The Mad River Taste Place celebrates its fifth birthday this month and founder/owner Robin Morris and manager Mary Tuthill are proud of what they’ve accomplished and also proud that two and a half of those five years have been spent operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been talking about it this a lot and the two most amazing things are the fact that we came out the other side of the pandemic, still going full speed with more or less the same staff and we were able to survive it. The second thing is that throughout all of this 95-98% of our products are all still Vermont made. We’ve been able to keep that vision and mission and it’s still going strong,” Tuthill said.
Morris said that his original idea was to promote Vermont products to people and educate them on the product so that when they go home, they still want to buy the products.
“The majority of the sales are Vermont products and that’s putting a lot of money into the pockets of Vermont makers. From a social endeavor point of view, it’s been very succesful,” Morris said.
“People are really enjoying coming into the Taste Place and learning. Saturday is the crowd we want to educate. This is the same way American Flatbread grew their customer base – by educating people. It’s not a new idea -- we’re just doing it on steroids,” he added.
FIRST FIVE-YEAR SNAPSHOT
Here are some of the numbers from the first five years, in a snapshot that reinforces the original mission to provide a retail platform for farmers and makers in The Valley and Vermont. Since opening, the Taste Place has offered:
- 371 different cheeses from 45 Vermont cheesemakers.
- 743 varieties of beers from 52 Vermont breweries.
- 204 kinds of cider from 18 Vermont cider makers.
- Bread, cookies, cakes and confections from seven bakers.
- Over 1,000 different items from 167 Vermont grocery vendors.
- 45 meat products from five Vermont meat producers and vendors.
- Wine from 17 different Vermont wineries.
Morris and Tuthill are excited about the next steps for the Taste Place, the first of which is adding 5th Quarter this fall, a new butchery in what is currently a meeting room.
Josh Turka, a Taste Place employee, who is also a maker of cooked charcuterie (as opposed to the dry cured products from Babette’s Table) produces hams, bacon, and pate, Tuthill explained.
FULL-SERVICE BUTCHER SHOP
“His background is in whole animal butchery and we’re turning that side conference room into a full-service butcher shop. Josh will bring in whole animals and cut them down on site and have a display case like our cheese case. He’ll share tips on how to cook things and the food will be fresh, not frozen. It will almost be like a cut to order thing. Josh will be doing value-added items such as fresh sausage, kabobs and other seasonal offerings. He’s going to be working with the von Trapps for pigs and looking into which farms he’ll use to source beef. He’s been working at the Taste Place for a little over a year now. We came up with this idea and put together a business plan for Robin and a vision for the whole thing. Robin was on board. All the point of sales will be connected so it will be seamless to shop,” Tuthill said.
The 5th Quarter is expected to open in October or November, she said.
Morris said the new butchery represents further investment and that he supports it as a way to make sure the space is being used properly.
“We’ve got a great staff and they share the vision. Mary is a great general manager. We’re doing the right things. We’ve substantially increased wages and it’s a challenge, but the business is still growing. Josh and the 5th Quarter will be a real partner for us and these kinds of partnerships work best when ideals are aligned. He’s a valued employee and will be a great partner,” Morris said.
As for what the next five years might hold, Morris said “We’ll be doing the same thing we’ve been doing and putting more money into makers’ pockets and educating more people about Vermont products. The original concept I had is having our staff be experts on the best Vermont products out there and able to tell our customers about the qualities of these products.”
In addition to its retails sales and the upcoming butchery, this summer the Taste Place partnered with the 1824 House to offering a series of classes that have been well received and summer samplings and weekly wine tastings also available.