Brothers to reopen Wilmington tavern

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WILMINGTON — When the Maple Leaf Tavern reopens during the second week of May, 13 months will have passed since it closed and went into foreclosure. About 25 years have elapsed since the new owners, the brothers Sean and Noah Pusey, left this area in pursuit of professional opportunities.

Their parents, William and Patricia Pusey, remain in Halifax, and the brothers return to Vermont multiple times a year to see their large family. They are two of seven children.

The visits increased in frequency last November, after Sean and Noah Pusey purchased the building at 3 North Main St. for $160,000 at a foreclosure auction. For the first time since they had jobs here in the early '90s, they had economic ties to Wilmington.

"I'm optimistic beyond belief about opening this place," said Sean Pusey. A registered nurse, he works for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. He lives on Long Island with his wife, a rheumatologist, and two children.

"There was a very high gravitational pull towards Wilmington, having spent two decades growing up here," Sean Pusey said. "I was looking at diversifying, instead of just 401(k)'ing my life away."

"It's a tremendous opportunity to reconnect," said Noah Pusey. An attorney, he also lives on Long Island and mainly practices law related to real estate and property development. In addition, the father of two owns a small, startup software company.

"I've invited about 15 of our close, mutual friends to the opening," Noah Pusey said. He is about 18 months younger than his sibling, and graduated from Wilmington High School in 1989, the year after his brother's commencement.

"And they are waiting - bated-breath-type waiting - for this establishment to reopen."

The Maple Leaf Tavern will serve lunch and dinner, and have a bar.

The owners will maintain their careers and homes on Long Island. For better financial oversight, they have replaced the tavern's existing point-of-sale system with new hardware and software.

"I think technology allows you a lot more involvement from a distance," Noah Pusey said. "Being able to see the results from the night before and then having a meaningful discussion with the chef."

The Puseys took their time with staffing the tavern. A main-line chef will have charge of the kitchen, while a manager will oversee the front of the house. The payroll will number over a dozen, including bartenders, servers, dishwashers and bus people.

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In assembling the workforce, the owners looked for people whose personalities seemed to complement their vision of a fun and relaxed atmosphere inside the establishment, but also could be trusted with the keys to the front door.

"If you hire the right people that are accountable and responsible," Sean Pusey said, "a lot of the foibles of restauranting — where you've got theft of this or that — you can really minimize them."

Sean and Noah Pusey said they were not concerned about opening a restaurant under the same name and in the same location where the previous operator wound up in foreclosure. They are confident that their version of the Maple Leaf Tavern will be different in ways of taste and management.

By the time they open next month, the Puseys will have owned the building for nearly half a year. Perfecting their food service concept, they said, was more important than turning on the lights.

"If we had opened Presidents' Day week and didn't pressure-test a lot of vectors in this process, things could've been more tumultuous than starting out doing things right," Sean Pusey said. "You're going to have hiccups no matter what. It's about minimizing them and then having a quick course correction."

"Our hope," Noah Pusey said, "is that if someone comes in for a pint of beer, and then the next time comes in for a pint and an appetizer, the next time they will bring in two people for dinner. That's how you build a successful business."

The Wilmington economy fluctuates with the season, as leaf-peepers, then skiers and then summertime visitors make their annual visits. Noah and Sean Pusey believe that many of these transients will regularly occupy tables and stools in their place. However, permanent residents are the target market.

"I think you survive as a restaurant in a small community based on how you're perceived and what your product is on the local level," Noah Pusey said.

The Maple Leaf Tavern will be open 12 months a year. For the menu, which the Puseys recently were still tweaking, the principals want something that is familiar but still distinctive.

"It'll be a very open, accommodating menu that isn't going to be found across the street or down the street or up the street," Noah Pusey said. "We'll have some very traditional comfort fare with a little bit of creative license."

One item the owners were discussing for the menu was a build-your-own macaroni and cheese dish. The kitchen would assemble it to a patron's specifications.

"When you can customize something and get involved in the process as a consumer," Sean Pusey said, "I think it's more interesting."


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