Judith and Tom Platt assess recent flood damage to their Garden Market, Café and Gallery in Londonderry.
Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger.org
Judith and Tom Platt assess recent flood damage to their Garden Market, Café and Gallery in Londonderry.

For one restaurant, it’s three strikes but definitely not out

Garden Market, Café and Gallery has withstood a half century of rising above washouts in 1973, 2011, and again this summer

LONDONDERRY — When Judith Platt married her husband, Tom, in 1970, they chose Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as their wedding song for its vow of rising above any torrent of misfortune.

Going on to open this town's Garden Market, Café and Gallery, the couple didn't foresee the lyrics would flow so literally.

Just before the Main Street business debuted in 1973, a flood soaked everything and scared off the hired help. Platt, then a new mother working as a registered nurse, turned to The Joy of Cooking and taught herself culinary arts.

"The quality of the food was beyond wonderful," one diner wrote on tripadvisor.com by the summer of 2011. "The ambiance and physical setting are a life's work in the combination of fine art, fine food, gardening and creative detailed architecture to soothe the soul and comfort the traveling weary."

Enter that year's Tropical Storm Irene. When Platt makes cashew cream - the base for a vegan au poivre sauce of porcini mushrooms, shallots, green peppercorns, and brandy - she usually tosses two handfuls of nuts into a blender with a cup of water. But on Aug. 28, 2011, Mother Nature added hundreds of thousands of gallons more from the West River before puréeing it all into a surreal soup hopping with frogs, turtles, and snakes.

The price: $800,000.

The Platts, believing they had invested too much economically and emotionally to retreat, spent years rooting their business' two buildings on concrete pads, replacing wood floors with tile, and raising most of the inner workings above flood level.

Enter this year's July 10 storm on the eve of their 53rd wedding anniversary.

The good news: Having taken flood mitigation steps, the Platts had no basements to bail out and fewer warped planks and wires to replace.

And the bad: They still must strip away drywall and sanitize everything else - a $44,000 expense before calculating the costs for new furniture and appliances.

And so the 70-something couple faces a decision: Retire with few tangibles of the past, or rebuild for an anything-but-solid future?

"This has been a labor of love," Platt said this week. "We could take a buyout from the government, but it would be pittance compared to what we've put into it."

And so the Platts are starting again, just like when Irene swept away all their records and recipes, requiring the chef to reconstruct her life's work from scratch.

"You don't forget how to make mashed potatoes," she said.

Zabaglione Italian dessert cream - a custardy froth that requires a precise balance of egg yolks, sugar, and wine - is a different story.

That's why the Platts will first work to reopen their less-damaged market in three to four months, then focus on restoring the more-ravaged café and gallery after that.

Speaking with Vermont's congressional delegation during a July 15 flood assessment, the couple stressed the need for more mitigation measures for both individual properties and the town as a whole - starting with the state-recommended removal of the nearby Williams Dam.

"Londonderry is really hurting," she said after. "We just lost our pharmacy. The lawyer moved out. The real estate agent moved out. Several businesses have come and gone, and there's no moderately priced housing for local workers."

'It's not a dream. It's been done.'

To help the Platts, friends have organized an online fundraiser to pay for expenses not covered by insurance.

"In the coming days and weeks, we will be working diligently to restore our property with the intention of returning to business and serving the community as quickly as possible," the couple has posted on the Garden Café and Gallery website.

The Platts will start by seeking a permit and funding for the type of flood control wall that protected the town of Lincoln's Burnham Hall community center from nearly 4 feet of stormwater during Irene.

"It's not just a dream. It's been done," she said. "This could be an example for the future. It's reinventing yourself and evolving into what's needed."

This News item by Kevin O'Connor originally appeared in VtDigger and was republished in The Commons with permission.

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