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Two chefs open a kitchen of their own in Windsor

  • Whitney Woods takes a lunch order from Kim Curtis, left, of Windsor, Vt., and her mother Betty Morrison, of Wilder, Vt., at Au Jus in Windsor on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. It was Curtis' second time at the restaurant.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Co-owner of Au Jus in Windsor, Vt., Josh Martin takes pork shoulder out of the smoker on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Co-owner of Au Jus in Windsor, Vt., Nate Rose shakes the hand cut seasoned french fries for a lunch order on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Whitney Woods, manager of Au Jus in Windsor, Vt., hangs the open sign at the restaurant on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (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, September 10, 2019

Some days bring chaos, and other days, like this one, unfold slowly.

Nate Rose drained water from bins of hand-cut potatoes and set up the deep fryer, while Josh Martin prepared a pan of coconut-ginger rice. A package arrived, containing a much-anticipated restaurant-grade can opener. Two women came in 20 minutes before opening time asking if they could just have coffee while they waited (that was no problem). A couple of customers phoned in take-out orders and came to pick them up. A party of three came in for lunch, and a few minutes later their orders came clattering onto the pass-through window: a slab of fried fish and two overstuffed sandwiches, their top buns askew to reveal the mounds of meat inside, on nests of seasoned fries atop thick white ceramic plates.

A month after opening Au Jus on Main Street in Windsor, Rose, 38, and Martin, 33, are learning what to expect as restaurant owners — while learning to leave aside expectations.

“My favorite saying these days is, ‘It is what it is,’ ” said Martin, sauteing onions for French onion soup last Thursday morning.

The pair had no grand plan when they dreamed up Au Jus, a home-style eatery that specializes in barbecue, earlier this year.

Martin, who’s been working in restaurants since he was a teenager growing up in Rhode Island, was head chef at a restaurant in Proctorsville, Vt., when he got a call from Rose, whom he’d known for a while through mutual friends. A Vermont native and professionally trained chef who’d worked on a lobster boat for nine years and then in various other trades, Rose was interested in returning to restaurant work.

“He said, ‘Yeah, come right in,’” Rose recalled.

A few months later, the two were working together on a hectic night without enough staff. “I looked over at Josh and I said, ‘Why are we doing this for somebody else?’ ” Rose said.

The next day, Rose found the restaurant for lease on a Facebook group and the two decided to take the plunge. Family and friends helped them renovate the Main Street space, which had housed a number of ventures over the years and had fallen into disrepair, and a few months later, they opened for business.

Its rich-red walls hung with photos of cattle and paintings of farm life, its background music a country-bluesy blend, the restaurant gives off a vibe befitting its menu, a hefty collection of meats — burgers, pulled pork, brisket, steak, ribs — most of them smoked and braised. The Au Jus Burger, their bestseller so far, features three meats: root-beer braised brisket and pulled pork piled atop a Vermont-raised beef patty, all blanketed in Vermont cheddar cheese. Au Jus is a French term for a meat served in or with its own juices. 

If slow-coooked meats are the mainstay of the menu, they’re far from the only thing on offer. Martin loves to cook seafood, which, some customers are surprised to learn, he buys fresh daily from a seafood market in Boston, by way of Black River Produce in North Springfield, Vt. There are also a few vegetarian options on the menu, including a penne Alfredo, a veggie stir fry and a portabella burger that has become quite popular.

“I didn’t really realize how many vegetarians were in the area,” Rose said.

In fact, the pair, who were accustomed to the touristy pace of Proctorsville, didn’t know much about Windsor when they started the business. They ended up here simply because the restaurant was available for the right price, but they’re quickly learning that their restaurant has filled a niche. The town has a pizza place, a Chinese restaurant, a diner that serves breakfast and lunch and Windsor Station, a restaurant and night-spot, but nothing like Au Jus.

“We’ve been told this is just what the town needed,” Martin said.

And word seems to be getting out. Business has been good, if unpredictable, so far, the partners said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Martin said.

That’s made planning and staffing a challenge. For now, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, and Martin and Rose, who still live in Proctorsville and South Londonderry, Vt., respectively, typically work 15-hour days. They have three paid staff, and Rose’s wife, Jessica, and Martin’s girlfriend, Brandi Douglass, both help out as needed — waiting tables, washing dishes and baking desserts.

They hope to adjust the restaurant’s hours and scale back their schedules a bit as they figure out what the town wants and needs.

Raul Garcia, of Hartland, who came in on Thursday with his wife, Eleanor, and her caregiver, Anjelica Burns, was happy with his order of fish and chips.

“It’s nice and flaky,” he said. “And the price is good for what you get.”

Waiting for her food, Eleanor Garcia requested a sweater from server Mariza Marsh. Marsh, of Claremont, turned off the dining room air conditioner and then rummaged around in the back of the restaurant, returning with a Hollister hoodie, which did the trick.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.