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July 23, 2010

River Run in Plainfield Closes; Tasca To Open

Rrlogo Few Vermont eateries attain the fame of Plainfield's River Run, which Mississippi-born chef Jimmy Kennedy opened with his then wife, Maya, in 1991. Over the next 18 years, the barbecue joint — which brought fare such as catfish, hush puppies and fried dill pickles to central Vermont — racked up the accolades.

In USA Today, it was singled out as one of the nation's "top ten catfish restaurants," and the Smithsonian lauded the "memorable, homemade food that is fast disappearing from our own family fare." In Food & Wine, regular customer David Mamet called River Run "the best place on earth." 

That may be why River Run regular Bryan Pfeiffer was a little distraught when he and his Thursday breakfast buddies found newspaper covering the windows. "There's something about a table set with coffee, eggs and home fries that creates fertile ground for cantankerous morning conversation," he says. "I wanted to grow old eating breakfast at River Run." 

He'll have to find a new place to get old. Last year, when Ignacio Ruiz bought the River Run, he had a two-prong plan: Kennedy would keep making his signature dishes in the a.m., while Ruiz would prepare the cuisine of his native country, Spain, in the evening. 

For seven months, that's what they did. Kennedy made pancakes and cheesy grits, freeing him up for other pursuits such as competitive fishing and keeping long-time customers like Pfeiffer happy. Ruiz introduced dishes such as paella, garlic shrimp, meatballs in wine sauce and seafood stew in the p.m.

"My intention was not to get rid of breakfast," says Ruiz, "But I think it's a formula that's not working any more." Why? The early morning hours were costing the restaurant more than they brought in. "Where we stand right now, dinner has kept River Run alive economically," he states. Ruiz also believes that the restaurant's split personality was confusing to customers.

He claims even old-timers have learned to like his Iberian cuisine. "There are definitely Plainfield townies who have been coming since it opened [in 1991] and are very receptive," Ruiz suggests. Although Spanish food might seem exotic to some, he says it's "very homey; it's the food I grew up eating."      

Last weekend, on a whim, he decided to eliminate breakfast, change the eatery's name to Tasca, and serve Spanish fare at lunch and dinner seven days a week, plus Sunday brunch. "It was a total impulse, a very Spanish impulse," he says with a chuckle. 

He says he spoke briefly with Kennedy, with whom he has a "very good relationship." "He seems to be on board," Ruiz suggests. "It's a little bittersweet for him because it's his baby, but ultimately, I think he just wants it to succeed." Kennedy couldn't be reached for comment because he was out of town, fishing. The spot will reopen mid-week, after a handful of renovations, as Tasca.

Pfeiffer, a former journalist who is now a professional birder, says he's unfamiliar with "tapas" and isn't much of a dinner person. He says he wishes Ruiz well, and that he's happy to have the cozy Maple Valley Café nearby so he can keep having eggs and home fries with his friends. "I'm big on breakfast," he notes. "I think that's why this hits me more than other folks. It's the culture of breakfast, the angle of food and community, that we're losing."

Anthony Spector, who raises grass-fed beef as owner of Spruce Mountain Farm, has a cheerier take on the transition. "The Spanish menu is delicious," he says. Like many central Vermonters, he'd never tasted Ruiz's style of food until recently: "It's not what I expected, I expected it to be like Tex-Mex, but it's not. There's really interesting seafood. After years of greasy Southern barbecue, it's nice to have fresh fish."

Spector recalls Mamet saying that River Run was where "poets and farmers eat together," but contends that can happen at a tapas place, too. He admits that after nearly two decades, the restaurant famed for its catfish and conversation had become part of the "fabric of the community," but says that eventually, Tasca will evoke reactions just as warm. His final summation: "I like the changes very much."  

   

As a Plainfield resident, I feel very poorly about Ruiz' decision. The River Run has been a staple to the community for as long as I can remember. The relationship that Mr. Kennedy made with his customers is far different from those that Ruiz has been attempting to do. The food, the feel, and the overall experience has declined largely since Ruiz has taken over ownership.

I am all for change, but not this one. The community wants River Run, not Tasca.

All the best to Mr. Ruiz, his wife and their children. I wish you the best of luck...but Tasca will never hold the power that River Run did in Plainfield.

River Run has been a part of Plainfield almost as long as I have, opening when I was just three years old. To me (and i think most of the community would agree) River Run was a huge part of what made Plainfield the town it was. It is no question that breakfast is what made the restaurant so special. River Run deservedly earned multiple Daysies in the breakfast/brunch category over the past few years, but more importantly, breakfast at River Run was a community event. The crowded restaurant populated with good friends slipping from table to table to talk and laugh was one of the last few places where the town felt like a family.

