Couple buys American Flatbread in Middlebury

 

MIDDLEBURY — Vergennes residents Danielle and Stephen Boyce are buying American Flatbread’s Middlebury location, and they have no plans to substantially shake up what has been a winning business recipe at the popular Marble Works-based restaurant.

Danielle Boyce has been manager of American Flatbread’s Middlebury location for the past five years.

“When I applied for the job five years ago, I was hoping to gain experience in managing a restaurant because my husband and I, since we met 12 years ago, had been talking about having our own place,” Boyce said. “One of the things I learned along the way is to get paid to learn.”

That’s what Boyce has done in a company founded more than two decades ago by George Schenk in Waitsfield. The flatbread pizza is made with organic flour, organic tomatoes and many organic and locally-farmed meats, vegetables and cheeses. The company sources as many of its ingredients as possible from a local network of farmers and producers. The flatbread pizzas are baked in wood-fired ovens in plain view of customers in restaurants now located in Waitsfield, Burlington, Middlebury and Ashburn, Va. The company is looking to further expand its brand through franchising.

When Boyce was first hired, American Flatbread in Middlebury served meals only on Friday and Saturdays nights while operating a full-scale bakery that was turning out frozen pizzas sold to grocery stores.

Not long into Boyce’s tenure, Flatbread began ramping down its frozen pizza production in Middlebury and began increasing its emphasis on the restaurant.

In June of 2009, the restaurant expanded to Thursday through Saturday. In August of 2009, the Middlebury location ramped up to its current Tuesday through Saturday restaurant service and closed its bakery operation. Flatbread has now licensed, to another company, the right to make Flatbread pizzas according to its specifications.

“I learned a lot while I was here,” Boyce said. “I started to see the direction the company was going.”

That direction included giving people the option to become Flatbread franchisees. The Boyces were among those interested.

“Once we closed the bakery, it became apparent that (the Middlebury location) might become an opportunity,” Boyce said. “I love this restaurant, the staff that work for me and the guests who come in.”

The Boyces recently asked Flatbread owner George Schenk if he was willing to sell the Middlebury location. He was, and the parties worked out a deal.

Plans call for the Middlebury restaurant to maintain its emphasis on making flatbread pizzas using fresh, local organic products while at the same time “honoring the community, philanthropy and always keeping an eye toward creating the best food we can and the best experience for the guests,” Boyce said.

The new owners have not ruled out adding some new features, or expanding on ones they have already introduced. Among them: Regular “community dinners” that showcase a local farmer’s wares in a four-course meal at which diners sit together at a single table. The restaurant also has the space to host special events, such as wedding receptions and parties, and that service will be promoted.

“I’ve always had a pretty good amount of freedom to run this place,” Boyce said. “I also feel that since I have had the guidance of (American Flatbread) throughout the years, I have a good idea of what they are looking for and not looking for.”

At this point, the Boyces aren’t ruling anything out, in terms of implementing new ideas.

“Whatever we think is best for the public or the business we are going to explore,” Boyce said. “But I don’t think it would be wise to make any drastic changes.”

The Middlebury restaurant has around 25 full- and part-time employees. Stephen Boyce is a banker by trade and will be doing Middlebury Flatbread’s books, as well as pitching in where necessary. The business is open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

“I feel really lucky to have this opportunity and to have my husband alongside to do it with me,” Boyce said of the restaurant acquisition. “I am excited about the future and what we can do.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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