By Cicely M. Eastman
When husband and wife team Jack Judge and Melanie Boese bought the Brattleboro Country Club in the fall of 2014, fulfilling a lifelong dream of Jack’s, they thought, “How hard could it be?” Fast forward to 2017, and Melanie admits she’s certainly seen more than her fair share of challenges.
They sold R.O.V. Technologies, Inc., the robotics business they had built from the ground up in 1989, then purchased the struggling country club facing imminent foreclosure. A Brattleboro landmark, the country club was a members-owned club residing in a historic farmhouse on Upper Dummerston Road in Brattleboro, Vt., offering fantastic views and once serving as the Brattleboro Retreat’s summer getaway for its male patients. In an effort to increase membership, the club members took on a project to upgrade the course from nine holes to 18 holes, but money problems plagued the undertaking as rock ledges and other issues put the project way over budget. More upgrades were still needed, but time and money were sparse.
When Jack and Melanie took the deed in hand, their first order of business was to open the course up to the public, setting their course for transforming the club into a community hub. Then tragedy struck. Jack died after a brief illness in the summer of 2015. Melanie’s determination to keep Jack’s dream alive kicked into high gear, beginning with the daunting task of making upgrades. Electrical upgrades were made. New support beams and a new heating system were installed in the fall of 2015 so that the restaurant could be open all year long, but progress hit a setback in February 2016 when the pipes burst, flooding the dining room. Turning lemons into lemonade, Melanie closed the restaurant and used the time to renovate the dining room, repair the antique tin ceiling and paint the interior a welcoming green with cream trim, then reopened the first week of April.
A talent for food
When the club’s long-time chef died unexpectedly, Melanie’s search for a replacement that meshed with her vision for the restaurant finally ended with the hiring of Jordan Wong. The restaurant business runs thick in his blood: his father owned the immensely popular Jade Wah on Main Street in Brattleboro. He always knew he wanted to be a chef, creating dishes since he was 8 years old. He graduated from the Lincoln Culinary Institute, then interned at Peter Havens. He has also worked at Fireworks and Whetstone Station and was a sous chef at the Farm Table in Bernardston, Mass. Jordan started out as a sous chef at the club, and Melanie quickly spotted his gift, promoting him to head chef.
“I’m excited to promote him,” Melanie said. “He’s got a talent for food.”
As head chef, Jordan’s goal is to make the menu approachable for the community, but make it a little more upscale with new interpretations, taking advantage of the fresh foods that are so accessible to this region. He takes dishes that are popular and have worked in the past, but makes them his own.
“I’m so passionate about cooking, I have been since a young age. I forced my way into a lot more knowledge. I take in knowledge from my own personal experience and from other chefs. I love the instant gratification of having a customer enjoy it,” Jordan said. It is obvious he enjoys his job, and he has visions for the future at the club too. He plans on incorporating more outdoor dining using the big grill on the property, making the most out of the space to make it more open to the public.
The menu boasts a variety of options to please a variety of taste buds: quesadillas with a choice of cheese, chicken or steak, club sandwiches with a choice of turkey ham or roast beef, or how about grilled ham and Swiss, or a Reuben melt? There is a chef’s soup, salads and of course, a burger. On Friday and Saturday nights, they serve a steak dish, a fish and a pasta dish.
Last November, Melanie closed the restaurant for another round of renovations. giving the bar a new look with a copper top, and replacing the wood flooring. The freshly painted front entrance porch has been rebuilt to be wheelchair accessible, and the small kitchen was converted to a commercial kitchen, doubling in size, much to the delight of Jordan. Melanie said they have been lucky that through all of the construction, closings and chef searching, the members have been loyal, patient, and supportive.
The restaurant reopened on Jan. 12 with a new menu crafted by Jordan, and a new name. To Melanie, the name The Fairway Tavern was not inviting, reeking of “members only,” a branding she was trying to shed. She wanted to give credit to her late husband, her inspiration, so the restaurant is now Jack’s Restaurant and Pub, reflecting his “let’s do it” attitude and the club’s welcoming of the community.
The bartender who knows everyone
Jess Galdamez is a familiar and friendly face that has been with the company since 2005 — she manages the front of the house. She is also an area resident, having grown up in Hinsdale, N.H., and is quite familiar with restaurant life, following in the footsteps of her mother, who has managed a local restaurant ever since Jess can remember. She had been studying criminal law and started at the country club part time. She soon discovered her passion for great food and great spirits instead. She has grown with the company, working her way up to manager. Jess is that bartender who knows everyone by name and what they like to drink, building relationships professionally and personally, and making people smile along the way. The restaurant is a “home away from home for me and the customers,” she said. “I have built some very solid relationships since I have been here.”
Her creativity shines with each event she plans, from birthday parties to weddings, business meetings, rehearsal dinners, and bridal showers. Jess stocks the bar with eight draft beers, Vermont craft beers, and Vermont liquors like Saxtons River’s own Maple Sapling, and she creates signature drinks only to found in her bar. Her Blood Orange Cosmo or the Gold Rush Martini with a hint of ginger are sure to be enjoyed, or for the traditional, hot toddies, Irish coffee and hot chocolates are also among the items offered.
She said, “I am very excited to be a part of all the new changes that are happening. If you have never been to the country club, be sure to make it a must-do for 2017 as we welcome all the public, families, and of course all of our members.”
The view can’t be beat from the large dining room windows that overlook the course and the hills along the West River Valley. In the winter, cross-country skiers glide along the trails that crisscross the course. The Brattleboro Outing Club rents out the trails, which are connected to the Retreat Trails, and school students use the trails for training and enjoyment. In the summer, watch golfers on the greens while dining either inside or outside on the deck. Winter hours for the restaurant are Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday night is wing night, drawing a crowd as word of mouth and consistent advertising gets the word out that the public is welcome. During golf season they open seven days a week, so work up an appetite with a round of golf, then sally up to the bar for a cocktail and meal!
With two outdoor tents, Melanie and staff can accommodate larger events like weddings and receptions, averaging two or three a year so far. In the summer, the outside bar on the hill comes with great views.
The upgrades aren’t reserved just for the clubhouse either. Irrigation systems are being put in place for greener greens, protective coverings are used against winter’s havoc, and she acquired five golf boards last summer for the brave of heart.
Melanie pointed out that as the golf course is stand-alone and not part of a resort, you don’t have to wait in long lines and the parking is great, and there is also a driving range for practice. Tournaments still play a large part in contributing to the community, benefiting nonprofit organizations such as SEVCA, Youth Services, and others.
There are still many things Melanie wants to do, and ideas she’s been tossing around, examining all of the options, the advantages, the feasibility and what the public wants. She’s hoping to renovate the pro shop in the spring if all goes as planned, and at some point installing additional bathrooms and lockers on the main floor. She is considering a bridal show, and is checking into frisbee golf, archery golf, or maybe even a simulator for practice. You’ll have to check in regularly to see what she is up to next!
Even though there have been many ups and downs for Melanie, it seems like the worst is over and things continue to look up as she shakes the “members only” stigma, promoting her new policy: Come here! You are all welcome! •