CHLOE & WESLEY
SOLO FARM TO TABLE
New York City & Madrid to South Londonderry, Vermont
To get to Chloe and Wesley Genovart's SoLo Farm & Table restaurant and farmhouse, you meander along narrow country roads through the hilly forests of Southern Vermont. When Urban Exodus visited last fall, Vermont’s foliage had just started its colorful show. Their kitchen garden was nearing its end, with just a few winter squashes and savory herbs remaining. Wesley was just returning from buying milk for the restaurant from an honor system roadside dairy farm stand. Chloe was finishing up computer work while their youngest daughter Esmé napped. Their loft-style home is attached to the restaurant, making it a bit easier to juggle the demands of running a restaurant while still being able to spend lots of quality time with their two children. Chloe met Wesley in 2001 on her summer break from college while waitressing at a little French restaurant. They moved back to Boston together so Chloe could finish school and from there they moved to Madrid. Wesley was born in Spain and worked in many acclaimed kitchens around the world. After two years in Madrid, they relocated to New York so Chloe could attend graduate school. In New York Chloe worked as the Maître D’ at the famous Per Se restaurant and Wesley was head chef at Degustation Restaurant in the East Village. They had climbed to the top of the restaurant ladder and yet they weren’t happy with the lifestyle it afforded. They had just welcomed their first child Rafael into the world and were working 75+ hours a week. They were no longer enjoying living in such an expensive city and they desperately wanted to spend more time with their son. Professionally, Wesley was tired of feeling like he needed to fit within the confines of the newest food restaurant trends – pork belly something, candied Brussel sprouts, etc. He wanted to live surrounded by real ingredients and to let the seasons and what was available inspire the menu instead of what was new and hip. In 2011, the couple left New York and moved back to Chloe’s childhood stomping grounds in Vermont. They opened SoLo Farm to Table’s doors that summer in the small community of Londonderry. It was a huge risk starting their own business, especially in a town of only 1,700 people, but SoLo has become a popular dining destination both for locals and visitors alike. It has been written up in numerous publications, including the New York Times and Bon Appetit, and has been nominated for two James Beard Awards. In 2015 they bought an old gas station and converted it into a classic burger joint, offering hamburgers, sausages, fries and milkshakes. SoLo and Honeypie are a family affair with Chloe’s mother keeping the books and watching their little ones each night when they open for dinner service. Instead of living in a tiny apartment and logging long hours working in the city, Chloe and Wesley can now live a much more balanced, happy and fruitful life, raising their children in a small town with grandparents close by and continuing to pursue their passion of making incredible dishes from local ingredients. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
We had our first baby in NYC after we had lived there for 6 years, working on average 75 hours a week each. We knew something had to change in our lifestyle if we wanted to be able to see our baby. I (Chloe) loved every single minute I lived in New York. I loved my job, my friends, our apartment the freedom and diversity of activities, etc. Wesley loved it at first but towards the end of our time there he started to get itchy and craving quiet and land! Although I am from here, moving to Vermont was entirely Wesley’s idea. He really pushed for it and saw a vision and we made it happen. In our relationship, I am the person who gets comfortable and gets really happy; he gets comfortable and starts to go crazy. Out of that crazy often something beautiful is born…so we moved to VT!
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Starting over is hard but also exciting. We had never owned anything before, always rented. So when we bought this 18th century old farmhouse at a foreclosure auction, you kind of do it on a whim and hope everything is alright. Being naive about the scenario I think worked to our advantage in a sense. If we knew we would have had to replace our septic system, well, boiler in the first 2 years maybe we wouldn’t have jumped on this opportunity and would have been scared away. But I’m so glad we did because now what we’ve built something that is ours and we are really proud of. The first 18 months of operation were really challenging. Sort of a learn as you go style, we had to adjust our paradigm a bit and refocus our mission but ultimately we have created a place that is special, unique, and most importantly ours.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss most about the city?
I miss a lot about the city. I miss eating sushi! I miss having a bodega open 24 hours on every corner. I miss walking along the streets and feeling that energy. It took awhile for us to get used to the amount of space we have here. We left a tiny one-bedroom apartment and moved into a 4-bedroom home, with 3 acres of land. I remember one of the first nights we slept here Wesley and I were both in the kitchen and our bedroom is at the other end of the house. And I was scared to walk over there alone said to him if I don’t come back in 3 minutes, come and look for me. Sort of joking but at the same time having this much space was sort of scary to us.
Would you ever consider moving back to a city?
