Business & Economy

New North End residents bring new flavors to the neighborhood

Carina Driscoll chats with customers at Butter Bar and Kitchen in Burlington on Wednesday, Aug. 10. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Trevor Sullivan opened Pingala Café’s original Burlington location in 2014. The restaurant serves a fully plant-based menu, making clever swaps such as carrot bacon and cashew cheese. 

In February 2020, Pingala appeared on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” TV show, and celebrity chef Guy Fieri raved about its french toast puffs and its plant-based take on Taco Bell’s classic crunchwrap supreme. 

When Mixed Market closed on North Avenue in Burlington, Sullivan and partner Lisa Bergström took the opportunity to move their commercial prep kitchen to the space. The prep kitchen had been in South Burlington, and the new location was largely for the convenience of its proximity to the couple’s home in the New North End. They decided to also use the space as a second café location. 

“There's something really cool about opening a location in your immediate neighborhood, like more fulfilling in a different way, and you can really see the change that's happening, which is really awesome,” Bergström said. “It's a very tangible thing to work close to where you're at.”

On July 1, the café opened to the public, and the neighborhood's response has been positive, Bergström said.

“We have a lot of people that expressed that they can walk here, they can bike here and they're so grateful to just have a neighborhood spot that they can come to,” she said.

The restaurant’s vibrant art and plant-based focus stands out in a neighborhood of more traditional establishments and conservative residents. Until around 2011, the New North End, represented by Wards 4 and 7, had elected only Republicans to the Burlington City Council. 

“I was really shocked when someone told me that we were going to have a vegan restaurant in the neighborhood,” said Carmen George, a longtime New North End resident. “I was like, maybe because I’m so busy I didn’t really pay attention to how much things are changing. When my neighbor told me that I was like, ‘Wow, I have to really rethink the New North End.’”

“We did go out on a limb opening the restaurant in a typically more conservative area of town,” Sullivan said. 

Smitty’s handover

Carina Driscoll, owner of Butter Bar and Kitchen, moved to the New North End with her parents when she was 14, and decided to move her family to the area two and a half years ago. After the pandemic induced a temporary closure of the Vermont Woodworking School — which Driscoll established in 2007 — she decided to leave her leadership role. 

For her next step, she wanted to create a business in her neighborhood. 

“I really wanted to serve our community in some way and improve quality of life and bring something positive to the universe,” Driscoll said. “I looked at a lot of different options, then approached the owners of Smitty’s to see if they might be willing to hand over the reins of their space. To my surprise, they said yes.”

Carina Driscoll pauses behind the bar. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Driscoll partnered with Chile Colorado, a food truck at the time, to start Chile North, but the owners decided they did not want to run a restaurant. 

Driscoll approached Luis Calderin and Oscar Arancibia to see if they wanted to start a pop-up restaurant in the space. That pop-up became Santiago’s, which ended up lasting four months instead of the expected six weeks. Santiago’s is now set to open as a new location at downtown’s Main Street Landing.

“I really wanted to start something that was going to continue to serve the neighborhood in a way that was going to last, and so I worked with (chefs Tom D’Angelo and Chelsea Morgan) to develop a new menu that felt like it was going to serve the neighborhood for a very long time,” Driscoll said. 

Thus, Butter Bar and Kitchen was born. The team worked to curate the menu so that every New North End resident could find something for them, Driscoll said. The restaurant serves various burgers, sandwiches and salads, with an abundance of plant-based and gluten-free options. 

“We’re constantly trying to invent new things so people don't get bored and really feel like this can be their spot and they're always in the mood for it,” she said. 

Volcano Asian Cuisine and Gurung Restaurant have also opened in the New North End since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Owners of those restaurants could not be reached for comment. 

Ellen Bosworth garnishes her cocktail at Butter Bar and Kitchen in Burlington. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Are demographics changing?

