In the interest of full disclosure, I have been the front of the house manager and headwaiter at Pangaea Restaurant for about the last eight years. These years were not consecutive, but I feel it’s important to explain my connection to the family of food establishments in Bennington considering the topic of this column.
After 14 years of being a fixture and family member to the town, T.J. Carmody closed the doors of his establishment for the last time on New Year’s Day.
I turned 21 in that bar, friends became better ones and girlfriends were changed in that very place. A place almost everyone from Bennington has a kind memory, a crazy memory, a fun memory from a local place we can never go again. I sat down with Bill Scully, owner of Pangaea and Pangaea Lounge, to try and understand what happened from a different perspective; Pangaea is nestled in the shire hills of North Bennington far-flung from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Northern Exposure with an edge. Pangaea and Bill Scully along with his wife and business partner, Maria Scully, seem to be thriving.
"T.J. was ahead of most of us," said Scully. "T.J. really used social media for advertising. It’s a completely different market out there now for the younger generation. Younger consumers stalk their purchases, more and more we find less and less impulse buying. Generation X and Y tend to make more informed decisions and use their peers’ recommendations along with tracking prices for months before making major purposes. Be sure to look forward to Pangaea everywhere: on Yelp, Facebook, Lonely Planet, Twitter. I’ve even been considering a blog. But all of this will have been at Carmody’s lead."
This isn’t surprising, considering that any night with a male Carmody behind the bar was an interactive, bigheaded, stunning show. If any family business in town could put the social in media, it’s R.T., Patrick and T.J.
T.J. was not one to lay his troubles solely at the feet of the Bennington Bypass. Dick Pembroke worked hard for decades on that stretch of road. When asked, most people in town believe it did hit Carmody’s pretty hard. Living and working in North Bennington has given me a unique appreciation for niche markets. To Pangaea the directions for tourists couldn’t be easier and nine times out of 10 patrons on their cell phones en route are delighted to hear: "Take Route 279 and turn left."
Hard as it to believe, Pangaea seems to have grown possibly as a result of the bypass.
T.J. doesn’t believe it was the bypass that closed his doors. Like all business owners in the current economy he’s been doing what we are all doing in the face of increased food prices, waves of oil prices and a reluctance for average Americans to use their credit cards; getting by. Getting by well can be the difference between open and closed. That being said, there is also a way to get by that puts employees first usually to the detriment of the business in a recession, T.J. never flinched in the face of turmoil and always sought to keep his work-family and his kin in the foreground of his decisions. I wanted to know more about what he did, so I asked his son Patrick Carmody.
"My dad didn’t even start a Facebook Page for the restaurant," said Patrick Carmody. "He just started his own, a T.J. Facebook page and overnight he had something like 1,800 friends." T.J. has more real life friends than any celebrity and I’d be willing to put good hard-earned money on his having had a drink with every one of his online friends.
The owner of Carmody’s is a man with not only real friends and hundreds of personal relationships that border on family, he also has quite a following in real life. This is a leader of men, and though he is moving his efforts to the other far-flung Carmody’s West - no one seems worried. In fact, "People are excited to come be a part of something that can’t be done in town." Patrick Carmody reminded me of the value of being outside the hustle and bustle - "There is a Pond behind West, and people love lining up to chip golf balls into the floating green in the middle of the pond. We can do this kind of stuff out there, you know? The full Irish Wake, anything we want." I, for one, look forward to the easy shortcut from North Bennington, across the bridge, by the Henry House, beyond Orbed Road to The Little Restaurant that T.J. will use to tame the west.
Chris Zubryd is a local writer.