MONTPELIER – The new year has brought new beginnings for the New England Culinary Institute in the Capital City.
Monday marked the reopening of NECI’s La Brioche Bakery and Café after a move from City Center across the street to NECI on Main, the culinary school’s flagship restaurant in Montpelier.
The move was part of a consolidation of NECI’s operations to reduce costs and focus on putting all its academic operations under one roof.
It has also provided a new opening for the popular café and bakery, where students learn the finer points of preparing a range of freshly baked pastries, wedding cakes and artisan breads. The bakery also offers an expanded range of sandwiches, soups and salads.
NECI President Milan Milosinovic, who took control of the school in 2016, said he was happy with the outcome of the transition that would allow the school to focus on its core mission of training students while curbing costs.
“It makes a lot of financial sense to do it, and I don’t think it’s going to be a huge hurdle for our customers to just come across the street,” Milosinovic said. “The service and the quality of our products will stay intact, so we will pretty much maintain our reliable product, the coffee and everything else, plus they have more space.
“We did what we planned. We did it because our rent was 60 percent of our income and no business can survive that,” he added.
Milosinovic said it is also hoped to enclose and winterize the outside patio.
For now, customers can enjoy a renovation and transformation of the ground floor restaurant space into more spacious, airy surroundings.
The two-week renovation, which began after Christmas, has made the formerly darker space (when it was part of the existing restaurant with light pastel shades), with ergonomic furnishings and displays of artwork still to come. The restaurant continues to operate downstairs with a new executive chef, expanded menu and live music.
In the café, display cases show off the range of products.
Customers on the first day of the re-opening seemed satisfied with the new space.
They included Lu Johnson and his wife, Penny, of Wilder, who were enjoying pastries and coffee on Monday. Although it had been a while since they were last in Montpelier, they said they were impressed with the new space.
Joanna Meyer and Lindsay Wade also were enjoying coffee and pastries on Monday morning.
“I like the layout, it’s nice and roomy and I hope they do well,” Meyer said. “But I’m happy it’s continuing because we’re a little low on places (for coffee and breakfast).”
Wade added: “I really hope it works. I liked the location of the other space, but they’re really trying hard to make it work so I’m really hopeful (for them).
Café Manager Stephanie Pinard said she was happy with the new location.
“I like this space better,” Pinard said. I wasn’t sure about moving over here and sharing space with the restaurant downstairs.”
Pinard said there been a good early response to the new space from customers.
“Everyone that’s come in has said, “It’s brighter, it’s warm and it’s more open here,’” Pinard said. “We’re offering more breakfast items now and we’re offering a larger lunch menu.”
Staff working in the café said they also enjoyed the new surroundings.
“I like the change and it’s more open now,” Rhiannon Chesaux said. “I also work downstairs (in the restaurant), so it’s all together now.”
Harley Duwald added: “I think the move was hard because we had been in that space a long time and some people were sad to see us move. I do like the new space a lot and I think it will be really good for the businesses to be in one building, helping each other.”
Chef Earle Test, who was appointed vice president of academic and student affairs in November, continues to lead academic programming and instruction. “We’re real happy ... when you look around the space, it’s comfortable,” Test said. “As far as academics ... it brings everyone into one house.
“It helped streamline some things, it’s going to make everything run more efficiently in the long run, but also gives students a better overall academic experience. We can do everything in one house and we’re looking forward to what this is going to bring for us,” he added.
Test said NECI currently has about 60 students, down from a high of about 800 students in 1999. Both café and restaurant have a staff of about eight employees each, with students filling in when needed.
Executive Chef Instructor Adam Noe, who joined NECI in August after five years at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, has been working on expanding the menu and the restaurant is now operating a full, regular schedule.
The café is open from Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 8 p.m., and there is live jazz on Thursday.