Accomplished restaurateur Lauren Bryant seamlessly integrates elegant design with epicurean excellence.
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER PHOTOGRAPHY JIMMY iENNER, Jr.
Watching Lauren Bryant walk through one of her restaurants is like witnessing a master artist at work. As she meticulously scans tastefully-appointed room, her eyes light up with a perceptible spark of inspiration. After pausing to inspect a beautiful painting, she gently adjusts its frame with exacting precision. While a minor adjustment of this nature might seem like a peripheral change to an uninformed observer, it serves as a consummate embodiment of Bryant’s conscientious approach to restaurant ownership. To Bryant, the way that a restaurant is designed and decorated is every bit as significant as its culinary program. Every detail plays a critical part in the overall guest experience. “It’s crucial to create an inviting atmosphere,” says Bryant. “A successful restaurant has to be thoughtfully designed, and its owners have to be willing to update its spaces to evolve with the times.”
“By adhering to that underlying principle of sensory cohesion, Lauren Bryant and her husband and business
partner, Steven Bryant, have been able to build a flourishing hospitality empire in Southern Vermont. Over the past two decades, Lauren Bryant’s keen eye for detail has been a driving force behind the continued prosperity of their restaurants. By providing consistently delicious food and fantastic service in distinctive settings, the Bryants have garnered a loyal following of returning guests. As they move forward with their newest venture, Pearl’s Place & Pantry, Lauren Bryant graciously shared her thoughts on restaurant design with Stratton Magazine. Each of the Bryants’ restaurants is designed in a manner that uniquely complements its menu, creating an unforgettable dining experience for all of their guests.
The Dorset Inn
8 Church Street, Dorset, VT 05251
The Dorset Inn is an enduring Southern Vermont institution that is well known for its phenomenal food and its sumptuous guestrooms. Founded in 1796, it holds the honorable distinction of being the longest continuously-operating inn in Vermont. Lauren and Steven Bryant first purchased The Dorset Inn in 2008. Over the past fourteen years, the Inn has been continuously updated by Lauren Bryant through a series of timely redesign and renovation projects. “The Dorset Inn is our prized colonial historic baby,” says Bryant. “When we first acquired the Inn, the dining room was full of colonial tchotchkes. We decided that we wanted to keep the warmth and character of the space, but I felt that the ambiance needed to feel slightly more current.”
In the most recent update last year, the painted red walls in the dining room were covered with red grasscloth wallpaper, creating an air of countrified opulence. “It adds a wonderful sense of texture to the room,” notes Bryant. Many of the wooden chairs in the dining room were replaced with dark leather wingback chairs. The chairs harmoniously enhance the visual” “effect of the dark bookcases throughout the room. They also pair well with the recently-installed black metal lighting fixtures and the wooden mantel that frames the Vermont marble fireplace.
The welcoming tavern at the Dorset Inn has also been recently renovated. The repurposed wood floors (sourced years ago from local bleachers) were refinished with dark stain. The wooden trim that runs through the room and the frames surrounding the windows were repainted black, and a large section of the walls were covered with Scottish Tartan-print wallpaper. “The tavern has an intimate and romantic ambiance,” says Bryant. “It’s a classic colonial tavern that appeals to guests of all ages.”
A display case containing antique corkscrews is mounted in a prominent location next to one of the tavern’s two separate doorways. According to Bryant, the corkscrews were collected in England by her father, Terry DeGarmo. “My father framed the corkscrews for Steven and I when we first moved to Vermont in 1998. He gave them to us and we originally hung them in the tavern at the Inn at Weston. Afterwards, we brought them to the Mountain Top Inn in Chittenden. We moved them down here to The Dorset Inn years later because we thought that they would work well in the tavern.”
“In addition to redesigning The Dorset Inn’s dining room and tavern, Lauren Bryant also updated the living room, the front reception hall and the guestrooms. The old furniture and rugs in the living room were replaced, and a dark wooden cabinet containing antique china was placed in the corner. In the reception area, an attractive new front desk was recently installed. The desk was purposefully designed to streamline the check-in and reservation process, allowing The Dorset Inn’s hospitality staff to engage with guests in a productive and organized manner. An impressive and tall mirror rests against the wall in the reception area, adding to the dimensional depth and grandeur of the space. Over the years, several of the smaller guestrooms have been combined, creating a more luxurious lodging experience. Gas fireplaces were added to many of the rooms, and multiple bathrooms were expanded and outfitted with walk-in showers, jetted tubs and heated towel bars.”
Bryant says that the food at The Dorset Inn aligns perfectly with its classic colonial American aesthetic. She elaborates: “The Dorset Inn’s chefs make traditional American dishes with traditional methods. We plate our dishes traditionally with starch, vegetable, and protein in measured portions on round dinner plates.” Bryant says that although The Dorset Inn’s menu is replete with classic American favorites, such as their Turkey Croquettes and Calves Liver, the chefs are given the opportunity to express their creativity through The Dorset Inn’s nightly specials. “Our chefs make incredible dishes that incorporate a broad range of flavors and culinary styles. The design sensibilities and menu at the Inn are both rooted in classic traditions, but they are frequently updated to accommodate the preferences of our guests.”
