By Curt Peterson
Editor’s note: This is the third of the Covid Survival Series by reporter Curt Peterson about area restaurants and their adaptations during and plans post- Covid.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been “challenging” and “scary,” but ultimately “just a blip,” according to Sam DiNatale, owner of Mon Vert Café on Central Street in Woodstock.
“After all, it’s only business,” the 2004 graduate of Woodstock Union High School told the Mountain Times. “What’s important is I still have my family, we have our health, and we all survived together.”
When the pandemic emerged early in 2020, the café’s business was seasonally slow — much of its clientele is tourists — and expectations were that the effect would last a couple of weeks to a month at most.
But, DiNatale says, “The news kept changing. I did a lot of online research on my own. My whole job became being as informed as possible by knowing information from all sources possible, and keeping the staff informed.”
The business was totally closed for two to three months, and reopened for take-out-only until June. Indoor dining was minimal, with expanded patio seating.
As of this writing, the café has not returned to full capacity, which is 50, including both indoor and outdoor seating. All indoor seating is on the second floor, except one table reserved for people who are unable to negotiate stairs.
“We get a lot of out-of-state walk-ins,” DiNatale explains, “and we don’t know who is vaccinated and who isn’t, so this is our choice. Besides the community, my first concern is for our staff, most of whom are young and are just now getting their first vaccine shots.”
Like other restaurateurs who have weathered the pandemic, DiNatale says state and federal assistance were necessary for their survival.
“Vermont handled the pandemic amazingly and Governor Scott did a great job. The proof is in the pudding,” she said, referring to Vermont’s record as one of the safest and fastest-recovering populations in the country. “We were able to get a PPP [Payroll Protection Program] grant and other supports. And I can’t say enough about our local community — they were amazingly supportive.”
She also credits her employees with loyalty and flexibility — almost all of her staff have returned to work at Mon Vert as the pandemic winds down. The staff numbers around 20, including part-timers.
Mon Vert is a “family affair” — DiNatale’s partner Scott Smith, is the chef; her mother, Sandy, often present, acts as “our cheerleader”; and Sam’s father, Joe, a pioneer in massage therapy, helps out however he can. Sam’s sister keeps the books and helps with staffing issues.
DiNatale’s son, Joseph, is 13 and a student at Woodstock Middle/High School. She says being a single parent just adds to the challenge, but the people around her support and understand that he is her first priority. She is one of Woodstock’s representatives on the Windsor Central Unified Union School District Board.
The café is open for breakfast and lunch, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday through Wednesday. Beer and wine are available.
An eclectic breakfast menu includes “Avo Good Morning” (avocado, tomato, red onion and greens on toast), “Floren — Woody Wrap” (scrambled eggs, baby spinach, Parmesan and garlic aioli), and the classic Mon Vert Cristo on challah bread.
Lunch might be Mt. Hunger Salad (bacon, apple, yellow pepper, red onion, feta), Hail Caesar Wrap, Popeye the Fungi, or Oink and Cluck.
Reading the menu can be as fun as eating the food.