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
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: www.theporchtoo.com
Nicole Colson is a freelance writer from Swanzey, NH.