BROOKFIELD — Lee Duberman and Richard Fink have owned and operated Ariel’s Restaurant on the shore of Sunset Lake for 21 years. While their respective skills as chef and sommelier have sharpened in that time, their energy level has gradually diminished. Now, they say, it is time to abandon Vermont winters, acrimonious politics and unaffordable health care. It is time to pack up personal items (including Bailey, the little black dog; Noah, their teenaged son; and Duberman’s knife kit) and head where the weather is temperate throughout the year.
The restaurant will be closing for good after dinner service on Sept. 24. The couple’s future lies central Mexico.
“It is difficult to contain the profound mix of emotions related to this decision. We will deeply miss this magical restaurant and community. We want to write our last chapter with grace,” said Fink, “not wait until people say, ‘it’s about time!’
“The Brookfield community is amazing,” added Fink. “The newly renovated town hall is hosting yoga classes, literary readings, and wine and food tastings as well as other activities that bring the community together. We would prefer selling to another restaurant rather than having it turned into a home. For 21 years, the business has grown and has been enough to afford us a living and make a little profit while we did what we loved. Most people complain about becoming more isolated and looking for some sort of grounding and authenticity. That’s what we’ve had here for a long time.”
Ariel’s is listed on Zillow. The property features three bedrooms, a full bath upstairs (family living quarters) and 1/2 bath downstairs in the restaurant, for a total of 2,950 square feet. The selling price includes all restaurant equipment, a two-tap beer system, a music system, the location near the famous floating bridge, and a piano — all for $265,000.
Before opening Ariel’s, Duberman and Fink were instructors at New England Culinary Institute and owned two other restaurants.
Fink attributes their success to “a lot of talent and a wonderful community. Lee’s cooking is recognized as some of the best in the region. That is a huge draw. A very charming and picturesque location and very consistently putting the best product we can possibly put on a table for 20 years. Consistency, talent, and a smart business model — those have been the key.”
Their location across the road from the Green Trails Inn (which does not offer meals) and the rebuilding of the floating bridge also affected them in a positive way, he added.
When they started vacationing in San Miguel de Allende in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico 17 years ago, they had no idea that they would ever plan on moving there permanently. Yet, every year they have found themselves drawn back to the ex-pat community which is an integral part of the fabric of the city. Gradually, the couple’s conversational Spanish has improved.
The couple plans to run a small bed and breakfast in this artist community that was founded in the 1920s and 1930s and hosted many soldiers returning from World War II who were able to finance an arts education through the GI Bill. In later years, the soldier-artists often returned with their families and put down roots. Other tourists traveled through the city on the way to Mexico City, then fell in love with the location and returned to settle there.
In their new home, a bed and breakfast they have named “Ariel’s at Casa Papaya,” they plan to become a culinary tourism site, hosting dinners once or twice a week along with market and winery tours, and featuring rooftop sunsets. “I enjoy vistas,” Fink said, “Lee likes to be near water. The location of the B&B affords us both.”
Duberman added, “Casa Papaya has not yet been set up as a business, although its former owners ran it as a successful B&B for a few years, ending in 2014. We will revitalize it, and add occasional dinners on the roof, cooking classes in our big eat-in kitchen, and culinary tourism, hosting groups from all over, hopefully including some of our most passionate clientele from Vermont. Since we’ve been going there for 16 years, we know many of the best restaurants, organic farms, cheese makers and bakers in San Miguel, and we’d love to introduce our Ariel’s family to our San Miguel family!”
Reservations for the remaining weeks will be limited to 30 patrons per evening to allow the owners to maintain their equanimity, accommodate realtors during the day, and prepare for the move.