Hello from South Hero and the Blue Paddle Bistro!
When approached to write this column I accepted the challenge on behalf of my best friend for 25 years and business partner here at the Blue Paddle Bistro, Chef Phoebe Bright.
Several days passed, then a week or two, and I found myself struggling with how to begin even writing a column.
And then, it occurred to me. I remembered something my dad — a lifelong journalist — had shared with me years ago: “Keep it honest, Mandy.”
And, with that simple but poignant lesson I begin this journey in writing a food column with our introduction. After all, wouldn’t you like to know who we are?
Phoebe and I have been friends and business partners stemming from the Noonie Deli days back in the late 1980s. After building up our business to a chain of nine locations throughout Vermont and a central commissary, we experienced what many young, naive and totally-undercapitalized enterprises do — failure. There were many contributing factors, for sure, with the most glaring being over-expansion. It was a sad time, for sure.
Phoebe went on to hone her culinary skills in Maine, and then on to New York City. It was there that she landed the opportunity to apprentice for Anita Lo, who would soon become her mentor. (Anita is the only woman to ever beat the Iron Chef.) It was in New York City, with this famous foodie, that Phoebe learned the secret to cooking was not to be able to identify one particular flavor over another. (More about this in a future column, OK?)
I, on the other hand, changed direction in my professional life and ended up, after a few twists and turns, managing a wooden canoe company in northern Massachusetts.
A handful of years later, I received a unexpected phone call, which I’ll never forget, that went something like this.
“Mandy, it’s me. I want to open a restaurant. A nighttime gig, no more sandwiches. I’m ready. Are you in?”
Short, and to the point. Classic Phoebe.
And, so, here we are in South Hero: proprietors of the Blue Paddle Bistro, affectionately called “The Paddle” by those who know us. We were given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by a few individuals who wanted to see us succeed. Mary Powell and her husband, Mark Brooks, purchased the building for us with the ultimate goal of our future ownership. Nineteen local friends, our Paddle Club, came together and loaned us the initial start-up capital. Five months later we opened our doors. It was March 14, 2005.
And there are two more important souls to mention: our official mascots, Wyeth and Watson, The Paddle Pups, German wirehaired pointer siblings.
Almost nine years later, we’re still here defying the odds for many restaurants — especially in a seasonal type of locale. Our growth has been steady and upward, thanks to our loyal friends who share their evenings with us, who have stood by us and supported us. We’re blessed and we know it.
This introduction that I write wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t explain why I have decided to write the column, and not Phoebe. (Don’t worry, all subsequent recipes that I include will be straight from the chef. Truth be told, you wouldn’t want mine.) You see, not only is Phoebe my best pal, she’s also my hero. Having battled large cell, aggressive lymphoma back in the early days of Noonies, she was prone to get sick, again, and she did. Five and a half years ago, she developed a tongue cancer. Research, and her doctors, indicate it was most likely caused by all the initial radiation she received back in 1989. Radiation, chemo, surgery (she’s missing a third of her tongue) and four months of being tethered to a feeding tube didn’t get the better of her. I saw Phoebe battle the biggest fight of her life with grace, determination and humor. She returned, after a prolonged absence from The Paddle, with a fire in her belly to elevate our already successful little restaurant. So you see, I am her biggest advocate and it’s her food story, in many ways.
So, in a nutshell, there you have it. My columns from here on out will talk about something that Phoebe is cooking up and will include anecdotes straight from her mouth. (She’s quite funny and introspective in a light-hearted way!)
Thanks for reading our little story.
Chef Phoebe Bright and Mandy Hotchkiss are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero. You can reach them at Mandy@bluepaddlebistro.com or 372-4814