Gail Hoar: Words About Wilton – A recipe for success

The garden and Souhegan River view from the deck with  train trestle in the background.

The garden and Souhegan River view from the deck with  train trestle in the background. PHOTO BY GAIL HOAR

The view from the deck looking upriver toward the Wilton Falls Building.

The view from the deck looking upriver toward the Wilton Falls Building. PHOTO BY GAIL HOAR

Newest staff waitress/bartender Autumn Stanton,

Newest staff waitress/bartender Autumn Stanton, PHOTO BY GAIL HOAR

Customers Jennifer and Ryan LeBlanc.

Customers Jennifer and Ryan LeBlanc. PHOTO BY GAIL HOAR

 From left, owner Megan Gordon, customers Bob Hayden and Rachel Keene and front house manager Mary Mortimer in the lower-level tap room.

From left, owner Megan Gordon, customers Bob Hayden and Rachel Keene and front house manager Mary Mortimer in the lower-level tap room. PHOTO BY GAIL HOAR

Gail Hoar

Gail Hoar COURTESY PHOTO

Published: 06-14-2024 12:06 PM

Like many, during the four years between early 2020 and today, my husband and I rarely left our home for anything other than the mere essentials. One treat we allowed ourselves was to order takeout meals to avoid dining near crowds of unmasked people.

That was when we and others discovered the new restaurant in Wilton, The Copper Kettle, whose owners dared to open during a raging pandemic.

How did this happen?

Several years ago, signs appeared on downtown buildings inviting visitors to enjoy the river view from the inside, since much of the Souhegan River behind Wilton’s Main Street was out of sight and unreachable. Only a few offered access to the river through their buildings.

One of these spots came up for sale in 2019. When Megan and Chris Gordon began looking for places to relocate their Copper Kettle restaurant from Brookline, the view and deck behind that building kept drawing them back. They took the leap, purchased the property and began renovations in late 2019. Not an auspicious time to open a new business anywhere.

When the shutdowns of 2020 happened, they were still renovating downstairs, with a tenant in place upstairs. They opened Sept. 17, 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic -- an opening date most would think would spell financial failure, particularly with the restrictions limiting this small space to only 50% capacity.

Megan explained, “With all the renovation costs, restrictions, the pandemic and being a new business, we were very nervous wondering what lay ahead. We had a silent opening. We just opened our doors with no staff on hand, just Chris and me.”

But failure didn’t happen. To the contrary, even with this rough start, the business took off. The location was one draw, but an ever-changing selection of craft beers and takeout menu options proved to be the Kettle’s recipe for success. But that recipe had to evolve over time.

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One solution was to focus on takeout and catering services instead of relying on eat-in customers. The other was to offer a rotating selection of craft beers to go or served in the Kettle’s small bar area. It didn’t hurt that the first evening, a customer came in and posted (a review) on Facebook that led to “an overwhelming response that looked promising.”

They added retail products, kitchen gadgets, craft snacks not found in most grocery stores and refrigerated to-go prepared meals and craft beers. That was until their tenant announced they were relocating. Instead of looking on the bleak side, they decided to take this as an opportunity to open a “full-blown restaurant.”

People were already asking to have their urban American fusion takeout meals heated to eat inside the restaurant, so the next step to expand upstairs and add extra seating made sense, leaving more space for casual diners and conversations in the bar area below.

The couple already had outdoor seating on the deck and maintained a path to a riverside garden that Megan describes as “a tranquil retreat.” What was been added just a little over two months ago was an interior with river-view seating on two levels, an outdoor dining venue and a place to unwind beside the river that has become a favorite gathering place for both locals and those from a distance away.

With the doors and windows open, those remaining inside are treated to the gentle sound of the river’s breath that provides another dimension to dining in Wilton. With 20 new seats and a restroom accessible for people with disabilities added to the street-level space, the Kettle has become one of the most-popular places on Main Street for family or group gatherings or to have a meal before walking across the street to the Town Hall Theatre.

I spoke with Allan Marcous, Atlantic Prefab’s plant manager in Wilton, who was picking up takeout. He told me he and his family were some of the first customers when the Kettle opened. He said one of the best gifts people who know him could give him is a gift card to the Kettle. He added that his team has already done so at least once.

After my husband and I enjoyed a dinner upstairs, I headed to the tap room to meet a few of the customers in that more-informal environment. What I learned is it’s not just those from Wilton who make this their favorite spot for a night out.

I caught up with Bob Hayden and Rachel Keene of Lyndeborough who told me they “Eat here once a week, usually on Friday nights.” They started coming to the Kettle soon after it opened and love the changing menu that offers everything from international gourmet dishes to classic American fare. As a former chef, Bob added, “I can say they do a great job. I travel all over the country and keep returning to eat here.”

Jennifer and Ryan LeBlanc from Merrimack were seated at another table near the back door. They’ve been coming “for a while.” When I asked what continues to bring them back, they both mentioned they were “tired of the static menus at other places. We love the variety and look forward to seeing what’s offered over the next two weeks. It’s always good and pushes us to try new things.”

And it’s just not the customers who are satisfied. The staff now numbers six team members, all of whom enjoy each other’s company. As someone said to me, “You can feel the love of working and being together in this atmosphere – and that goes for the customers too.”

Add this to the menu, a changing selection of craft beer, wine and mixed drinks, riverside location, an environment that encourages friendly conversations and word-of-mouth-reviews, and you have the Kettle’s recipe for success that keeps the clientele returning and bringing new customers with them.