Yes, for sure. But never full time, and not until our kids are older. We’d like to have a small place in the city (NY) and while we’re at it a small apartment in San Sebastian, Spain too!
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
The space, the quiet, the clean fresh air. The ability to get things done without too much hassle. People sort of leave you alone and let you do your thing. Raising our kids here is something we appreciate so much. My parents live close by and play a huge role in their lives. For them to grow up with grandparents so close is a gift. I appreciate their rosy cheeks after spending time outside. I appreciate my son’s ability to catch frogs and snakes. I appreciate that my son is 4 years old and he can snowboard. All of these things wouldn’t have been possible had we stayed in the city.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Just to do it. Don’t be scared. (Even though it’s totally scary). Nothing can replace energy, hard work, passion and positive thinking.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
From what is around us. We are so lucky to have so many great local products, farmers and growers right in our neighborhood. We really strive to source as much product as we can from local people and growers. Of course in NYC you can get anything you want at any time. But the direct connection to the source is incredible. If we need a pig, we will call someone on Tuesday, he’ll kill it Wednesday and bring it to us on Thursday (often times in the middle of dinner service) but it’s really an amazing thing. We essentially cut out the middleman. And are able to build really wonderful relationships based on respect for each other’s craft.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
Yes, some of the things that we used to get hung up on aren’t really as important any more. We’ve learned to pick our battles. Not surrendering, but really choosing what is important. For example, I came from a very high-end fine dining restaurant. If someone cleared a dish a certain way that wasn’t exactly the way it should be done, it was a BIG deal. That sort of service/style was beaten into my head for so long, that when we first moved here and I saw some of the things and styles of service. I had to sort of check myself and to realize what is important. You can teach most people most things and skills. But you can’t teach someone to be honest, and fun and sincere and caring. So that is what we focus on. Hiring really great people that we love and trust and want to be around and we’ll work on the right way to clear a table!
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence?
Well, so since we live where we work there is very little separation. We get up pretty early (for restaurant standards) because of the kids. If it’s a school day, Rafa, has to be at school by 9am. We all get up together; I make breakfast for both kids and pack Rafa’s lunch. Then Wes takes him to school. He comes back and we chat for a bit about the day what needs to happen, anything specific or any immediate needs. I put Esmé down for a nap and then I get a couple of hours to myself to do some work. Catching up on emails/phone calls, do my wine orders, maybe a little gardening. Wes goes down to the kitchen to start his prepping and projects. Esmé wakes up around noon. We have lunch together then go outside and play for a bit. We pick Rafa up at 3 from school, which is about 10 minutes away. My staff arrives at 3:30 and starts to set up for the night’s service. We have family meal together followed by a pre-service meeting. We open the doors at 5:30. The last guests leaves around 1030/11pm. We clean up sit around the bar as a staff enjoy a glass or two of wine and head home (upstairs). If I am asleep by 1 that works, and then up again at 7:30…to repeat itself again.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Have regular bonfires… get whole animals into the restaurant and to process and butcher and use every bit. Get to spend time with my kids during the day and even during the night. Even if it’s a busy night I can still run upstairs and kiss my kids goodnight…as crazy as it gets, that’s pretty special.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Wesley goes to the woods a lot. He likes to forage for mushrooms, but I also think he just needs to breathe deeply and clear his head a bit. I do a lot of yoga and the studio I go to is spectacularly beautiful set in the middle of the woods. It is used partially as a warming hut for cross-country skiing and partially as a yoga studio. Wood Burning stove, big windows, it's heaven.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
People that live in the country aren’t rednecks or less intelligent. Sure you have all types just like anywhere. We don’t know less or have less life experiences because we choose to live where we live. We might be better at hiking in the woods than navigating a subway map, but ultimately it is just a mater of place. As far as a restaurant goes, I think people think that because we aren’t in a city our restaurant can’t be that good or it can only be as good as something average. I hear so many times…”this is like a NY quality restaurant”! And that surprises them. Maybe because it hasn’t’ existed before in this area but really its just making us and everyone around us do better. It’s a good thing.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Well we are actually working on a new project. Earlier this year we bought an old gas station about 4 miles down the road from us. We are currently working on converting it into a fast casual restaurant concept. Sort of a dairy bar-esque style place but with great quality food at a very simple and casual setting. Burgers, fries, shakes, beers on tap, etc. We secretly just want someplace to take our kids and eat food where we know where it comes from. It’s going to be exciting and a total departure of anything we have done before. We are committed to being in this community so this is our way of giving back and creating spaces and places for people to enjoy, have fun and eat good food.