This article first appeared in the July 24, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.
By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
SHARON — For the last eight years, resident Brigetta Johnson has worked seven days a week, eight hours a day at the restaurant she purchased from Randy Strong of Sharon — while raising four daughters and starting a daycare.
Now, with the addition of the rising cost of food along with the continued residue of a nationwide economic recession beginning in 2008, Johnson has decided to close Dixie’s II doors. It is a decision that has been analogous to a “bad breakup,” as she related recently.
“I haven’t decided to sell it yet,” Johnson said. “This has been a really difficult decision. I’ve cried terribly. But I need to close it. I’ve had several people approach me about buying it, but I’ll probably lease it for a year or two. Besides, I think that would be in someone’s best interest right now. And, I want to do what’s best for the town.”
Dixie’s II is the offspring of Dixie’s Country Kitchen in Sharon that closed its doors on that fateful day of Aug. 28, 2011 when an unexpected turn of events occurred as a result of Tropical Storm Irene, an occurrence owner Randy Strong still remembers vividly.
“The inside had seven feet of water,” said Strong. “That’s where the water mark was. I was there, working until about 2 p.m. when we closed. I went back around 4 p.m. and the water was about a foot away from the building. Within 45-60 minutes, it was 4 feet high inside the building, and from there, it reached seven feet. It was right at the roof line inside.”
Located on Route 14 next to the Fire Station, Dixie’s back door was blown open and everything inside was destroyed.
“The storm took whatever it wanted with it,” said Strong. “It blew the walk-in apart and flipped the freezers upside down. Everything that could float did.”
Strong left his restaurant and couldn’t bear to return for two days. Instead, he worked with the Fire Department, cleaning out other people’s houses.
“Many lost their homes,” said Strong. “At least I had a house to go to.”
Deciding not to re-open, the little white eatery is just a shell now, having been gutted down to two-byfours, and the insulation and electrical wires torn out in the summer of 2011. And, there it will remain for the time being, Strong related.
Ten years after Strong purchased Dixie’s Country Kitchen from his parents in 1990, he bought Dixie’s II and set it up in a nearly identical fashion.
Both restaurants served three full meals a day with a general breakfast menu of eggs and bacon, eggs benedict, waffles and pancakes, hash, and omelets; lunch of sandwiches and daily specials; and dinner with everything from prime rib to scallops.
The eateries were open seven days a week from early morning to early evening. Strong spent his days making the 25-minute commute from Sharon to Chelsea and back, alternating cooking in both restaurants.
While he was at Dixie’s II, his sister, Sheila, stepped in as cook in Sharon. In Chelsea, his good friend and fellow Holiday Inn employee, Roy Sargent, became the assistant chef.
“For 10 years, I cooked 90 hours a week,” said Strong.
Staff in both restaurants was minimal but included in Sharon a young girl who had worked for Strong’s parents as a teenager and eventually for Strong himself — Brigetta Johnson.
“I learned everything from them,” said Johnson who was a waitress and bus girl but never let the Strongs know she could also cook, a secret she still laughs about today having become the sole cook at Dixie’s II after her purchase.
Then, in 2006, Johnson had the opportunity to purchase the Sharon restaurant.
“The time was right,” Johnson said. “I wanted to have my last child in school full time so I leased it for a year. I was happy to do it. Then I bought it.”
Johnson became the chef at her new restaurant and kept a small staff that included some family members including her mother and oldest daughter.
Dixie’s II, a popular restaurant in Sharon, recently closed.
Brigetta Johnson Photo
The restaurant is housed in a brick building next to the post office and is licensed to seat a capacity of 32. There are eight tables and a large kitchen — three times the size of the one in Dixie’s Country Kitchen — with a cooking range and grill, walkin, freezers, fryalator, and sandwich bar. At its height, the restaurant served approximately 50 customers a day during the week and more on the weekends.
But two months ago, Johnson said she had to face the inevitable.
“It was around the first of the year that I started cutting my hours and days back,” Johnson said. “I stopped serving dinners and closed the restaurant Mondays and Tuesdays. I opened it back up about six weeks ago but food costs are crazy right now. And, I have four daughters that I also need to juggle.”
When she decided to start a daycare about two years ago, having been educated in early childcare, Johnson was on overload.
“The combination of everything has not been making me money,” she said. “It’s been quite a burden. And, I want to spend more time with my kids.”
Before she made her final decision, Johnson consulted her teenage girls, none of whom objected or were interested in eventually taking over.
In the meantime, Strong also has made the decision not to re-open the original Dixie restaurant after running it for 25 years. He is happy now working as a landscaper with two partners, one of whom is his son, Colby.
“I felt that business had declined, and the regulars didn’t have the income that they did after the economic crash,” said Strong. “The cost of goods was going up and the cost of living is more and people aren’t necessarily making more money. I also didn’t feel like putting in seven days a week again, and it would have taken me longer than I wanted to recoup the income. Besides, I’m outside now and enjoy working with my son.”