The New North End was built in the 1950s as a working-class neighborhood, George said. Over the past decade or so, a lot of the homeowners have moved or passed away. Descendants of those owners and new, typically younger, families have been filling up the vacant properties. 

George herself moved into her parents’ home 20 years ago. 

“It’s a fantastic place to live,” she said. “You’ve got the skating rink, tennis courts, the grocery store, there’s a beach, it’s really got everything you would want if you were going to raise a family.”

Driscoll also noticed this pattern, especially since the pandemic began, and took the changing demographics into account when opening Butter. 

“There seem to be a lot of changes in ownership of households over the period of the pandemic and a lot of small children are arriving on the scene,” Driscoll said. 

Kara Pawlusiak, owner of Simple Roots Brewing in the New North End’s Ethan Allen Plaza, has been a New North End resident since 1986. She said families may be looking for another place in Burlington, outside of downtown, with abundant activities. 

“In the last 10 years or so, I think there's definitely been a shift of younger families moving into this area,” she said. “It was just a natural process of older people moving out and moving into different places, but I think there's a large community of young families here who are people with young kids or just families in general and looking to have places to go and things to do without having to go downtown.”

Despite these anecdotal trends, data from the Census Bureau shows that the number of people in the New North End ages 15 to 44 rose only 2 percentage points in the last decade, while the percentage of people ages 65 and older rose 5 percentage points. However, that data does not take into account demographics from 2020 to today. 

Sullivan said he hopes that Pingala’s expansion to the New North End will inspire more artistic change in the years to come. 

“I hope that us moving here brings success for our team and our company and our mission, and through that it inspires people to come down here to build the art scene,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s so missing from the New North End versus the South End. 

“There are so many more people here than in Winooski and in the South End, and yet they have so much art and so many more restaurants to offer,” Bergström added. 

Butter Bar and Kitchen in Burlington. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Building community

Other restaurants in the area — such as the Bagel Café and Deli, La Boca Woodfired Pizza and Bessery’s Butcher Shop and Delicatessen — have been hangout spots for New North End residents for many years. Bessery’s is a nearly third-generation establishment and has been open since 1963. 

Bergström and Sullivan are working on creating a “micro-market” in their restaurant — a place where carefully selected, local, plant-based foods that are sometimes difficult to find in the New North End will be available for purchase. Since the café is located across from Hunt Middle School, the couple hopes that they’ll have a new set of customers once the school year begins. 

“We’d like to have early morning hours, so folks who are dropping their kids off can pop by here after and get a smoothie,” Sullivan said. “We’d also like to have kids who are coming out of school come and hang out here.” (For now, Bergström said, they’re sticking with their current hours of 10 a.m.-4 p.m. “for the foreseeable future.”)

Simple Roots, the New North End brewery, opened in 2016. The brewery frequently hosts pop-up restaurants and various events throughout the year, including trivia nights and events related to Oktoberfest, the Olympics and Dyngus Day. 

“A lot of people often say, ‘Oh, the New North End, it’s this peninsula, it’s so hard to get there and get anywhere,’” Pawlusiak said. “I do find that events will draw people in from other communities.” 

Butter has hosted political meet-and-greets and other community events and hopes to expand to open mic nights and other events in the future to enhance the feeling of community in the neighborhood. 

“We're gonna see if we reach out to some people who are not working in restaurants but really love to cook and pair them with our chefs to bring the flavors of their heritage and their family to the neighborhood,” Driscoll said.

Corrections: An earlier version of this story gave incorrect information about the opening of the original Pingala Café and misstated which restaurant previously occupied a New North End space.

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Jenna Peterson

About Jenna

Jenna Peterson is a student at the University of Southern California, where she is majoring in journalism and political science. She is news editor at the Daily Trojan at USC and was an editor of the Burlington High School student newspaper when it received a special New England Newspaper & Press Association award for successfully fighting a censorship effort by school administrators.

Email: [email protected]

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