Bottom line: Chef at Pine moves on to hardwood, opening Oakes & Evelyn in Montpelier

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 1/9/2021 10:44:10 PM
Modified: 1/9/2021 10:45:40 PM

Count another loss in a year of losses for the Hanover restaurant scene: Justin Dain, the acclaimed executive chef of Pine, has left to open his own restaurant in Montpelier.

Dain, who spent 10 years at the Hanover Inn, is in the process of opening Oakes & Evelyn, which he bills as a “modern farm-to-table” restaurant in the former Kismet restaurant space on State Street in the capital.

Chefs are by inclination a peripatetic bunch, but for Dain the new restaurant marks a return to his home range.

“I grew up in Waterbury Center and was always looking to come back and open something special in my neck of the woods,” Dain said last week via telephone against the clatter of a crew getting the place ready to open on Feb. 3.

“I had looked at six to seven locations over the years” — including places in Waterbury, Burlington, and Stowe — “but this one really spoke to me,” he said.

Joining Dain in his new venture are several colleagues who had worked with him at Pine, including sous chef Amanda Champagne, former restaurant manager Emily Chism and bar manager James Ives.

Dain, who joined the predecessor restaurant at the Hanover Inn in 2010, was integral in opening Pine in 2013 following the two-year renovation of the Dartmouth-owned hotel.

With a calm manner and self-effacement bespeaking his small-town roots, Dain is the antipode of maniacal celebrity chefs like TV cuisiniers like Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre White. Dain, who will commute from Grantham to Montpelier while his son finishes a school year, has been working in kitchens since he was 16 — a lot of career chefs get hooked that way — before training at the Culinary Institute of America and the New England Culinary Institute.

When Pine shut down in the first wave of coronavirus last spring, Dain invited furloughed employees to take home fresh produce and perishable items from the restaurant. He then organized a program to prepare weekly to-go meals for Pine’s 104 furloughed workers.

Later, he launched a pop-up restaurant at Pine called Good Burger, which offers a different spin on the American classic each night for pickup and delivery to students. The takeout service, launched in the fall, is available Wednesday through Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Brian Hunt, general manager of the Hanover Inn, had nothing but praise for Dain, saying, “We’re very thankful for Justin and wish him very well and much success in Montpelier. We’re very excited for him.”

Hunt said he is currently interviewing candidates for a new executive chef and hopes to be able to make an announcement within a month. Pine, although operating with a reduced staff, is open and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, both inside and to-go.

Dain named his restaurant Oakes & Evelyn to honor the memory of his late grandfather, Thomas Oakes, and late great aunt, Evelyn Gaerby, both whom had a profound influence on him growing up.

“It’s paying tribute. I wouldn’t be here without them,” Dain said.

Dain allows that a full-blown pandemic, the virulence of which the world hasn’t experienced in 100 years, might seem like an inopportune time to open a new restaurant.

But he said he’s looking beyond the near term.

“Even with what’s currently going on, we’re going to be on the other side of this now with a vaccine,” he said.

“I’m ready for a few rough months,” he said.

Bubble tea surfacesin Hanover

Bubble tea is returning to Hanover.

Since the frozen yogurt counter The Swirl & Pearl closed at the onset of the pandemic last year, people who crave the sweet, fruity “tea-based” drink known as “bubble tea” have been left dry.

Relief is on the way.

Janice Zheng, a Hanover resident, is opening 4 U Bubble Tea in the walk-down space below Citizens Bank on South Main Street, previously occupied by the chocolate shop My Brigadeiro.

The store is going through its final inspection and licensing, and Zheng hopes it will be open within a few weeks.

Zheng, who formerly managed the Mobil gas station at the corner of Route 5 and Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction and the Mobil station in Quechee, said she’s been a fan of the candy-like drink for as long as she can remember.

“I used to live in New York City, where they have bubble tea shops everywhere,” Zheng said. “I just realized people love bubble tea, so I thought, ‘Why don’t we have a bubble tea in this area?’ ”

Bubble tea, also called boba, originated in Taiwan before spreading around the world and is made by blending a tea base with milk, fruit and fruit juices and then adding pearl-size chewy balls of tapioca — the “bubbles” — which sink to the bottom of the cup.

The drink is accompanied by a straw wide enough to suction up the tapioca balls.

“I love bubble tea, and I want to introduce it to everyone,” Zheng said.

The store will also sell flavored fresh milks and sell Asian packaged snacks, which she used to stock at the Mobil station and she said are very popular.

Hanover resident Jay Campion, who manages the building, called bubble tea “a phenomenon” and said he was impressed by Zheng’s background in high-traffic stores and her creative ideas.

“She’s got a three-page, single-space typed menu, and it’s all beverages,” Campion said.

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