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Orford’s Peyton Place Restaurant Celebrates 25th Anniversary with Reopening

  • Photographed on April 13, 2018, one of the dining rooms at Peyton Place Restaurant in Orford, N.H., was originally a tavern in the early 1800s. As part of a nine-week renovation, paint on the fireplace mantle was removed and the room brightened with lighter colors, in part to feature local artists. The restaurant is reopening on April 19, the 25th anniversary of its founding. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jim Peyton sets aside prepared lobster to be used on lobster feta salad in the newly-renovated kitchen at Peyton Place Restaurant in Orford, N.H., on April 13, 2018. Peyton said 50 new items will in rotation on their new tapas-based menu. The restaurant is reopening on April 19, the 25th anniversary of its founding. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Following a nine-week renovation, Heidi and Jim Peyton are reopening Peyton Place Restaurant in Orford, N.H., on April 19, 2018, the 25th anniversary of its founding. "It's our blood, it's our life," Heidi Peyton said of the establishment on the first floor of their home. "It's what we care about." (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A photograph on the wall at Peyton Place Restaurant in Orford, N.H., on April 13, 2018, shows owners Jim and Heidi Peyton when they reopened the restaurant in its Orford location in 2003. They had originally opened in Bradford, Vt., a decade before. (Courtesy Heidi Peyton)

  • Since moving their home and restaurant to a historic house on Route 10 in Orford, N.H., in 2003, Jim and Heidi Peyton have been working on its renovation, including a recent new roof, insulation and new clapboards. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Which details count the most when you own and run a restaurant? Absolutely all of them.

Heidi and Jim Peyton, who began Peyton Place Restaurant in Bradford, Vt., in 1993 and moved to their present location on Route 10 in Orford 15 years ago, have spent more than two decades years in a trade notorious for lofty ambitions, short-lived failures and shredded reputations. Their governing principle is pretty straightforward.

“Every day, everything matters,” said Heidi Peyton. Peyton, 60, runs and manages the restaurant, while her husband, 54, is the executive chef.

On Thursday, Peyton Place reopens after a nine-week hiatus during which the Peytons repainted, refurbished and recalibrated the 1773 Mann House, which became a tavern in 1802. The reopening comes 25 years to the day since the Peytons opened the restaurant in Bradford.

The handsome Federal-era building, painted mustard yellow, still retains many of its original features, including the old pine floor boards and big hearth and fireplace. It is both the Peytons’ home and their business.

Their two children grew up above the restaurant, and also have worked in it.

“We wanted to kiss our kids good night,” Heidi Peyton said. “The restaurant biz has tough, long hours.”

Their son Julius does the marketing and social media for the restaurant; their daughter Sophie, who lives in Burlington, has worked as a waiter in the past and has come back for a few days to help with the reopening.

The idea behind the changes was to not do away with everything that has given the restaurant staying power, but to update the look and menu, Heidi Peyton said.

So the historically accurate but darker colors on the walls have made way for pristine white, which opens up the space. There is more light. Heidi Peyton painted the slightly worn captains’ chairs, in which diners sit, a lively red. The walls, which were adorned with old plates and mirrors, will now exhibit the work of local artists. They’re adding more performances by local musicians.

The tabletops are repurposed, refinished doors from the Lyme Inn, no less. The kitchen boasts a new floor, and a more streamlined arrangement of stations and equipment, making it easier for chef and staff to work together in a relatively confined space. Between the kitchen and front-of-the-house staff, the restaurant employs about 10 people, parttime.

It wasn’t only the need to make a substantial raft of changes that dictated the break, but also the fact that they needed a respite.

“I’m glad we took nine weeks; we needed it,” Heidi Peyton said.

They met in 1990 when they sat next to each other at a Montpelier bar (Jim Peyton graduated from the New England Culinary Institute) and married in 1994. She is tall while he’s shorter; she’s loquacious, he’s more taciturn.

The chalkboard menu, which Heidi Peyton brought from table to table and read with a theatrical flourish to customers, is making way for, yes, paper menus. Although Peyton relished explaining the dishes to customers, she said that some people found the chalkboard hard to read and intimidating. The candles on the table are being retired; ditto, the table linens. And the food will be focused more on smaller, less expensive tapas dishes and less on heavier, pricier meals.

They also are adding more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes such as a lentil and rutabaga bean cake, topped with a pureé of roasted red pepper and tofu.

“If we’re going to change, we’re going to change,” said Heidi Peyton.

What the Peytons haven’t abandoned is the reliance on local and regional producers, as much as it’s possible, for fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, beer and artisanal spirits. The restaurant makes its own pastas, desserts and ice creams.

Jim Peyton has designed 50 new menu items to be rotated in and out, he said, which include duck pastrami served on an oat cake with caramelized red onion, and lobster ravioli with a saffron broth. He also smokes their own salmon and trout, and is working on a small line of pickles and relishes which can be sold separately. They also are keeping such popular dishes as duck chorizo dumplings and a lobster and feta salad with an orange vinaigrette.

Nor will they ever change the name, despite the fact that the cultural reference to the Grace Metalious novel Peyton Place, which was based on her New Hampshire adolescence and was published in 1956 to some notoriety, is now understood only by an older generation.

There’s some irony in the fact that after the heavy flooding that hit the Upper Valley on July 1 last summer, the Peytons considered shutting their doors for good. Although the flooding didn’t damage the tavern, it destroyed their gardens in the fields behind the house.

The loss of the crops and the infiltration of the water system cost them $50,000 in damage, the Peytons said.

“We were so devastated we almost closed,” Heidi Peyton said.

But as in the theater, the show must go on, she said. They decided not to rehabilitate the flooded fields, but rather turn them into space where they could hold outdoor food and music festivals.

The initiation of this second chapter, or 25th, depending on how you count, excites both Peytons. They have seen generations of loyal customers come through the restaurant.

And they prize that relationship, although they have noticed that the advent of a smartphone culture means that some customers look at their phones while they eat or during musical performances.

Seated together at a table, they look at each other when asked whether they have considered retirement in the near or distant future.

“It hasn’t crossed my mind; has it crossed your mind?” Heidi Peyton asked her husband.

He shook his head. “No, not yet.”

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.



YouTube video by Joseph Porcelli from December 2006.