copyright the Chronicle, July 5, 2012
by Joseph Gresser
COVENTRY — Newport State Airport here may see a big increase in traffic by the end of the year. But most of the people won’t be trying to catch flights. Instead, they’ll be after pizza, beer and music.
Cavan Meese, one of the owners of Parker Pie in West Glover, plans to open a second branch of his restaurant in a hangar at the airport. Construction workers are readying the building for occupancy, he said in a telephone interview Monday, and will hand it over in a couple of weeks.
The state, which manages the building, has put in insulation, windows, sheet rock, fire safety improvements and a radiant slab heating system.
After that a crew will move in to build a bar and mold the space into a comfortable gathering spot.
Mr. Meese said he is not depending on air travelers or other aviation-related visitors to fill his new establishment. Instead he said he hopes that the Coventry version of Parker Pie will attract patrons from nearby Newport, as well as Coventry, Irasburg and Orleans.
He said he would like to see the airport restaurant become a community center just as the original West Glover edition has.
Mr. Meese opened the original Parker Pie seven years ago with the idea of creating a gathering place for his community. That idea has been far more successful than he could have imagined at the beginning of the project.
That success can be seen in a couple of expansions of the original dining space and kitchen, and the creation of Village Hall, where performances and community gatherings are held.
It can also be seen in a lack of parking space, long waits for pizzas and grumbling neighbors.
Mr. Meese said he would have liked to open the Coventry space for the summer season “to take some of the heat off Parker Pie in West Glover.”
He said it made sense to open another restaurant. “Rather than expanding our kitchen, we’ll expand 15 miles north. I wouldn’t mind if business in West Glover dipped off.”
The new space will have a menu that is “a mirror image” of that offered in West Glover, he said, although he did hedge a bit by suggesting that Coventry may feature some signature dishes of its own.
“We’ll be able to do bigger shows there,” Mr. Meese said. The converted aircraft hangar that the new Parker Pie will occupy will retain its huge front door, he said.
Once a way is figured to lock the big door open so as not to endanger patrons, Mr. Meese said, “we’ll end up with a setup that will allow us to do special events there.”
The new restaurant will hold “quite a bit more people than fit in Village Hall,” he said. But Mr. Meese joked that he doesn’t expect that any of the bands he plans to present in Coventry will rival the crowds brought in by Phish at the town’s largest-ever concert.
Opening day for the second Parker Pie hasn’t been set, but Mr. Meese said he hopes to start operations sometime this fall.
The larger space will give the restaurant an opportunity to pursue some of its long-term ambitions on a larger scale. Mr. Meese said Parker Pie has always tried to use as much local produce in its dishes as possible.
In summer months when growers in the area have plentiful supplies of plum tomatoes and jalapeño peppers this is no problem, he said. So far, though, the Parker Pie kitchen crew has not been able to put up enough local produce to last through the long winter.
The exception has been basil, Mr. Meese said. Parker Pie’s chefs freeze enough pesto that every diner is served a local product at any time of year.
With a larger facility this will not only be true for the restaurant’s patrons, but Parker Pie will also be able to offer canned marinara and barbeque sauces as well as salsa for sale. Plans also call for freezing pizzas for home baking.
Mr. Meese said he is looking forward to working with local growers to supply Parker Pie’s increased demand for tomatoes and other produce. One of those could be a near neighbor, if Pete’s Greens realizes a plan to build large greenhouses on nearby land owned by New England Waste Services.
That project calls for the growing area to be warmed with waste heat from a power plant owned by Washington Electric Cooperative that burns methane gas produced by the landfill to run generators.
Mr. Meese said it would be fitting if that connection were made, because he heard that the project was originally conceived at Parker Pie.
The location of the new restaurant could be made more valuable if development plans for the state airport come to fruition.
In January Guy Rouelle, Aviation Program Administrator for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), outlined plans for the airport. At that time Mr. Rouelle hinted at Parker Pie’s plans, without naming them.
He also said that a company is in negotiations to build a 50,000-square-foot plant to manufacture airplane parts and aircraft out of composite materials.
Mr. Rouelle said composite materials, such as carbon fiber, are both lighter and stronger than aluminum and titanium, which are currently used in aircraft construction.
According to Patricia Sears, director of Newport City Renaissance Corporation (NCRC), discussions are still proceeding with the aircraft manufacturer who, she said, is not yet willing to be identified.
Mr. Meese said he now has a connection to NCRC, having been appointed the chairman of the organization’s transportation committee. He said this position will give him an opportunity to push ideas he has had about transportation options for the Northeast Kingdom.
These, he said, include reestablishing passenger train service between Newport and White River Junction. Mr. Meese said he would like to see early and late runs between the two towns every day, with stops in Lyndonville, St. Johnsbury, Wells River and Bradford.
He hopes to see round-trip midday runs between Newport and St. Johnsbury for shoppers, workers and people seeking medical treatment.
Mr. Meese said he also expects to see an increase in air traffic in the area.
He said he has other plans to improve the way taxi, shipping and delivery services work in the area. These may, he said, eventually involve home delivery of Parker’s pies.
“It’s the kind of innovation we need more of in the Northeast Kingdom. We have to think out of the box.”
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