Barrows House Inn & Restaurant
3156 VT-30, Dorset, VT, 05251
Barrows House Inn & Restaurant offers an elevated dining and lodging experience that is equal parts rustic and refined. Lauren Bryant and Steven Bryant acquired Barrows House in 2012. Since then, they have spent countless hours updating its spaces to better reflect their vision for the restaurant. According to Lauren Bryant, she and Steven knew that they wanted to create a dining experience at Barrows House that was entirely different from The Dorset Inn. “We also knew that we were going to be catering to weddings. Our aim was to create a wedding venue that would offer a more youthful vibe for our younger clientele. Barrows House gave us the chance to pursue that opportunity.”
After walking into the Barrows House restaurant from the main back entrance, guests are greeted by an eye-catching galvanized-steel bar. The walls behind the bar are lined with Southern Vermont marble, which was locally-sourced from the nearby Danby Quarry. Bryant says that the redesigned bar came into being as a result of her collaboration with the celebrated Southern Vermont-based architect Ramsay Gourd. “When we came here in 2012, the space next to the bar (where the tables are now) used to be an outside patio. We extended the indoor space and built a bigger bar to accommodate more guests. The bar remains a focal point of Barrows House to this day, and our mixology team creates incredible cocktails.”
Past the bar, the walls are adorned with vintage black and white photographs of quarry workers transporting marble by horse and buggy. “The photographs honor the history of the Danby Quarry and Dorset Marble Quarry,” notes Bryant. Directly across from the photographs, a secluded alcove with a circular booth serves as a perfect location for large parties. Further back, a small staircase stands next to an open partition, which is filled in with decorative birch branches. The staircase leads down to a spacious dining room, which has been extensively updated and redesigned. “The back dining room at Barrows House was the former site of an old solarium greenhouse,” notes Bryant. “When we first came here, all of the seals had broken on the glass. We removed the greenhouse and built a new dining room with repurposed barn board walls.”
A stone wall in the back dining room is outfitted with stylish votive candles. The candles are held by metal candleholders, which are drilled into the surface of the rock. “The votive candles create an amazing effect at night,” says Bryant. In the warmer months, the outside patio comes to life. Tables are placed on a vast and verdant lawn, and the terrace is” “decorated with seasonal displays. Throughout the year, a wood-burning fire pit surrounded by benches provides a perfect place for guests to congregate and enjoy celebratory moments.
The eclectic and well-balanced menu at Barrows House is custom-tailored to suit its “Farmhouse Chic” ambiance. “The architectural lines at Barrows are clean and the fixtures are modern,” says Bryant. “Our culinary program follows right along with that. Every dish is plated uniquely. Our chef likes to use wooden boards for the steaks, and he incorporates a lot of different textures into the presentation of his dishes. It’s a less traditional dining experience than several of our other properties, and the chef’s design choices reflect that.”
3239 VT-30, Dorset, 51
Down the street from Barrows House and The Dorset Inn, a delightful European-style café offers palatable pastries, scrumptious sandwiches, and satisfying soups in a charming French bakery setting. “When Steven and I purchased Dorset Bakery in 2016, we knew it was a great opportunity,” says Lauren Bryant. “We didn’t change its stylistic blueprint too much.” After acquiring the bakery, Lauren Bryant outfitted its rooms with antique décor pieces and tchotchkes. “The English-style blue platters that are hung on the back walls come from my family’s collection. The stained-glass windows in the Dorset Bakery were my mother’s, and my friend Holly DeForest painted colorful French stencil designs on the tables.”
At the front of the bakery, a cash register and coffee station stand beside a glass display case, which houses an extensive assortment of tasty pastries. Above the cash register, a small wooden chair and copper basket hang from an overhead beam. Near the entrance of the bakery, a wooden table with multiple tiered shelves holds platters of tempting baked goods. “The French pastries that we offer at Dorset Bakery are well-suited to the European bakery aesthetic,” says Bryant. “Our bakers use traditional baking techniques to make the pastries, and our guests absolutely love them.”
Pearl’s Place & Pantry
1942 Depot St., Manchester, VT 55
Located on Depot Street just east of downtown Manchester, Pearl’s Place & Pantry is the newest addition to the Bryant’s family of beloved restaurants. After purchasing the building that houses Pearl’s Place & Pantry in 2020, Lauren and Steven Bryant spent the last two years converting the space into an oasis of southern hospitality. “We changed absolutely everything about the building,” says Lauren Bryant. “We stripped the walls down to the studs and poured a new concrete basement. We also added a new roof, new doors and new windows, and we completely redid the wiring.”
Outside, the patio was extended, a gas fire pit was installed, and the exterior walls were redone with clapboard siding. A picnic area was also added, where visiting guests can enjoy a refreshing bite and beverage while taking in the surrounding mountain scenery. Although the structure of the original building remains largely unchanged, the interior spaces have been comprehensively redesigned and repurposed. Lauren Bryant enlisted the architectural services of Ramsay Gourd to design the tavern, which features a stone fireplace and a bar topped with a rustic Dekton slab. Above the fireplace, a large sculpture of a bull made out of metal automotive parts adds to the tavern’s southern ambiance. A small stairway leads from the tavern to a long hallway, which connects to additional dining areas and the “Pantry.”
