VT Community Loan Fund Lends $3.6 Million in Q1 2024

New Tasty Bites Diner Tempts Barre, with Help from the Vermont Community Loan Fund

On a pause from a typically busy morning, Barre-based restaurateur Lisa St. Lawrence takes a quick mental inventory of her menu items. “Let’s see: there’s grilled garlic, peppers and onions, pepper Jack cheese, horseradish sauce and local beef from Knight’s Farm – that’s the Tribal Archery Signature Burger,” she says almost dreamily. “Then there’s the Yikes Stripes Signature Burger with bacon, cheddar and local maple syrup, and the Ridge Runner with egg and hot sauce.” She takes a breath and explains her enthusiasm. “I love watching people enjoy their food. It’s a passion of mine.”

As owner of the soon-to-open Tasty Bites Diner, Lisa clearly has landed in the right profession. And, as of this spring, she’s landed in just the right place. The new diner is located on Barre’s high-visibility, high-traffic North Main Street.

A longtime foodie, Lisa had a lengthy career in grocery management. Even with her fulltime schedule back then, she’d often pick up catering jobs on the side. “Weddings and small birthday parties mostly,” she says. “I’ve always liked to be busy.”

When she left her grocery management position, she still catered now and then, but soon found herself craving more. “I just wasn’t busy enough,” she recalls. But she had an idea, a kind of natural progression from her catering work: a food truck!

Tasty Bites Food Truck hit the road in 2022 and became a runaway success. “Customers of all ages love the food truck,” she tells. Regular customers line up for pulled pork sandwiches, dessert egg rolls (available in apple pie, raspberry or blueberry cheesecake-filled flavors, and all huge local favorites), burgers, hot dogs and loaded fries. “But I could only do the food truck during the warmer weather months,” she notes, which left her looking for other opportunities.

Her appetite for more work was piqued when Aimee Green, executive director of Barre Area Development., spotted an ideal space for a bricks and mortar version of Lisa’s popular business, recently vacated by another restaurant tenant. Aimee recommended working with VCLF to access financing through the Barre Revolving Loan Fund, which supports projects benefitting Barre’s downtown. 

“A professional kitchen was already in place from the previous tenant,” says VCLF Director of Business and Early Care & Learning Programs Dan Winslow, noting the project strengths, “and Lisa has an impressive business background, plus a sizeable following with her food truck.” (Lisa’s 1,500-plus fans from social media have been extremely enthusiastic about the diner.) 

Lisa has high praise for the Loan Fund and its Business Resource Center. 

“VCLF helped me with my business plan, with staffing, with guidelines and regulations and advised me on who to talk to on so many matters,” she says. “When you’re starting up a business, there are a lot of things you need to know, and a lot of resources to know about. The Loan Fund was there to direct me down the right path.”

At the time of this writing, Lisa is coordinating with the health department and the Barre fire marshal to get up to code, preparing to add an ADA-compliant accessible entrance, and staffing up to fill three new positions to ready for a mid-May opening. 

Tasty Bites Diner will be open every day but Wednesday, offering all-day breakfasts and lunches and ready-made homestyle carryout options. “We’ll have a lot of new items on the diner menus,” says Lisa, “but we’ll be serving some of our customer favorites from the food truck, too.” Yes, she notes, that does include the dessert eggrolls.

In the first quarter of 2024, VCLF financing was also provided to:

Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity, Randolph

Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity came to the Loan Fund to access financing from VCLF’s new Career Technical Education (CTE) Construction & Rehabilitation Revolving Loan Fund to help finance construction of a new, perpetually-affordable two-unit duplex. The loan provides paid construction jobs for 35 Randolph Technical Career Center students, and creates two new affordable homes. centralvermonthabitat.org

Crust & Cork, Charlotte

When longtime VCLF borrower Stone’s Throw Pizza announced plans to shutter their Charlotte restaurant (one of four locations), the owners were approached by a local business owner who wished to purchase it. New owner Leyland Papa has extensive experience in the wine industry and will expand that aspect of the business while continuing focus on gourmet pizza. The loan, used for additional equipment purchases and restaurant reopening costs, creates three jobs. 

Hootie Hoo, Burlington

Hootie Hoo is a children’s outdoor clothing retailer and a woman- and BIPOC-owned business. Claire Zhu, formerly a designer for Burton, established Hootie Hoo in 2021 as a unisex line for children. The loan, used to purchase inventory and cover staff and marketing expenses, preserves three jobs and creates one new job. hootiehoo.com  

Intervale Center, Burlington

The Intervale Center, a previous VCLF borrower, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening community food systems, enhancing farm viability & land sustainability. They provide resources for famers, a food hub program, gleaning & food access programs and more across their 360-acre campus. They returned to VCLF in 2024 for a loan to refinance their mortgage. The loan preserves 29 jobs. intervale.org 

Little One’s University, Williston

Since 2009, Caryl Jaques has headed up Little One’s University (LOU), a successful early care & learning center in Essex Junction. Wishing to serve additional families, in 2022 LOU acquired a second program in Colchester, and by 2023, sought to add a third program. When Caryl located available space in a former Williston factory, she approached VCLF to help finance the purchase and renovation of the property. VCLF partnered with the Vermont Economic Development Authority on this loan that helps preserve 100 and create 114 early care & learning slots, helps preserve 20 jobs and create 20 new jobs. 

Mighty Mudita, Burlington

Start-up business Mudita produces plant-based and gluten-free alternatives to sliced sandwich meats, made from tofu, tempeh, beets and other ingredients, which owner Andrew Wild sells to local grocers and restaurants. When Burlington’s two City Market locations began to carry his products, Andrew came to the Loan Fund to finance equipment that will expand his production capacity, cover costs of marketing, ingredients and other expenses. The loan helps preserve one job. mightydelislices.com

Route 4 Bikes, Woodstock

Route 4 Bikes is a bicycle sales and repair shop, formerly part of Woodstock Sports, another local retailer. In 2023, US veteran Linda Yoder purchased this segment of the Woodstock Sports business, and continued to operate it out of space leased from the former owners. With the idea of transitioning her operation into a mobile format, she came to VCLF for a loan to purchase and fit up a cargo trailer into a bike workshop. The loan helps preserve one job. 

Sawyer Made, Woodbury

Previous VCLF borrower George Sawyer, a fine woodworker specializing in custom and antique-reproduction chair making, also teaches his craft at his Woodbury shop. When an adjoining property including a house and barn came on the market, he saw the opportunity to develop it for much-needed student housing, workshop and classroom space. He used a VCLF Food, Farms & Forests loan to purchase the property. The loan helps preserve seven jobs and is expected to create three new jobs. sawyermade.com

Shires Housing/Arlington Village Center Housing Limited Partnership, Arlington

Longtime VCLF partner and borrower Shires Housing, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing, owns and manages 400 rental units throughout Bennington County. The organization is a general partner in Arlington Village Center, the town’s largest affordable housing community, consisting of 11 buildings with 29 apartments and two commercial units. Shires used a VCLF loan to refinance permanent debt on the property, helping preserve 29 affordable homes and one commercial space, and helping create one new affordable home. shireshousing.org

The New School, Montpelier

New School provides appropriate education for Montpelier area students with learning disabilities, language impairments, autism, traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities whose needs can’t be met by their school district. The administration came to VCLF and fellow Community Development Financial Institution Cooperative Fund of the Northeast, to finance the purchase and renovation of two buildings adjacent to their campus. The loan expands the school’s capacity, helping preserve 36 enrollments, with 36 new enrollments anticipated. nsmvt.org