PITTSFORD — Don and Donna Pelton were sick of the corporate world.
“We were both numbers, not people,” said Donna.
Don, who is 64 and originally from Ascutney, had worked for almost 40 years in the convenience/fast food industry in many positions from manager, to upper management, and was even involved in the building of stores. Donna, 56, and from Claremont, New Hampshire, had worked with Don for 10 years, then moved on to manage Kohl’s department store.
“When the company called me on the phone and called me by a number, instead of my name,” Don recalled, “I said, ‘That’s it, I’ve had enough.’”
At that point, the Peltons started looking around for properties to start a restaurant; something they always had wanted to do. Raising five kids, Donna had plenty of practice cooking large meals.
“We wanted to have a place that was affordable,” Don said. “Somewhere a family of five or six could go out to eat. We couldn’t afford that raising five kids.”
They found the place they were looking for by accident.
“We were looking for something small,” Don said. “Like a pizza place or something.”
They were on the way through Pittsford to look at another building when they found what is now the Country House restaurant.
“I loved the old building, the feeling of Vermont,” Don said. “The stained glass, the wood, it was all so Vermont old-style. After 15 minutes, we fell in love.”
There was a lot of work to do on the building. Long-time Pittsford residents may remember when the building was home to Sawdi’s Steakhouse until 2002, then as Delvecchio’s for a couple of years before it too closed in 2006. The building sat empty until the Peltons bought it in 2014.
“It was on the verge of being condemned,” Don said. “You could see the sky through the ceiling.”
Don was told it would take three months to fix all the problems the building had, but he said, “Nope. I told them we’d do it in six weeks. We opened in seven.”
The Peltons had to replace all the electrical, plumbing and fixtures as well as installing new doors and windows. Don said it was more work and money than they had planned, but they also repaved the parking lot and replaced the heating systems and the roof. The opened the doors and served their first customers in 2014, seven weeks after buying the building and beginning the repairs.
Donna may be from New Hampshire, but she shares with her husband a real Vermont attitude of getting things done right, the first time. The Peltons still do nearly all of the work in the kitchen themselves.
“Don does all the prep and the paperwork,” Donna said. “I do all of the baking and most of the cooking.”
Don said they do have some help with the pizzas, and they have two waitresses, but other than that, it’s just them.
The Country House is open six days a week, as the Peltons take Monday off. They are open from 11a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. They have a brisk business for dinner, often hosting busloads of school kids passing through town after athletic events.
“We had one bus and everyone wanted mashed potatoes,” Donna said. “I peeled a 50-pound bag of potatoes for that.”
Nearly all of the food they serve is made from scratch, and fresh whenever possible. In fact, Donna has a blackberry and raspberry bush growing behind the kitchen, as well as two apple trees and a grapevine. She also plants butternut squash in the spring. She made Don buy her another freezer to go along with the original one just to keep fruits that she uses for her desserts.
“I use the lunch hours to do all my baking,” Donna said. “I like it when it’s hectic in here, though. I like to keep busy and I like making people happy.”
Don agreed with his wife that making people happy was his favorite part of the job, but added, “It’s also the most difficult part of the job.”
Don said business has been a little slow for the past 12 months, but he will not reduce the quality of the food he serves just to make an extra buck.
“We’ve hired chefs before, but they always want to take a shortcut or deviate from recipes,” Don said. “When we deviate, we suffer. We went back to basics and we’re going to keep it that way. We want people to feel like they are coming home to eat. That’s why we say the Country House is your home.”
Don said that he and Donna have talked about selling the place in the past, but never have. “What would we do?” Don said. “This is our home.”