At the turn of the 20th century, Orlo Ayers was crafting wheels, carriages and wagons on Elm Street in Waterbury.
Four generations and more than 100 years later, a different kind of wheel is turning in the same spot.
In the big yellow carriage barn at 18 Elm St., Jeremy Ayers, great-grandson of Orlo, sits curved over a pottery wheel, shaping a round of ash-colored clay up from the spinning surface. He’s surrounded by neat shelves full of bowls, mugs, vases and other vessels in various stages of completion, all simple colorways and clean lines, straight and curved and geometric.
Twenty yards across a gravel courtyard, Georgia Ayers is meal planning. She’s expecting some guests — 16 for dinner on Saturday next, and maybe a couple of hundred for brunch on Sunday.
The Waterbury Breakfast Club launched officially this summer with seven events, each featuring different vendors. Coffee pop-up Petit Noir is a staple, and there are varying lunch options and baked goods. A recent visit found food trucks from A Single Pebble and Lazy Farmer, fluffy doughnuts and scones from North Country Cakes (soon to open in Morrisville), decadent ice cream from the Udder Guys cart and non- to mildly-alcoholic offerings from Kis Kombucha. Three events remain in 2018.
The historic setting includes a carriage barn built in the 1870s, a house built in 1892 and a large storage barn, all painted sunny yellow, around a tree-edged green space just off Main Street.
“The property is the whole motivation of this,” Georgia said. “It’s downtown, and we have that courtyard, so it doesn’t totally feel downtown. We just need to create. Things need to happen in here.”
The Ayerses started the brunch pop-up event after three successful trials last summer, in collaboration with Becky and Ben Colley, proprietors of Petit Noir. Mocha mecca Waterbury isn’t just about roasting and serving beans: Ben also runs Java Joe’s Coffee + Espresso Equipment Service, fixing and selling machines throughout New England and New York.
The passion was there — good food and drink, good location, community goodness — and the niche didn’t seem to be filled, so the Waterbury Breakfast Club was born.
At some Sunday events, Travis Beto of OPEN Community Acupuncture sets up a treatment station. Both Jeremy and Georgia are proponents of the therapy — it’s helped them sleep better, feel better, recover from the raw physicality of creating pottery or carrying heavy trays for hours.
“I’m coming back to what I live and breathe,” Georgia said. “These events are exactly what I know how to do. Organize, curate, bring together.”
Homestead, past and future
Georgia’s been interested in health and healing since high school, studying nutrition and alternative medicine in Burlington and at the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies in Colorado. She studied acupuncture and midwifery, became a doula, did prerequisite courses for nursing, and taught home economics. Through all of her studies and practices, she waited tables, always an anchor.
Georgia, 37, and Jeremy, 43, met as roommates in Burlington in the early 2000s and built a life from there.
They moved to the Ayers family homestead at Elm Street a few years later, assisting Jeremy’s 90-something grandfather, Gleason “Gus” Ayers.
On Aug. 28, 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene hit, it was deja vu for Gus, who weathered the flood of 1927 at age 10. Once again he decamped to higher ground — Thatcher Brook Primary School, both times — this time flanked by Georgia and Jeremy and their infant son.
The Winooski River rose again, several feet of dark, swirling water filling the streets of Waterbury. Jeremy’s pottery equipment was destroyed.
But after, as residents know well, the community rallied; life continued and rebuilding began.
The big barn at 18 Elm had always been a place for family stuff and storage — across the street, the brick building now home to Craft Beer Cellar was once the Ayerses’ hardware store — and the carriage barn was just a garage, Georgia said. After the flood, they renovated, big time.
Today, the house has three suites, home to Georgia and Jeremy and the boys, an aunt and an Airbnb apartment, and the carriage barn houses Jeremy’s studio as well as a full-time tenant and another Airbnb rental space.
“This is the first time I’ve had a studio with an attached gallery,” Jeremy said. “The full story of my work is here.”
When Georgia and Jeremy had children, balancing a day job and day care was difficult, so Georgia took a risk and decided to stay home during the day, working nights as a server. Now she works at Prohibition Pig, a literal stone’s throw from their property.
“I absolutely love it,” Georgia said. “Flexibility … and now I’m working on this passion project. It allows me to work on that and still make an income.”
Their two sons, Weston, now 6, and Fletcher, 7 and a half, attend Thatcher Brook Primary School. They help out for Sunday brunch events, moving wicker furniture and setting up their substantial Lego collection in a tent for visiting children.
Families can come and wander the property, listen to live music and sample food and drink in the communal oasis.
“We love the busyness” of the location, Georgia said. “We love that there are tourists up and down the street.”
“This is life. Just slowing down, connecting, eating and drinking,” she said. “That’s it.”
This Saturday, a different kind of food event will come to the courtyard at 18 Elm St. Casella Waste Systems will set up a large dumpster in front of the studio, but it’s not intended for cleanup — 16 people will sit inside it, at a custom-built table surrounded by starry string lights, to enjoy an upscale, six-course vegetarian meal.
The Salvage Supperclub was conceived by graphic designer Josh Treuhaft, first as a thesis project called “Eat Everything” at the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
A private property in little Waterbury is a departure from past urban locations — a sidewalk in San Francisco or an alley in Brooklyn — but Becky Colley went to school with Treuhaft, and the Vermont potential is duck soup.
There’s no meat on the menu, but produce and products donated by Pete’s Greens, Elmore Mountain Bread and Red Hen Bakery, Hunger Mountain Co-op, the Vermont Juice Co., Ploughgate Creamery, Salvation Farms and more will be whipped into a feast by Prohibition Pig’s sous chef Frank Stellato.
“Every day we’re pickling, making sauces, purees, shredding and vacuum sealing food to save it for next week,” Georgia said. “All the food that we get, it’s not like I’m picking it out of dumpsters or compost. We’re not doing any dumpster diving.”
ReSOURCE has donated vintage plates and glassware, and reclaimed wood that Georgia’s father is building into a custom deck, table and benches. Drink pairings will include offerings from Zero Gravity Craft Brewery and the brand-new Vergennes-based UnEarthed Spirits.
Von Trapp Farmstead will provide misshapen but still delicious — and perfectly safe to eat — makings of an “ugly cheese board,” Georgia said, and she’s learning to spruce up carrots by recrisping them in cold water, use the leafy tops of vegetables and see past ingredients’ imperfect exterior.
“It’s like, the leaves on the cabbage were spotty. … But you just peel three layers, and it’s perfectly perfect,” Georgia said. “It’s the consumer eye. I get it; I’m that way. But through this dinner I’m learning how to be a better consumer.”