By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON — Figuratively speaking, Lance Chicoine had a lot on his plate last May when he decided to close the venerable Cattails restaurant on Route 7 in Brandon.
He also owns the Paddlers Pub on Lake Dunmore in Salisbury, and that same month took over operation of Tavern on the Tee at Middlebury’s Ralph Myre Golf Course, which is owned by Middlebury College.
“We had always dreamed of having three restaurants, but when we figured with the employees and the cost and where I could be physically, I decided to take a step back,” Chicoine said. “It was tough on us and on our employees. I put a lot of heart and soul into it and so did my employees throughout the years.”
But the restaurateur said in an interview Monday that he hopes to re-open Cattails sometime “in the coming weeks.”
“We are in the works to get it back open,” he said. “There will be different hours, different menu, and a different concept.”
Specifically, the restaurant will only be open for dinner, 3-9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. That means fewer employees. Chicoine said two waitstaff, two cooks and a bartender will staff the restaurant, the waitstaff armed with iPads.
That is the new concept, which Chicoine implemented at Paddler’s Pub. Everything is entered into the iPads. The waitstaff takes orders and sends them to the kitchen, and the bills are generated and paid on the iPads as well.
“It streamlines the process and saves one employee,” he said. “We went from four employees to three and made more money.”
He said he tried to improve his business before deciding to close Cattails. There were menu changes, staff changes, but it wasn’t working.
“We tried to make changes, but the overhead, and there were some other internal issues…” he said. “We couldn’t afford what was going on. I had to take a step back and look at it.”
He also said that the push to increase the minimum wage forced him to re-evaluate his business model. At the beginning of this month, the state’s minimum wage increased by 18 cents to $10.96 per hour. It will increase each year with inflation. The Basic Tipped Wage Rate for service or tipped employees equals 50% of the full minimum wage or $5.48 per hour as of Jan. 1.
During the last legislative session, the state Senate pushed for a minimum $15 hourly wage by 2024, though no legislation made it to the governor. Lawmakers will be tackling the issue again this session.
“Everybody wants to push, push, push the minimum wage, but it was affecting our business and our family,” Chicoine said.
He added that with two kids and three restaurants, it was important for him to figure out a model that would allow him time for business and family.
So Chicoine closed Cattails and put the building on the market, hoping to sell or perhaps find someone who would enter a rent-to-own agreement. But that didn’t happen and soon Chicoine found himself wanting to try again. However, he stressed that the restaurant will be very different, with some exceptions.
“It’s not going to be the old Cattails, but we’ll still have wings and burgers,” he said. “That was 80-85% of our business. We want to give what everybody came to Cattails for. There will be some dishes people will miss, but we won’t have the space or the manpower to do that.”
The health inspector is coming this week, and Chicoine said once all the proper permits are secured, he’ll have a better idea of a re-opening date. “We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “I think Brandon is ready to have Cattails back. People will have another place to eat and meet.”