Kara Tondorf opens The Rivershed Restaurant
By Ethan Weinstein
It started as a getaway. Kara Tondorf and her family wanted out of Massachusetts during the pandemic, so they started spending more time at their condo in Killington. Now, what started as an escape has become something permanent. Tondorf opened a new restaurant on Killington Road, The Rivershed, and she and her family are here to stay.
You’ve probably heard: people are moving to Killington. The 2020 Census showed an over 70% increase in full-time residents in the last decade, or nearly 600 people. And even more families have settled in Vermont in the last year of the pandemic. Killington Elementary was forced to create a second pre-k class to accommodate all the new families, and real estate prices are through the roof. Tondorf is one of many who have decided to “leave the rat race” and call Killington home.
In November 2020, Tondorf and her family moved to Killington, and Harlan, 9, and Crosby, 8, enrolled at Killington Elementary. The kids were loving the area so much that by the spring of 2021, Tondorf and her wife realized the move would likely be permanent. They wanted a house, not a condo. At that point, the idea of a restaurant began to percolate.
Tondorf — who considers herself more of an entrepreneur than a restaurateur — first opened a restaurant with her brother, a chef, while living in Nashville in 2012. Inspired by her career as a songwriter and the places she’d traveled to while on tour, Tondorf wanted to combine good music with good food, all with a Southern twist.
After opening a couple of restaurants in Nashville, Tondorf opened The Rivershed in Scituate, Massachusetts, in 2014. This year, she expanded to a second location in Braintree, Massachusetts. The Rivershed in Killington is Tondorf’s third take on the concept.
Tondorf purchased the former building of the popular Peppino’s Restaurant on Killington Road for $550,000 in May and renovated the space in time for a November opening. “It was an incredibly intense renovation. I’ve done probably over 30 renovations in my life between restaurants and houses. And this I would say was probably one of the most intense,” she said.
Once initial renovations began, Tondorf quickly realized the space needed more work than she imagined. Rather than put off some fixes for later, she and her team decided to tackle all the issues now, saving a future headache. “We’re very happy with the end result.”
Working with B & T Builders in Brandon, Tondorf wound up employing the company to build her family’s new house as well. “They’re absolutely brilliant,” she said, “and they’re just lovely human beings.”
While most businesses — and restaurants in particular — are struggling to find enough staff, Tondorf says she did not have a hard time finding her most vital employees. “I honestly feel as though if you build it, they will come,” she said. “I have very close relationships with my staff, I always have kind of treated us all like a family.”
Tondorf has brought some of her most trusted staff with her, including a chef she’s worked with for seven years, a general manager, an assistant manager and a line cook. All have moved to the area in order to get the new Rivershed location off the ground, adding more new faces to the Killington community.
The Rivershed will serve burgers, BBQ staples like brisket and ribs, tacos, and offer 12 craft beers on draught. Inside, the restaurant features reclaimed wood, a huge bar, a private dining area, and a built-in sound system. Diners can expect live music on a weekly basis, including top-notch musicians Tondorf knows from her Nashville days.
While all the hubbub of moving and renovations has gone on, Tondorf has grown to love the Killington area and the people who call it home. “The community up here is so close knit. It just really works for me,” she said.
When they first moved, people were still isolating. But by the spring, Tondorf’s sons started playing baseball, which was a way to meet new friends. The kids started getting into mountain biking, and soon the whole summer was spent on their bikes.
“They got obsessed with it,” she laughed.
Expecting to go back and forth to Massachusetts during the summer, Tondorf wound up spending the summer in Killington. Between the people and the place, no one wanted to leave.
“We were welcomed with open arms,” she said. “I also find that there are very few people that I’ve met that are born and raised in Vermont. They are all people that came to Vermont for a reason. And that alone is something that’s a commonality. You chose to have that slower-paced life, if you will, and not the rat race.
“I’ve felt a stronger sense of community up here than I’ve ever felt anywhere in my life.”