FAIR HAVEN — A “kinder way” sometimes means a different direction. The Kinder Way Café will sling its last cup of coffee in its cozy downtown shop on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” owner Mark Gutel said. “I think we really started something. The Kinder Way wasn’t just a restaurant. It was a movement, and it’s still going on. It’s all about what we promote: kindness and goodness.”
Instead, Gutel said, the Kinder Way is sprouting an axle and hitch. Locals will see the Kinder Way on wheels around Fair Haven and maybe at farmers’ markets throughout the state thanks to the donation of a mobile food trailer from Green Mountain College President Robert Allen.
“I don’t know where we’d be if it weren’t for him,” Gutel said.
A year and a half ago, the Gutels hauled their family and animals from Colorado to Vermont, bought a farm and threw open their doors, ready to push the locavore movement to new heights.
But opening a restaurant and keeping it afloat, as any business owner knows, is not the easiest thing in the world, and after funneling $50,000 to $75,000 to develop their café’s identity, the Gutels decided against putting more money in.
The Gutels also operate a 300-occupant nonprofit farm animal sanctuary in Benson, which includes more than 200 chickens and ducks, a cow, four pot-bellied pigs, five dogs, five cats, goats and horses. They are looking forward to possibly erecting some yurts on their 20 acres of land for a future Airbnb and wellness retreats.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Gutel said. “We gave this town everything we had for a year and a half. Literally.”
Running the café, despite the fact that Mark Gutel and his wife, Erika, work together, pushed them further from each other and from their family, and they say they’re both looking forward to downsizing and spending more time as a unit.
“Every single board we put up in here was us,” Mark Gutel said. “It’s heart-wrenching to tear it down, but at the same time, it’s cleansing ... I want to spend time with my kids. I want to spend time with my wife.”
Though lunch rushes and big orders made running the little café a bit hectic, friends the Gutels made in their first year running the restaurant inspired them to create the best quality food they could, sourcing local and organic ingredients for sandwiches and locally-roasted coffee.
“That was worth it,” Gutel said of his customers’ smiles. “I’m not going anywhere.”
On the horizon, Gutel said he recently passed his entrance exam for police training, moving closer toward his childhood dream, and will continue to serve as a local volunteer firefighter.
The Gutels said they hope for a time when people can drive up to various Kinder Way Coffee Cabins, because wherever they are needed, the Gutels said they identify first with the service they can provide for others.
“Me being tied down to one place?” Gutel said. “That’s hard for me. I want to be out there, helping people.”
The venue’s new occupant is one of the Kinder Way Café’s customers, Gutel said, and the farming family wishes them the best of luck with whatever use they make of the 87 Main St. location.
“It’s a place to see a smiling face,” said Durkee Insurance employee Erica Heibler, who comes to the café at least once a day, and said she likes to joke with the Gutels about being vegetarian.
Heibler said now, without the Kinder Way Café, she’s taking her business to McDonald’s.