If the discrepancy between breakfast and dinner at the newly evolving River Run was causing problems for the restaurant, i wouldn't hesitate to place my blame in the changes Ruiz has instituted. The River Run breakfast is a formula that has been working for nearly two decades.

Moreover, I find Ruiz's presence in the restaurant to be poisonous. He is a gruff, brutish man whose complacent leers from behind the bar extinguish the sense of warmth and community that River Run once stood for. When attempting to connect with customers he is invasive and down right creepy. He is rude to the waitresses. Overall, I find him to be an arrogant man with his head in the sand.

While I respect that this story provides a balanced point of view, I must say that, personally, I know of no one who is happy about this change. If Ruiz had opened Tasca as its own restaurant I would have welcomed it. He didn't have to kill one of our few remaining local treasures in the process.

Well that completely sucks. We've been going to the River Run for 16 years; breakfast there was part of our family's Vermont vacation tradition and often we'd make the 45 minute drive to Plainfield 2 or 3 times during our stay here. Sometimes changes really bites; bites hard.

But before unloading on Mr. Ruiz, keep in mind it was Jimmy Kennedy who sold the place. Once he'd done that, things were inevitably going to change. And maybe Mr. Kennedy just got tired of getting up ungodly early to crank out those pancakes. He will be missed, though.

Noone in his right mind closes a community asset like this "on a whim" and "with a chuckle" - it's a giant thumb in the eye to the long standing and loyal clientele. Shame!

If you all knew anything about running a business, you would be singing a tune. It takes more than just 'being part of the community' or being a 'part of Plainfield' to make a business go. It takes harder work than you ever thought possible, people supporting you through good times and bad, and some tourist stopping in once a year on his way through VT. Community members don't get to decide which businesses come into their town, or which stores open or close; business owners do. That's how the world works. We don't live in a utopia, where everyone gets a say in everything. We live in capitalism, where the market bears what will succeed and who has the stones to keep going in a tough economy. Sorry your favorite breakfast place closed, but the show must go on. Reality is a cold slap to the face, I know.

Community members actually do decide what businesses are in their town, indirectly. The very most important rule of small town business is very easy to follow, "don't piss off the locals". I am a business owner in a small town and I'm disgusted by the changes being made. If your upset about the ignorance of mr. Ruiz, don't just support him by default, refuse to patronize his establishment. Support the community minded business owners, not the capitalist pig. This guy has no idea what Plainfield is really all about, and sadly... He doesn't care.

I think what upsets me the most is that Mr. Ruiz did not have the respect for the River Run clientele (the same folks who's business he needs to keep to succeed) to announce a former closing. As a long time breakfast destination, it would have been justifiably called for to let people know they one last chance to eat there.

I have a sneaking suspicion we will find the business up for sale again in the next year. Mr. Ruiz ya really screwed the pooch on this one.

Miss you River Run.....

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts of this story is that Mr. Ruiz gave no warning signs to the closing of River Run. Had I known what changes were going to take place, I would have gotten to River Run as soon as possible for a last feast.

Poor taste, Mr. Ruiz.

Hard Dose said, "Community members don't get to decide which businesses come into their town ... We live in capitalism, where the market bears what will succeed ..."

But the reality is that the community is the market.

If you piss off the locals, you loose a majority of your market. Any smart business owner knows this.

The community = the market.

Oh my! We've been going to the River Run for the delightfully middle class meals and ambiance for years! As soon as our servants are done unpacking the cottage, we have the driver take us to River Run!

I suppose that all things change. Perhaps we should consider summering out West?

omg Taffy Davenport!?!? Your "mom" must have been working extra hard to afford servants and summering!??! Other people love Female Trouble in Vermont? No way!

And folks, if the breakfast was losing money, it doesn't matter how much of a community staple it was... you can't serve breakfast and lose money!

Anna, yes if it was losing money at breakfast it's not worth it. Wondering how it kept going for 18 years...I do have to say I have been eating there for over 10 years (live in Montpelier) and do remember the quality to have dropped in the past few years. Bummer.

Point is: If it's not working, at least have the courtesy to announce a last day. If you are keeping any track of your accounting the fact that it was not working should have come as no surprise sudden enough to just pull the plug. I mean seriously.

I have never had breakfast there where they were not busy. I don't understand how they were losing money on breakfast. I am disappointed that Mr. Ruiz had such low regard for the community and clientele to close and rename it on a whim.
I like Spanish food and have eaten dinner there once. However I LOVED River Run French Toast more than anywhere else. He could have at least given us a warning. I don't think I want to eat there again. Not because the food isn't good but because he is insensitive and self centered. I don't like people like that and don't want to do business with them.

