by Nat Frothingham
Changes are coming, almost immediately, to La Brioche, Montpelier’s busy coffee shop, bakery and café at the downtown corner of State and Main. La Brioche will close as early as Monday, Sept. 25 and re-open a week later on Oct. 2 with a new décor and a complete makeover.
During a spirited interview with executive chef Jean-Louis Gerin, he looked forward and back and talked about the immediate and long-term changes taking place both at La Brioche and the whole NECI enterprise.
About the immediate changes at La Brioche, he said, “We have been working on this project for several months. It’s a big project,” he said, noting that the makeover involves local contractors, national suppliers, designers and the like.
“We’re adding,” said Gerin, “Adding — and not taking away,” he emphasized.
“We will be doing everything we are doing now — the coffee, the sandwiches, the soups, the bread, the artisan tea — it’s all good. But we will be adding to that.”
La Brioche will continue to offer Chef Andre’s in-house soups. But once a week, La Brioche will be featuring Joe’s Soup from local soup-maker Joe Buley.
Working with standout food suppliers and food-makers from the area is part of the plan. “We’re making great soup at La Brioche,” said Gerin. “And Joe’s making good soup. So we want to work with him.”
Other La Brioche add-ons will include an “action station,” described by Gerin as “short-order cooking right in front of you.” And, for customers arriving at the end of the day, food-to-go, that is, food you can take home.
Another upcoming change is the way NECI students relate to La Brioche. Said Gerin, “Students won’t leave (as they do now) after three weeks.” Instead they will become paid interns for six months, learning their craft in the NECI kitchen.”
Gerin emphasized the importance of the six-month student internships in the world of professional cooking. “It’s who you work for that’s important.” In pursuing a career, he said, “You have to pay your dues. When you work with an experienced chef who has a name and reputation, that’s someone who can write you a recommendation.”
Talking about the La Brioche makeover, Gerin said, “We aren’t having a grand opening. This is business as usual as far as I’m concerned.”
Instead of a flashy grand opening on Oct. 2, Gerin has fixed his sights on a long-range objective. “We are going back to our roots,” he said. “We’ve had some difficult years. Now, we have the right team to fix it.” And the immediate changes are the beginning of something bigger — even profound.”
“We are changing the way we look. And we are changing our attitude,” Gerin said.
Oct. 2 is only the beginning of that long process. Said Gerin, raising his voice a little, “Say that we started on Oct. 2, 2017.”
Beginning on Oct. 2, Jean-Louis Gerin will be getting down to brass tacks on a project to recapture what NECI was and will again become.
“My mission,” said Gerin,“is to go back to what NECI was.” La Brioche was and will be a great bakery and café. NECI on Main was and will be a great restaurant and bar, the kind of place where one friend would say to another friend or where a husband would say to his wife, “Tonight I’m going to take you to a special place.”
“This is for the students,” he said. “This is for the community. Yes, we need to run things differently. It’s important for the alumni. They graduated from NECI, launched their careers from NECI and want to look back at NECI and see restaurants that represent us best and are something to be proud of.”
And, Gerin said, NECI will be able to tell alumni, “We are doing a killer business!”