By Lizzy Hewitt, contributing reporter/editor
It has been a rough summer in the Mad River Valley. On top of the economic woes facing the country, local businesses are taking a hit from the soggy weather. While the restaurant industry has been facing challenges, local restaurateurs remain positive.
"Business here has been going pretty well," said Pierre Hall, assistant kitchen manager at the Big Picture Café in Waitsfield. "I'm blown away most days that we're still doing the numbers we're doing."
For Jason Gulisano, chef and owner of the Green Cup in Waitsfield, business has been notably slower this summer. "The traffic going through is definitely less than it was last year."
Keith Paxman, owner of the Common Man, felt the economic crunch in 2008. High gas prices combined with heightening economic uncertainty decreased business. "I think last year we were definitely impacted," he said. Business is up approximately 5 percent from last summer.
"For us summertime is more consistent than winter," said Paxman. "We're doing roughly the same amount of customers every night."
The economy combined with the weather took a toll on business during the ski season. "This past winter we were definitely down, probably around 15 percent compared to the previous year," explained Paxman.
"People are a little more conscious of how much they're spending in one sitting," said Gulisano. While the recession has not manifested in any dramatic shifts in business, he has noticed customers taking small measures to cut back. Regular customers have traded lattes and cappuccinos for regular coffee. Lunchtime customers opt for tap water rather than bottled drinks.
"Everybody alters their lifestyle just slightly," said Gulisano. "It affects me dramatically in my revenue."
In the past months, Gulisano has adjusted the menu to accommodate tighter budgets. He has expanded the menu to include items that generate more revenue, including the recent addition of fresh fruit smoothies.
The impact of economic unease is tangible at the Common Man. Paxman notes that customers have been more frugal, particularly when it comes to beverages. "Everybody has dropped their price point on wine."
"We've tailored our menu," said Paxman. In April, he started revising the menu to offer lower prices without compromising the high quality of ingredients.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the hard economic times, the Big Picture has been thriving. Hall links the success of the café to the success of the Big Picture Theater. "Historically people have sought out entertainment and distractions from the hardships."
"People aren't ordering as big, and they're eating at home more often," said Hall, at the Big Picture Café. "People don't have as much money to spend."
The unusual cold and rainy weather this summer affected patterns and quantity in the restaurant business. When tourism decreases, restaurants see fewer customers.
"The majority of our business on weekends is from second-home owners and tourists," said Paxman. "I feel that the economy is starting to turn around. The worst part of this summer has been the weather."
"A combination of the economy and the weather has affected us dramatically," said Gulisano.
Beyond their regular breakfast and lunch, the Green Cup is open for dinner Saturday through Monday. Gulisano chose these days to accommodate weekend tourism. "I'm very thankful for the inn business," he said. He has noticed an increase in the amount of dinner business since he started working with the Sugarbush marketing team.
Hall noted that bad weather often leads to busier days at the Big Picture because of the theater and café combination. "On rainy days you see more people."
"The business is very inconsistent," said Julie Czesnowksi, waitress at the Big Picture Café. "It's hard to predict. We're having trouble staffing because we don't know when it is going to be busy."
Gulisano hopes the restaurant industry in the Mad River Valley will develop to become an attraction. Support from surrounding areas like Montpelier and Burlington is important to local eateries.
"In the long run, if we don't become a food and dining destination, then my business is only going to go so far," said Gulisano.
Paxman notes that restaurants can struggle in any circumstances. "Regardless of the economy and the weather, the restaurant business is one of the more challenging industries you can be in."
"People still have to eat," said Hall.