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  • Brattleboro Reformer

Local, From Scratch Fare in Brattleboro

By Nicole Colson / Photos by Ed Thomas

Gretchen Hardy's vision as a chef has always been to pay close

attention to what her patrons want.

"I make food that's approachable and consistent with my own flair,"

she says of her menu at The Porch Café. "The majority of my customers

are local. Owners of local restaurants come here to eat. I want

people to learn to trust me and keep coming back."

Her regulars place so much trust in her some of them let her create

something for them that's not on the menu. "I have customers who

won't decide — they ask me to do it," she says.

Cooking on the fly is Hardy's specialty (pictured above, second

from right, and at right.) A Chesterfield, New Hampshire, native and

Keene High School graduate, she earned her degree from The

Culinary Institute of America, traveled extensively throughout

Europe and India, working on organic farms, vineyards and bakeries.

Upon graduating from culinary school, she moved to Vail, Colorado,

to work in fine dining establishments under a variety of chefs.

She was in Colorado when she heard Chesterfield resident Bo

Foard (owner of Foard Panel) found out about her culinary skills and

was interested in a business venture with her if she ever returned to

New Hampshire. She didn't until four years later when she helped

him cook for a birthday party for his father-in-law.

"He liked my clam chowder," she says.

Within eight months the pair had established a partnership

named — Hardy Foard Catering.

From food truck to permanent location

Cooking for events was their focus in 2010 from a tiny commercial

kitchen. Three years later, they jumped on the food truck trend and

opened The Porch, a tiny house on wheels Foard designed with the

help of local builder Nathan Rupard in an industrial park in West

Chesterfield on the Foard Panel lot.

Right out of the gate, Hardy and Foard's vision for the food truck

was on using local ingredients and innovative approaches to truck

stop comfort food. They kept their menu small and changed it often,

sometimes weekly based on the season.

In two years, The Porch food truck outgrew its location and

catering expanded to dozens of weddings and events a year — the

pair now does about 100 annually.

By May of 2015, The Porch Café opened on Putney Road in

Brattleboro — a local, from-scratch ingredients restaurant on a road

packed with fast food joints. The restaurant has grown from three

employees to 22.

Although the kitchen and restaurant are larger (the café seats 45)

than the food truck, Hardy and Foard's goal has remained to serve

simple food with a signature twist, with special care given to showcasing

local ingredients.

Foard runs his full-time business, but Hardy says he checks in at

the café every day, and offers menu ideas (the Cuban sandwich was

his) and helps with business decisions.

"He jumps in to cook at events too," she adds.

Hardy’s husband, Nate, runs the restaurant's front of the house.

Daily specials with in-season ingredients

Hardy offers daily specials at the café, some of them making the cut for the regular menu. Dishes she and Foard invent for event catering also

become permanent choices, such as “Beet the Chills." Hardy created this recipe

to use in-season local root veggies — it's a breakfast bowl containing roasted

beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic, basil, sriracha (hot sauce) and, of course,

eggs over easy.

Foard has relationships with many local farmers, which often leads to


"(One farmer) brought me some wild mushrooms recently," she says. "I'm

thinking about making a wild mushroom panini with goat cheese for the


When she needs ingredients for a last-minute catered event, she'll text these

farmers and ask what they've got on-hand and create a menu.

Local meat, however, is not served at The Porch Café to keep costs down.

But all meat products served are antibiotic, additive and preservative-free.

Other local suppliers of the café's ingredients in-season include Fertile

Fields and New Dawn Farm, both of Westmoreland. Farms in Vermont

include Lilac Ridge Farm in Brattleboro (tomatoes, greens, berries), Scott's

Farm in Brattleboro (apples and pears), Black River Produce in Ludlow,

Vermont Creamery in Websterville (goat cheese), Cabot Creamery in Montpelier

and Grafton Cheese, and Bunker Farm in Newfane (maple syrup).

Foard's wife and father-in-law also keep gardens and supply the café with

herbs and edible flowers.

Bennie Rufenacht of Chesterfield bakes the bread Hardy serves as well as

pretzels and bialies in his handmade clay oven located in Dummerston, and

Aubrey Saxton (known as The Saxy Chef) of Marborough makes The Porch

Café's desserts. Chai tea comes from Guilford, Vermont (Chai Wallah) and

Pierce Brothers Coffee is from nearby Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Hardy and Foard's concept for their restaurant may seem a tall order, but for

the two of them, it's non-negotiable.

"We want to build a sustainable business that supports as many local vendors

as we can while keeping jobs in the community," says Hardy.

Learn more:

Nicole Colson is a freelance writer from Swanzey, NH.

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