By Curt Peterson
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on local restaurants expanding their open hours, offerings post-pandemic.
The past 14 difficult, uncertain months have been long for John and Stacy Capurso, owners of Windsor’s Windsor Station restaurant, but they say they’re stronger than ever.
The 8-year-old enterprise was at its peak, John told the Mountain Times, busy and hosting live music four nights a week, before the pandemic halted operations.
“We watched the virus in Europe and Asia. Next it was California, Seattle and New York,” he said.
“Our last live music event was March 14,” Stacy said. “And it already felt wrong. We weren’t sure we should do it.”
They pivoted to takeout-only for a week. Then, on March 23 they shut down completely.
When Governor Phil Scott allowed restaurants to restart takeout, the Capursos were ready — a new online ordering system worked perfectly. Customers drive up to a “taxi-stand” type location and staff brings their orders out to them.
When outdoor dining was permitted, Windsor Station had a canopy-covered patio ready – the insurer of a truck that had seriously damaged an open-air area on the north side of the railroad station building three years ago, had refurbished it.
John said the state’s consistent and transparent flow of information about the pandemic status made decision making for their business easier, and “the state grants were a lifeline,” he said. “Vermont really took care of our restaurant industry. I’d give the state an A-Plus grade for how they handled the pandemic.”
Windsor Station was an early recipient of a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as well.
Throughout the pandemic, the town of Windsor has been very supportive and helpful as well, John said. At one point they shut off traffic and installed Jersey barriers to create an outdoor space for serving, but it ultimately proved too large for the restaurant’s staff to service.
“Even now they have offered to help us any way they can,” he said.
Governor Scott allowed restaurants to open to 50% capacity the first week in June 2020, but when the Covid case numbers began to rise in October, the Capursos returned to takeout-only.
Windsor Station has now been open for inside and outside dining up to 60% capacity for 2½ months. The bar, not in use during the pandemic, will be reopened in a week or so, Stacy said. When they might start live music again is still up in the air, partly because the state-mandated closing time is still 10 p.m.
John ordered a new pasta-making machine before the pandemic, but it was stuck in Italy for six months. Since it arrived he’s “kept his sanity” during shut-downs by playing with it, making semolina pasta less expensively and with much better results than buying premade pasta or making it by hand.
How’s business now?
“Our take-out business is four times what it’s ever been,” John said, “which is easy for us. We do the same food preparation as we always did, but put it in a box instead of on a plate.”
The young couple also credit “early tourism” and “pandemic migration” for their busy-ness.
“Usually there’s zero tourists in May,” John said. “This May there are tons of them.”
“A lot of people moved into the area to escape the virus and were introduced to our restaurant through takeout,” Stacy said. “Now that they can see the place inside, it’s their first time ever.”
For the Capursos, difficulty finding staff is nothing new. They had 25 employees before Covid. Now they are down to 14, with almost no applications.
“All of us are vaccinated, although some of the younger staff have only had their first shots,” Stacy said.
The staff is remaining masked while serving tables. Customers are encouraged to wear masks until they get to their tables and when leaving. Tables are well-separated.
We enjoyed house salads, lightly fried calamari, a delicious swordfish special with risotto, broccoli, green beans and cherry tomatoes. Cheesecake with fresh strawberry topping, and chocolate cream pie were enjoyed. It was a delightful and safe-feeling experience at the Windsor Station Restaurant.