BARRE — Amid apocalyptic predictions about the post-pandemic future of restaurants, John and Diane Hood will open one on Washington Street this weekend.
On Thursday, John Hood was covered in sawdust and building an access ramp for the restaurant, while his wife was scrambling to deal with a paperwork glitch that threatened the timely issuance of a liquor license for their soon-to-opened establishment.
“Just another day at The Meltdown,” Diane Hood chirped cheerfully, while noting her son, Sean, hadn’t dodged a last-minute assignment.
“He’s finishing up the menus,” she said.
Ready or not — and thankfully, it’s more ready than not — The Meltdown is coming together courtesy of a couple whose glide path to retirement will involve serving grilled-cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and a selection of Vermont wines and beers in the just-renovated first-floor of a two-story building where they expect to be living this time next year.
At first blush, they seem unlikely restaurateurs. John Hood is a self-employed contractor who, at 60, is ready to “hang up his tool belt.” So says his wife, 55, who spent the past 15 years as a local Jazzercise instructor.
What could go wrong, right?
Here’s the thing, he’s no slouch in the kitchen and neither is she. The menu isn’t complicated. It’s comfort food, and she majored in hospitality management in college, once ran the local Pizza Hut and worked as conference coordinator before getting into Jazzercise.
There is no doubt in Diane Hood’s voice when she talks about the business venture that will be launched in space her husband renovated in a home whose previous incarnations include the office of a local optometrist and a real estate firm.
It’s a restaurant now and while the Hoods search for space began late last year they knew exactly what they were getting into when they inked a “rent-to-own” agreement with local developer Thomas Lauzon on April 15.
By then COVID-19 was a thing, all restaurants in Vermont were closed and if the Hoods were going to blink they would have.
“I really believe in my husband and I believe in myself and I knew if anybody could make this happen it was us,” Diane Hood said. “Now we’re there.”
The Hoods had hoped to open The Meltdown in conjunction with the Barre Heritage Festival last weekend, but the urgency of that self-imposed deadline disappeared when the summer celebration was canceled with the exception of last Saturday’s fireworks that were set off just across the street at Vermont History Center.
This Saturday the Meltdown will open at 3 p.m. That’s a day later than Hood planned earlier in the week, but ramps need to be built, liquor licenses need to be issued and menus need to be finished.
“We’re just so excited to finally open and show off what we’ve done,” said Diane Hood, who isn’t a bit concerned about state guidelines that will require The Meltdown to operate at 50% capacity until further notice.
That could be — and in some cases has been — crippling for restaurants that were shuttered earlier this year, but it essentially amounts to a government-imposed “soft-opening” for The Meltdown, which has a spacious outdoor patio and three separate dining rooms each capable of seating two parties in accordance with state guidelines.
“It’s all new business to us,” said Diane Hood, who is eager to ease into a restaurant with a menu she believes in.
It’s one that doesn’t compete directly with other local restaurants, whose owners, Diane Hood said, have offered nothing but encouragement and support.
“There’s a lot of good food in Barre, but there’s not one that just warms your soul,” she said.
That will change Saturday when the kitchen at The Meltdown starts preparing food from a menu that has the Hood family’s fingerprints all over it, literally and figuratively.
Sean Hood, now a photographer, is putting the finishing touches on a menu that includes a wide range of grilled-cheese sandwiches, including the one he favored as a child.
It won’t be everyone’s taste, but Sean Hood always enjoyed dipping his grilled cheese in maple syrup, according to his mom, who favored ranch dressing.
“His is the signature sandwich,” she said of her son’s go-to grilled cheese that is made with provolone, mozzarella, Cabot cheddar cheese and a side of syrup from the Graham Farms in Williamstown.
There are plenty of other dipping and sandwich options — one involving lobster. And those who want to build their own will be welcome to do so.
The macaroni-and-cheese recipe is way older than the Cabot cheddar it is now made with.
“It’s John’s grandmother’s recipe,” Diane Hood said, noting her husband side of the family has deep roots in East Barre and an awesome recipe for macaroni and cheese.
Diane Hood’s roots can be traced to Montreal and her “Montreal smoked meat grilled cheese” will be featured on a menu that will include items like poutine and French fries as well.
The Meltdown will be open from 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday and will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday before opening for what will be it’s regular schedule — 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays.
For now, it’s reservations only at The Meltdown and those who want to be first through the door will have to monitor the restaurant’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/themeltdownbarre to get the phone number.
“We’re not ready to give it out just yet, but we’re so close,” Diane Hood said.