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Skinny Pancake Adds Waitstaff, Menu Items — And Cocktails

  • Skinny Pancake bar manager Kendall Gendron, middle, discusses the restaurant's offerings at a pre-meal meeting at the restaurant in Hanover, N.H. on Aug. 28, 2017. The staff tastes food or wine on the dinner menu. From left, Kristen Webber, Lilly Duda, Gendron, Amy Derick, Carrie Swain, and Audrey Devost were about to start the dinner shift. The meeting is a new addition for the staff since Skinny Pancake became a full service restaurant last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lilly Duda pours water for customer Emily Husson, of Franklin N.H. on Aug. 28, 2017 at the Skinny Pancake, in Hanover, N.H. The Skinny Pancake has recently transitioned to full-service and a larger menu. Husson, a recent Dartmouth College graduate, has been writing essays for medical school this summer at her favorite table at the restaurant. She said the wait staff has been more relaxed since the change to table service. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Skinny Pancake servers Lilly Duda, left, and Audrey Devost look over the sections they will wait on for dinner at the restaurant in Hanover, N.H. on Aug. 28 2017. Both feel the service is much smoother since the restaurant has become full-service. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Kendall Gendron has worked in bars and restaurants for at least nine years, but this was an order she’d never filled before. She’s the bar manager at Skinny Pancake’s Hanover location, and her higher-ups wanted her to whip up a cocktail menu of her own invention.

She debuted what she calls her “crafty cocktails” last Thursday, when the Lebanon Street eatery rolled out a new full-service dining model, which — along with offering patrons more non-crepe options — allows Skinny Pancake to serve liquor in the state of New Hampshire.

“It’s definitely let me spread my wings creatively, and kind of cultivate a culture within cocktails,” Gendron said. “I guess I like alliteration, huh?”

According to Jonny Adler, one of the founders and owners of Skinny Pancake, a liquor license has been on Skinny Pancake’s to-do list since the Hanover location opened doors in May 2016 — the first and, to date, only New Hampshire branch of the Vermont-based chain of creperies. Now that this goal has become a reality, “the bartenders are really having a ball,” Adler said during an interview at the Hanover Skinny Pancake, the week before these changes took effect.

Previously, Skinny Pancake in Hanover operated like its Vermont forebears: on a semi-service model, where customers stand in line and order food at the counter. If they wanted a beer, they had to order it separately, at the bar. While this service model is still in place for those who liked it, the restaurant is shifting gears to offer a more traditional, sit-down, tip-your-waiter kind of experience.

These changes are Skinny Pancake’s response to a company-wide customer survey, which indicated that many customers in Hanover wanted more options: non-crepe options, the option for table service and more alcohol options.

Fulfilling these first two requests also will allow Skinny Pancake to meet the third and, in some ways, trickiest one. New Hampshire has what Adler feels are surprisingly puritanical liquor licensing laws, given the Granite State’s live-free-or-die attitude.

“I was really unpleasantly surprised to learn that,” he said. “It is very, very restrictive here, more so than Vermont and a lot of other places.”

In Vermont, the Department of Liquor Control allows licensed restaurants to serve liquor, so long as more than 51 percent of the restaurant’s revenue comes from food sales. In a bar or tavern, where less than half of the revenue comes from food sales, the establishment needs a special “cabaret” license.

By contrast, in New Hampshire, Adler found it’s harder to get a liquor license as a restaurant than as a bar. A bar can serve liquor without offering much in the way of food, but a restaurant can’t serve liquor without offering a full-service dining model, with so-called “substantial” menu items — a category that does not include such staples as pizza, burgers and, alas, crepes, Adler said.

And so Skinny Pancake has had to beef up its non-crepe menu: among these substantial, stick-to-your-ribs entrees are smoked bacon mac and cheese, chicken pot pie and meatloaf sourced from Robie Farm in Piermont. In a similar localvore vein, Skinny Pancake will partner with nearby distilleries, such as SILO Distillery in Windsor and Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vt.

“It’s an opportunity for us to collaborate even more with local businesses,” Adler said. “There’s a lot of excitement on both sides.”

Adler noted that Hanover’s considerable site-specific changes seem to go against the conventional restaurant wisdom, which holds that in order for a chain to preserve its brand, it must provide a parallel experience at each of its branches, he said. But Adler feels “shaking it up” is actually part of the Skinny Pancake brand, especially when said shake-ups reflect the intangible qualities of a given location.

While he believes his Burlington diners “would never go for a full-service model,” roughly 60 percent of Hanover respondents asked for or critiqued an element of the Skinny Pancake experience that going full-service would address in one way or another, Adler said.

And so the changes to Skinny Pancake’s service model are not a wholly liquor-motivated decision, though Adler called liquor a “major motivating factor.”

Gendron, who lives in Corinth, predicts the new offerings will enhance the atmosphere at Skinny Pancake by adding “another layer of class” onto a casual setting. “I think it’ll be able to make us more inclusive,” she said of the liquor license. “Not everyone likes to drink beer or wine, and there’s only so much you can do with cordials.”

Among the concoctions Gendron’s been devising? Her own recipe for falernum— a spicy-sweet Caribbean-inspired syrup made with ginger, allspice and other herbs, which typically goes with rum but which general manager Ian Rose said he likes mixed with bourbon. She also makes a host of other simple syrups, infused with flavors such as orange peel, mint, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and sage (though not all at once).

And then there’s the housemade tonic water.

“You know that key feature to tonic water, that bite you get from the quinine?” Gendron said. She explained that it comes from the cinchona bark, native to the Andean forests of South America. She infuses the cinchona bark extract with fruit peels and herbs, and steeps the mixture for three days before straining it and diluting the concentrate with soda.

“It takes the traditional gin and tonic to the next level,” she said.

But she’s also introducing more off-beat elixirs that she hopes will challenge customers’ ideas of what a cocktail can be: One drink, which Gendron calls Verdant Vitality (she loves alliteration, remember) infuses gin with matcha green tea. It’s shaken with an egg white, mixed with honey and lemon and served all frothy in a martini glass.

“The heartiness of green tea matches really well with the herbaceous qualities of gin,” she said. “I had a few people who ordered that (Thursday night) who had never even tried matcha before… . I like changing people’s minds about what they like.”

Rose and Adler both stressed that despite these changes, which do seem to tilt Skinny Pancake in what Rose described as a somewhat more “polished and refined” direction, the heart and soul of Skinny Pancake will not waver.

“Now, you don’t have to stand in line, you can get refills on coffee or whatever beverage — it’s a big step for us,” Adler said. And now, “you can drink your whiskey while listening to your Grateful Dead cover band … which in the eyes of our customers, is basically just a better version of what we already are.”

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.