Johnny and Tina Helzer: Combining his history with hers

Courtesy photo
Johnny and Tina Helzer are the modern faces behind Shelburne’s gastropub, Peg and Ter’s, in the former Café Shelburne on Shelburne Road.

By PHYL NEWBECK

Tina Thatcher Helzer remembers the day in 2008 when she met Johnny Helzer in Los Angeles.

“He was talking about this utopia where he grew up called Charlotte,” she said.

Eight years later, the pair moved to Johnny’s utopia and they are now living roughly a mile from his childhood home. This June, they delved even deeper into Johnny’s roots when they opened Peg and Ter’s. The gastropub is located in the building once occupied by Café Shelburne, the restaurant where Johnny’s family would go to for special occasions.

The couple’s background wouldn’t necessarily suggest this particular enterprise. Tina started out in engineering, but after getting her MBA she moved into finance and became an independent consultant for e-commerce and retail establishments.

When she met Johnny, he was working in radiation therapy at UCLA. They had their first child in California, and when Amazon recruited Tina for a job in New York City, Johnny took the opportunity to change careers. “I was able to go after my passion which was food and wine,” he said, “and I got to study more about it and work for some great people.”

A second daughter was born in New York, but Johnny’s longing for Vermont led to a move in 2016. Tina ran a consulting business while Johnny worked at Dedalus Market & Wine Bar in Burlington, but the two thought they could extend their family partnership to a business endeavor.

When Johnny saw that the building that had been so important in his youth was for sale, he decided to investigate. Tina was initially hesitant about opening a restaurant.

“Three out of four close in their first year,” she noted, but after consulting with the Shelburne Development Review Board and the Historic Preservation and Design Review Commission, as well as numerous people in both Shelburne and Charlotte, they went ahead with plans for a gastropub. Two weeks before purchasing the building, their third daughter was born.

The couple chose the name Peg & Ter’s as a tribute to Tina’s parents who were considered the consummate party hosts. Tina deals with the financial part of the business, including payroll and vendors.

“Johnny is the face and the spirit of the business,” she said.

Tina generally works from home while Johnny is at the restaurant every day, helping to manage, host, and greet the regulars, while also working on marketing and event planning.

“When I go there, I get to be a customer,” Tina said, “and it’s fun to watch Johnny move about a room that’s busy and bustling. At the end of the day, our goal is to create a gathering place.”

Peg & Ter’s is open from Tuesday to Sunday. The walls are adorned with local artwork and there are plans to add local live music as well.

Another of Johnny’s passions is woodworking and much of the furniture at the restaurant comes from lumber found at the top of the Farm Barn at Shelburne Farms and crafted by artisans from the Shelburne Craft School.

“It’s been really exciting,” Johnny said. “We’re really pleased with how it came out.”

Equally pleasing was the move to Charlotte. Tina doesn’t dispute Johnny’s description of the town as utopia.

“Going to school in Chicago and living in Los Angeles and New York, I didn’t realize how much nature reflects the seasons and how that would play into my happiness,” she said. “I was a little nervous moving into a small community, but I’ve truly embraced it.”

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