At ‘This Place in History’, we are at the Wayside Restaurant with Amanda Gustin, the Public Programs Manager from the Vermont Historical Society.
“This is a really special place. It’s not many businesses, or restaurants for that matter, you can say survived two global pandemics, but the Wayside is one of them,” said Gustin. “It is absolutely an institution here in Central Vermont. Founded in 1918. Effie Ballou founded it as a roadside diner/roadside stop, and she used to bake pies and other baked goods in her own kitchen and she would just walk them down the hill to the restaurant.”
“So right now we’re in Montpelier. I’m here in the parking lot, but we’re going to go inside and meet the owners. And when we do that, we’re going to cross over into Berlin. That’s where the special fun things about the Wayside is that it does straddle that line,” said Gustin.
“It’s been a great run,” said Brian Zechinelli, co-owner of the Wayside since 1998. “We took the restaurant over from Karen’s folks, so it’s two generations of the Galfetti-Zechinelli family.”
“We moved in the house above the Wayside when I was four, when my father bought it in ’66,” said co-owner Karen Zechinelli. When I was 12, I started working here, and I was in the dish pit, standing on a milk crate with a long wooden spoon and dragging in the plates. That was my first job.”
“Of course I went to bussing, cashiering and waitressing. I would come home from UVM and work on the weekends, make some money and go back. But I always wanted to come back. My Dad said, ‘Well, you need a college education.’ I did that. ‘You need to have a job.’ I did a job for two years. I’d say, ‘Dad, can I home and work at the Wayside? I think you should work at another place.’ So I did, and I was 25 or so, and I’ve worked here ever since,” said Karen.
“One of my favorite stories – Effie Ballou open the Wayside in 1918 and in that same year, the Red Sox won the World Series. And they hadn’t won it since then. There was that long period of 70 some-odd years. When we got it all to the Wayside, we made a commitment to the community that we roll our prices back to 1918 prices if they won the World Series,” said Brian. “And sure enough, they ended up winning the World Series and we rolled our prices back to 1918; five cents for coffee, five cents for a donut. And while we have typically 1,000 customers that day, that day we had over 3,000,” said Brian.
“We had a big banner made at the Mountaineers stadium: ‘WAYSIDE RESTAURANT ESTABLISHED 1918 THE LAST YEAR THE RED SOX WON THE WORLD SERIES.’ So once we won the World Series, it was time to take the banner down. And wouldn’t you know, Babe Ruth’s daughter was visiting from North Conway and was at the game, and she was signing autographs and we had her sign that banner,” said Brian.
“It wasn’t a big, 160-seat restaurant with so many employees and families,” said Brian about the Wayside surviving two pandemics. “So we rallied together and their spirit and our spirit persevered. And we emerged from the first phase of the pandemic with all our employees and open seven days a week, three meals a day. I don’t know of any other restaurants that were able to pull that off.”
‘At This Place in History’