Geez, you people make me want to go to the new place all the more, just to support the new guy... as someone else said earlier, business is business, and if the locals didn't want anything to change, maybe one of them should have tried to buy the restaurant when the old owner put it up for sale. The new owner has every right to make whatever changes he wants, and it should even be expected.

Your right Romago, the new owner does have the right to do whatever he wants. But when dealing with a 18 year institution, it might be a good idea to do it with a little more tact, eh? A change like this is possible, but sensitivity is foresight into future marketing.

Romago, you can go ahead and support the "new guy" even if the majority of the town doesn't.. but just an FYI, the old owner didn't put it up for sale! from the way i understand the story, Ruiz walked in, offered a price, and Jimmy took it, and that's that.. Ruiz can do whatever he wants, he owns it.. but i think it all boils down to this:
why would someone buy a successfull business, only to change it completely? i think the community would have embraced a new business rather than changing an 18 year tradition..

Lots of armchair quaterbacking going on right now, with very little practicality or common sense behind it. Look folks; this is the real world, not some happy little dream where businesses stay open just to make you happy or to be a happy part of a small town. This place, like all places, opens in the morning and closes at night to make money. That's it. Its a business. It really astounds me how the posters here have no comprehension of business or how things work. I've been to River Run many times. Good food, nice place. But when things aren't working, or a new owner comes in, things change. Perhaps a quick read through "Small Business For Dummies" is in order here.

Hey Al,

I did not mention I have been in the restaurant business for 18 years. Successfully. Yes things change, but in small town VT you need to be careful how you institute change. I think Mr. Ruiz needs a quick read through "Marketing for Dummies."(maybe you too?) I have a really good idea of how things work in the industry(what industry are you in?), and the way this was done was not how it should work. Yes by all means change the restaurant, but don't do it like this!

A lot of us still went there because Jimmy was still a part of it, as was his food. Word on the street is Ruiz is a d*@%. Clearly rumors though?

River Run was sub-par. I am positive Tasca will fail to reach this status.

Ignacio is Jesus! Viva Tasca!

River Run had its day. Lets give the new guy a chance.

(this should be sung)

It is only the snarkiness of the comments here that have me speaking on this. I keep hoping that somehow the facts might make a difference, but usually people believe what they want to believe. Still, better to speak the truth for those who might actually hear...

From what I know, based on being friends with someone who has worked there for a long time, River Run was in trouble long before it was sold. It wasn't a solid, well-run business with no problems prior to its sale. I would offer more specifics/details but somehow that seems inappropriate to me. I'm simply trying to point out that it is a mistake to assume that River Run was a healthy business prior to its sale.

Just because a place is busy all the time doesn't always mean it isn't losing money. Especially if other issues aren't being managed well.

Is it being managed well now? I don't know for sure. It sounds to me like its role in the community isn't being managed very well. That's a problem for a small place like Plainfield. I hear good things and bad things about how things are going on the inside. There are clearly issues, and trying to put all the blame on any one thing, or any one person, seems misplaced, to me.

If the business was so successful, why would Jimmy have sold it? Truth is, the business model wasn't working.

I hear that Jimmy will host one last breakfast Sunday Aug. 8. See ya there.

Meanwhile, this Plainfield local and member of Brian Pfeiffer's Stammtisch welcomes Mr. Ruiz to Plainfield and wishes him all the best of luck. Thanks for investing in our town.

As per Neil Young, Long May You Run!

Peter is right -- there will be one last River Run breakfast.

More details are in the updated version of this story, which appears in the 7/28 issue of Seven Days. Here's a link:

http://www.7dvt.com/2010plainfield-river-run-closes

Tasca is actually the best place to eat in plainfield. It is better than river run. I hope you guys all realize that river run was sold to a NEW owner who is allowed to do whatever he wants to do with his own business. It is an amazing food restaurant and the people of plainfield just need to get over their stupidity and realize that the new owner is amazingly nice and cooks wonderful meals I say Tasca is an amazing dining establishment with amazing food and I'm glad it is her and I hope it stays for a long time.

I began working at River Run at just about the same time Ignacio bought the restaurant. I have worked there steadily over the past year, and will continue to work under the same roof at Tasca. I have always found Ignacio to be an overwhelmingly considerate and generous employer. He treats his staff with care and respect, and strives to treat his customers with the same courtesy.

