BURLINGTON, Vt. — In this city, building a food business around the locavore idea is not uncommon. So when Benjy and Jonny Adler started The Skinny Pancake by selling crepes from a cart on Church Street almost 15 years ago, they were loyal to Vermont and its wealth of agriculture.
The Adler brothers, in their early 20s and new graduates of Middlebury College, first brought the French street food to downtown Burlington in 2003. Benjy Adler (the younger of the two) says the idea for the cart came from their “lack of aspirations” and a passing comment from a school friend of Jonny’s. The friend offhandedly remarked that Burlington’s pedestrian center, Church Street, needed a crepe truck. The Adlers took the idea and ran with it. The Skinny Pancake was born.
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Benjy Adler remembers the beginning as “a really hard summer,” but a successful one. By 2007 they had built a strong following and wanted to set up a brick-and-mortar shop. They lucked out and found a spot at the corner of Lake and College streets, on the bank of Lake Champlain with a view of the Adirondack Mountains. Their flagship (there are now several outlets) could not be more picturesque. The restaurant space is cozy and quirky with patio seating that overlooks the water and has that grand view. Inside is a recently added full bar and music stage. The brothers’ laid-back, eco-conscious, and simple-but-delicious approach to food might appear trendy, but in Burlington it is just the norm.
The Skinny Pancake quickly and easily fit into the Vermont mentality of a devotion to locality and the environment. “Awareness around local food grew as we did,” says Benjy. As he puts it, “we dipped our toes in.”
In reality the duo dipped in more than just their toes. The Adlers buy fresh produce in the warm months, preserving and freezing to ensure they have some year-round. They are also proud members of 1% for the Planet, an organization that states a mission “to build, support, and activate an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet.”
Skinny menus read like love letters to local products. Savory crepes like the “Blues for Breakfast,” which includes an egg, Bayley Hazen Blue cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, and ham; the “Sass-Squash” with seasonal squash, apples, spinach, and goat cheese from Vermont Creamery; and sweet crepes like the “Jam on It,” with raspberry jam and Cabot butter. The menu branches out from crepes with dishes such as poutine, the classic Quebecois combination of cheese curds and gravy over French fries, as a nod to their northern neighbors, and panini, salads, and soups, always staying true to the locavore movement when possible.
The brothers’ business has grown exponentially, from the Church Street cart, to the Burlington location, a newer Montpelier spot, a small offshoot cafe in Burlington called The Chubby Muffin, and now another The Skinny Pancake at the Burlington International Airport.
Alongside their growth, their mission to stay local and seasonal has not wavered. The crepe may have originated in France, but the Adler brothers and The Skinny Pancake have turned it into a Vermont staple.
THE SKINNY PANCAKE 60 Lake St., Suite 1A, Burlington, Vt., 802-540-0189, www.skinnypancake.com. Also at 89 Main St., Montpelier, 802-262-2253; The Chubby Muffin, 88 Oak St., Burlington, 802-540-0050, North Terminal, South Terminal, and pre-security Chubby Muffin kiosk at Burlington International Airport.
Bethany Graber can be reached at [email protected]