The Pantry is outfitted with “Shabby-Chic” painted metal lighting fixtures. It also features antique wooden tables and bureaus, several of which were discarded and reclaimed from the Bryants’ other businesses. Inside, visiting guests can peruse a wide array of enticing products, including barware, pickled vegetables, jams, crackers, cheeses, and numerous other Vermont-made food products. “The Pantry is like a little country store,” says Bryant. In addition to specialty food products from vendors like Vermont Roots, The Pantry will also offer seasonal merchandise. “People who are heading up to Stratton can pick up some festive decorative tableware and food items. They can also pick up a delicious bottle of wine or some locally-brewed beer.”
Down the hall from the Pantry, an airy dining room in the back of the restaurant is separated from the hallway by a partition made out of an old repurposed cabinet. Inside the back dining room, the walls are adorned with a cluster of antique painted plates, which Lauren Bryant collected herself. Bryant also sourced several design elements from independent designers, including tables made by Wild Boar Designs and custom light fixtures from Antique Farmhouse.”
In line with the gorgeous southern-themed décor, an on-site smoker allows the kitchen team at Pearl’s Place & Pantry to smoke southern staples such as prime brisket, pulled pork, and slow smoked sausage to savory perfection. Additional menu highlights include appetizers that pay tribute to time-honored southern culinary traditions, such as Cajun deviled eggs and Nashville hot cauliflower. Their beverage menu boasts a broad range of small-batch bourbons, as well as craft beers and fine American wines. “It took a long time to bring everything together,” says Bryant. “It was well worth all of the hard work.”
930 South Arts Center Dr., Manchester, VT 05255
In the magnificent Yester House building at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC), an enticing restaurant overlooks a picturesque hillside. Lauren and Steven Bryant were first presented with the opportunity to collaborate with SVAC on a museum café project in 2019. After coming on board, Lauren Bryant began picking out the floor material and light fixtures for the space. When curATE opened in May 2021, the Manchester community was greatly impressed with its contemporary décor and its flavorful dishes. “We took a more modern approach with curATE than we did with our other restaurants,” notes Bryant. “I chose mid-century modern chairs, and the mixed elements of marble, brass and iron complete the aesthetic throughout the restaurant. The gallery is an ever-changing artistic environment, which made the design process for curATE very fun and exciting.”
Given the fact that the surrounding gallery spaces at SVAC feature constantly- changing artistic exhibits, the menu at curATE is similarly flexible. “Our current chefs mix New England-style cuisine with worldly influences, which results in an amazingly well-rounded menu,” says Bryant. She adds that plating also plays an incredibly important role at curATE. “The chefs put an incredible amount of effort into plating the dishes in visually appealing ways. We serve our food and drinks using unique dishes and glassware with creative shapes. It makes the experience even more memorable for guests that come to dine here.”
The Publyk House
782 Harwood Hill Rd., Ben n, VT 05201
The Publyk House is a cherished landmark of Southern Vermont’s restaurant scene. Housed in a classic barn building, the outdoor deck and the large dining room in the back of the restaurant provide unparalleled views of the Green Mountains. The renovations that have been undertaken by the Bryants over
the past two decades are equally epic in scale. In the years since Lauren and Steven Bryant first acquired the property in 2001, they have embarked on a continual campaign of progressive improvement.
Most recently, Lauren Bryant redid the front entrance of The Publyk House. “There was already a lobby annex when we bought the property, but we changed the whole exterior entry to prevent water damage from heavy rainfall,” says Bryant. When the Bryants first acquired The Publyk House, they decorated the dining rooms and lobby with ski-lodge décor. In the years that followed, they opted to update the space in line with a cleaner aesthetic. They built a large custom wooden bench in the front lobby, which also houses a coat closet for visiting guests.
In 2002, The Publyk House was struck by a tornado. As a result, the bank of windows in the bar area was eliminated during the reconstruction phase. Over time, the lounge chairs and sofas in the bar area were replaced with restaurant tables to accommodate more guests. Several years later, a fire at The Publyk House consumed the back room in 2004. According to Bryant, this served as the catalyst for” “additional renovations. As the business continued to grow, they expanded the deck to accommodate additional outside dining. In 2017, Bryant worked with Ramsay Gourd to redesign the Orchard Room addition. “We built it much bigger than it was before,” says Bryant. “It’s perfectly suited for parties and functions because it has an additional bar for events and access to the outside deck.” Decorative accents such as a large wagon wheel and an antique sign with a horse and carriage were also added to the back room. At its center, a fireplace made out of Vermont-sourced stone was constructed.
According to Bryant, The Publyk House’s warm and enchanting ambience and décor directly parallels its versatile and accessible menu. “The Publyk House is a wonderful destination for people who are seeking a family-friendly and casual” “experience. Our guests love our home-style American classic dishes, and they were overjoyed when we reopened our salad bar last year. Hospitality is all about warmth and comfort – and there’s nothing more comforting than some good old-fashioned American comfort food.”
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