I understand that many community members are disappointed to see River Run go - I, too, am sad to see this community hub leave. But I am fully confident that Tasca can become just as much of a community institution, provided people are willing to be open-minded and try something new. I too miss my River Run biscuits, but I embrace my Tasca garlic shrimp with equal (if not greater) enthusiasm.

And to those who find it difficult to believe that River Run couldn't make its infamous breakfasts financially viable any longer: believe it. I have personally witnessed many a Saturday morning filled only by a disappointingly small trickle of customers, and the disappointingly small amount of tips that came with. If the waitresses have a hard time earning enough tips to make a decent wage, how do you expect the restaurant to make enough money to continue as is? (Or rather, as was.)

I hope to see you all at the farewell River Run breakfast on Sunday, August 8th, starting bright and early at 7am. And after that, I hope to see you all at Tasca. It's a great place to work and a great place to eat, and nobody should dis it before they've tried it.

I was at RR since day one. A good friend of mine helped to start the business. I have fond memories of RR, and I am sad to see it go. I wish there would have been some announcement to the community, as maybe that would have avoided all this anger and bitter feelings. But, that wasn't what when down, it came as a surprise, and feelings have been hurt.

What bothers me the most, is in the winter, when Maple Valley closes it's doors, those of us left to shovel snow and hope to get some breakfast afterward will have no choice but to drive out of Plainfield. That part makes me upset. Maybe, if we treat the "new guy" nicely, he will recognize this and maybe open for breakfast? Ok, I believe in unicorns too!

One thing that I do know...it seems like every business who has used that building (or well the original RR building) has done well. It was the humble beginnings for Single Pebble! So, maybe Tasca will come to be loved, and will do quite well. I hope so.

I am a Plainfield resident who really only wants what is best for our little village. Yes, the owner of the business can do whatever she or he wants to do with their business, but it would be nice if those owners listened a little to their local patrons.

I wish Tasca, the owner and employees only the best of luck, and hope that in this economy we can keep a place that is available to not only those who's servants can come to their summer home with them, but also those of us who can only really afford the McDonald's dollar menu, but want to support local businesses.....breakfast is usually the most affordable meal.

I hope the best for Mr Ruiz, but it is true... notice would have been great. And the big long lines and long wait for breakfast are never there in the evening... so I can't imagine that the breakfast was costing more than it was bringing in.

I love Spanish food and so was MORE than willing to give the new place a chance. But it is not good Spanish food. It was like I tried to cook paella after reading a recipe for the first time. Secondly, I went there primarily for breakfast. Mr. Ruiz certainly has the RIGHT to shut down breakfast and change the menu, but the question is not whether he has the right. The question is, is it SMART? How does it help your business to tic off everyone in town? If the Plainfield community is your main market THEN FIND OUT WHAT THEY WANT. IT'S NOT WHAT THE OWNER WANTS. IT'S WHAT THE CUSTOMERS WANT. THIS IS BUSINESS 101.

My wife and I looked at the original River Run location (leaning building to the left) to open a crepe cafe about 4.5 years ago. It was being used as an art gallery at the time. We did open that cafe in New Hampshire 4 years ago and it's doing well. The main reason we decided against opening in Plainfield was that we thought the locals may not readily welcome outsiders and may not be open to new ideas. After reading many of these responses, I definitely think we made the right decision.

I also got the general feeling at the time that River Run was losing its luster due to personal matters and I'm surprised it remained open as long as it did.

River Run was a great restaurant and Jimmy cooked with as much soul as any chef in America but he grew tired and wanted to move on. The new owner may not be Jimmy but he will have his day to prove himself to a tough crowd.

So far the foods OK, the service is OK and the owner has cheated on his wife and left his two children for one of his waitresses.

If Mr. Ruiz can cook as passionately as he chases young tail, Tasca will be very successful.

Thank god you don't need to be a good person to be a good cook or Mr. Ruiz would be screwed.

Ha. What? It's River Run again? Told ya so.

I am dismayed by the volume of negative and tasteless comments; none with a name attached. Anyone with any strength of character would sign their name and stand behind their words. While I am generally proud to live in Plainfield, I am deeply embarrassed by the response from my community. And to the person who identified themselves only as "shame, shame":
Shame on you, for writing something that is bound to cause pain to Ignacio's wife and children; the very people that you feign concern for.
Ignacio treats his staff like family, and that staff loves him dearly. I have never had an employer who inspired such loyalty.
I have never seen Ignacio disrespect another human being (or animal, for that matter). His face lights up when he talks to a toddler, or pats a dog...he is blessed with a genuine grace of spirit that few possess. He is kind, fair and generous. He is one of my favorite living souls on this planet, and there is no one that I would rather work for.

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