Shelburne Museum has the skinny on local food

Alden Fletcher of Shelburne flips a crêpe on the skillet at Skinny Pancake’s new museum location. Photo by Eileen O’Grady

Once a novelty in Vermont’s local food scene, the Skinny Pancake has been methodically extending its reach across Vermont, most recently planting its flag at Shelburne Museum.

Formerly known as the Shelburne Museum Café, the on-site concession situated at the center of the famous folk-art museum has officially been renamed the Local Food Court. But most of the museum staff and tourists who have sampled its stuffed crêpes in the first few weeks are already referring to it by its Vermont household name – The Skinny Pancake.

The signboard from the old snack bar has been replaced with a fresh, square placard bearing the Skinny Pancake name and font. The old café menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza is gone. In its place is a selection of sweet and savory crêpes, buns and breads from the Skinny Pancake’s sister business The Chubby Muffin, salads and sandwiches, all made with local ingredients.

The Local Food Court has been open for four weeks.  On a recent Thursday, Skinny Pancake staff hurried to fill the orders of a seemingly endless line of museum patrons – mostly families with children, and couples over age 50 – who showed up at the food court to order cool drinks and food, and escape the noontime heat. Many were tourists from out of state who were experiencing their first taste of Vermont cuisine.

Caitlin Ryan, banquet captain for Skinny Pancake’s catering business, hand-letters a sign outside. Photo by Eileen O’Grady

“We’re excited to try it,” said Mary McDonald of Brooklyn N.Y., as she sat at a square table in the large, open dining room, waiting for her order to be called from the counter. McDonald and her best friend Joan Campbell of Long Island were visiting the Shelburne Museum in their travels through Vermont.

“The Museum is what brought us here,” Campbell said. “We were told that if there is one thing to see while we’re here in Vermont, it’s the Shelburne Museum.”

It would seem that Benjy Adler, co-owner of the Skinny Pancake, thinks along the same lines.

The Local Food Court is the latest venture of his company, which has been springing up in new locations around Vermont and western New Hampshire in the past couple of years with an almost hydra-like dedication to regeneration. The Shelburne Museum is The Skinny Pancake’s eighth site, joining operations in Burlington, Montpelier, Stowe,  Warren, and in Hanover, N.H.

But Adler doesn’t like to think of the new Shelburne location as a cookie-cutter reproduction.

“Saying the word ‘chain’ out loud isn’t something we’re really comfortable with,” grimaced Adler, who owns the company along with his brother Jonny. “Skinny Pancake was sort of founded in response to those generic chains. No two locations are the same, and we like it that way.”

As Adler went on to explain, several key differences set the Shelburne restaurant apart from some of the other locations. For one thing, orders placed at the register at the Shelburne restaurant are picked up at the end of the counter – in other locations a wait staff brings the meals to the tables. Another difference is in the menu – fewer crêpe offerings, but more sandwiches.

“Our menu is more limited than other locations, just because we’re more limited with what we can produce, being here in the museum,” said Nicole Schlenter, manager at the Shelburne branch. “But we’re looking forward to having grill items, as soon as our grill is set up.”

Since museum admission is required to access the grounds, it is unlikely that the Skinny Pancake’s Shelburne location will ever become a local hotspot.

Nevertheless, Adler believes the restaurant will benefit Shelburne residents.

“Our intent is to be a thread in the fabric of the community,” Adler said. “We’re trying to plug the leaky bucket, and keep the money locally.”

Schlenter, who has been working at the Local Food Court since it opened four weeks ago, says she believes there is more work involved in running a restaurant that is located inside a museum, than in running one that stands alone.

“There are a lot more moving parts,” said Schlenter. “There’s a lot more information that staff has to be aware of, like different Museum landmarks. It’s also been a bit of a struggle juggling getting lunch to the Museum staff at a reasonable time, while also serving the guests.”

But although the restaurant is just getting on its feet, Schlenter says that it is already an improvement on the former café.

“I wasn’t here before, but I’ve heard that the dining room and the food has improved a lot,” she said. “We’re just providing good, local food. It’s quality food, and we know where it’s coming from.”

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