materials for the anticipated attendees
  • Partnerships with Ascutney Outdoors and Holiday Inn Ascutney Resort
  • Looking at potential ways to partner with the Albert Bridge School lunch staff
  • We are also looking into the logistics of a continual fundraising drive where customers can round up their purchase to the next dollar and the change goes to town events and organizations. An example could be changing the drive every quarter (3 months), so the funds from the first quarter could go towards the library, the second quarter towards the fire department, and so on! 

What is it about your approach that makes BB&P unique?

We have sculpted a business model that is tailored to the needs and desires of this community. With that being said, it is hard to find a business exactly like this one. Some of our ideas have certainly been inspired by many other businesses, but the overall theme is quite unique; we live in a rural area where self-sufficiency is relevant. Within Brownsville, there is no other place to get food (whether raw or prepared) so we must diversify as much as possible to provide as many things under one roof. 

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The opportunity to work with such a supportive group as the Friends of the Brownsville Store is also unique. They are providing us with the chance to be creative entrepreneurs and putting a great amount of trust into us by doing so. Opening a business requires a great deal of work and having such a diverse group of individuals assisting us with this project has made those challenges achievable. We are very grateful for such an amazing opportunity. 

What has the collaborative process been like between key stakeholders such as Friends of the Brownsville Store, and yourselves?

We first started collaborating with the Friends of the Brownsville General Store in February 2018. After our initial conversation, we knew that this was the perfect fit. What more could entrepreneurs ask for than a large group of devoted, enthusiastic and supportive folks to stand beside them? It has been a tremendous amount of fun getting to know the individuals that make up the Friends, and incredibly helpful to use them as a focus group with questions; having so many minds to collaborate with has been invaluable, we cannot give enough "Thanks"! 

The Board of Managers for the Friends have brought an insane amount of talent and energy to re-opening this store– without them, this process would not be possible. Thank you Friends of the Brownsville General Store for making this opportunity a reality!

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Peter Varkonyi