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Article Title: Horn of the Moon Cafe Closes its Doors

Edition: December 2000
Category: General Interest

On Thursday, December 7 when the contents of the restaurant are auctioned off to the highest bidders, the Horn of the Moon Cafe, for 23 years a Montpelier natural foods restaurant and community gathering place, will fade into history.

The vegetarian cafe served its last meal on the evening of November 12.

This past June, the cafe suffered a bad blow when its owner Gary Beardsworth took his life. In the aftermath of his death, the staff at the restaurant with the help of friends in the community cleaned and painted the space, made changes in the menu and reopened the cafe. For a time there was talk -- and it appeared a real prospect -- that a group of restaurant employees and community members would band together to purchase the cafe and run it as a cooperative. That didn't come to pass, and in the end, the administrator of the estate of Gary Beardsworth, wife Rhonda Beardsworth decided to close the well-known restaurant.

Rhonda Beardsworth had advertised a private sale of the cafe both on-line and in local publications. In ads the Horn of the Moon was described as "New England's Oldest Vegetarian Restaurant" and the asking price was $130,000.

In the final analysis neither a plan for a cooperative nor a hoped-for private sale worked out.

Rhonda Beardsworth said of the community group that wanted to buy the restaurant and run it as a co-op that it was "too large a group to function as a cohesive unit."

Stephanie Tucker, a waitress at the cafe before it closed and a member of the co-op planning group, said that when a single buyer emerged with an interest in purchasing the cafe and continuing its vegetarian tradition, the co-op planning group took heart and decided to support the private sale. Then when the buyer decided not to purchase after all, things began to slide pretty quickly.

Rhonda Beardsworth said there was a sharp downturn in business at the cafe after this year's foliage season. At its closing, the cafe had approximately 20 employees on payroll. Talking about the fall-off in business activity, Beardsworth said, "We couldn't weather the storm. We couldn't ask people to hang in there without being paid."

A sign taped to the door of the cafe at its closing said, "Many of us worked as hard as we could for as long as possible. Thanks to everyone who helped and to those who supported the restaurant."

Tucker said that the end came swiftly. She said when the cafe closed some of the employees "were surprised and pretty upset."

One day in late November, Rhonda Beardsworth sat down with The Bridge in the closed cafe and reflected on some of the reasons it closed.

As she spoke, past employees were visiting the cafe for the last time to gather up their personal effects. The mood was hushed as people picked up their things and talked to each other in lowered voices.

Beardsworth noted that the restaurant had acquired a reputation for weak service. She also said the cafe needed a change of menu at dinner -- the dinner menu and the lunch menu were the same -- to compete with other restaurants for the dinner crowd.

She talked about the difficulty of managing cash flow during slow business periods like the recent falloff in trade after the foliage season. She said, "Gary knew how to get through those slow periods. We didn't have that kind of savvy."

Beardsworth said she had been hopeful and happy when it appeared a deal to sell the restaurant seemed almost certain. "I thought we had a closing date," she said. "I was happiest that (the cafe) would be here for the community and a place for people to work." Then the deal collapsed. She said: "Somebody said they thought the restaurant closed when Gary died, and I guess it did."

A few days later, Beardsworth told The Bridge, "As much as we would all like to keep the things that are familiar to us, we can't always. But I really believe if there's a need in Montpelier for a restaurant like the Horn of the Moon, someone's going to fill that need."

The cafe had a loyal following in Montpelier and elsewhere and in the days immediately after its closing, would-be patrons could be seen going up to the door, looking through to the empty tables and chairs, reading the short message taped to the glass, and leaving -- many sadly.

At a memorial service for Gary Beardsworth this past June, one community member, Carlene Bagnall, spoke of the special meaning the cafe had for her.

"If you want to sit alone, you can have your solitude," she said. "If you want to meet people, you can socialize." At the cafe she often thought of writer Ernest Hemingway's short story "A Warm, Well-Lighted Place." She said that Hemingway's story is about people who are lonely and who hang out at a restaurant as long as they can because it's a warm, bright place.

Bagnall said she saw Gary Beardsworth as much more than the owner and manager of the cafe. He seemed to know everybody who came through in and he gave each a personal greeting and a warm smile. In his quiet, unobtrusive way she felt Gary was almost like the pastor of a small congregation. At the memorial service in Gary's honor, Bagnall said, "There are a lot of great churches in this community and one of my favorites is the Horn of the Moon Cafe."

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