This month, the Wayside Restaurant in Montpelier turns 100 years old. By serving up old-fashioned comfort food with a "made-in-Vermont" flair, it's one family restaurant that's found a recipe for success.
At the Wayside Restaurant, you can still get a Moxie soda with a daily special like salt pork and milk gravy. Or you can opt for the restaurant's own Anniversary Ale, from Long Trial Brewing, along with a veggie burger on a homemade honey-wheat bun.
With 200 menu items, it's a place that truly tries to have something for everyone.
"So there's certain things that they just seem to do really well that I don't get anywhere else," said patron Mike Molander, of Barre.
As much as the food, the Wayside is known for its regulars. Molander counts himself among them.
"I swear, the last 50 years I've been coming here," he said. "I came with my parents quite a bit over the years. And they've passed on, and I've brought my children here. And, you know, now I come in every so often, when I can."
Gene and Harriet Galfetti owned the restaurant when Molander came as a kid with his parents. Twenty years ago, the Galfetti's daughter Karen and her husband, Brian Zecchinelli, bought the business.
"We kept looking around and really didn't want to change anything," said Brian, "because Karen's dad, who we give full credit to, really made the Wayside what it is today. He established the gameplan and we're just following his lead."
Karen added, "He used to say, you know, 'If it's not broke, don't fix it.'"
The menu is much the same as it was in the 1960s, Karen said, with a few additions like that veggie burger and a quinoa salad.
The Zecchinellis have also made a concerted effort to keep local food on the menu, from their homemade baked goods to Vermont spirits behind the bar. And they've added one more product line, which has proved quite popular:
"We started looking at the bakery and putting that scoop of store-bought ice cream on that home-baked apple pie," Brian said. "And we said, 'Well, let's look into making our own ice cream.'"
Now that ice cream — especially their signature vanilla — is a Wayside customer favorite.
And while the same customers keep coming back, it seems the Wayside's employees just never leave.
"So we're blessed to have a bunch of them that have been here so long, as well," said Brian. "I think it's over 60 employees with a combined years of service of over 600 years."
Customer Marcy Kelly, of Barre, said that familiar waitstaff is just one of the reasons she and her husband, Joe, have been bringing their family here for decades.
"It's a good family place to come," she said. "Prices are great. Food is great. There's great selections for the kids. We know the owners. We like them. The waitstaff is friendly; they pick on us, we pick on them. It's just like being part of a family. That's why we come."
Her youngest son, Ronan, recently hit a Wayside milestone.
"I would usually get stuff off the kids' menu, like the chicken tenders," he said, "but I recently turned 12, so I can't do that anymore. So now I'm getting, like, more chicken tenders."
Despite the extra chicken on his plate, Ronan made sure he had enough room for a side of his favorite mashed potatoes and poultry gravy.
They go through so many potatoes at the Wayside — from baked to mashed to hand-cut fries — that there's a special prep area in the basement. Brian said it's something former employees don't forget.
"People will come in and visit, and they'll recall their days at the Wayside, because over the years we've employed a ton of people, and they remember doing their potato shifts down in the basement. And that has not changed — only the volume," he said. "Right now we're doing 2,500 pounds of potatoes a week for all those French fries and mashed potatoes and," he fades off. "It's a labor of love."
To celebrate the Wayside's 100th anniversary, there will be a free ice cream social the evening of July 29, complete with fireworks. Among the guests of honor will be descendants of Effie Ballou, the woman who started the restaurant as a roadside eatery back in 1918.