A roadside burger boy at heart, Diner Dan is a sucker for dining depots which scream out to come in, which evoke frolic and fun, and which serve only the highest quality beef in a tasty bundle. The town of Wilmington on east-west Route 9 boasts such a burger bastion...Wahoo's Eatery. Since it's Wahoo's tenth birthday, it seems only fitting to pay 'em a visit. Hop in and buckle up. Yahoo, we're off to Wahoo's!
Wilmington is the geographical fulcrum of southern Vermont, on Route 9 half way between Brattleboro and Bennington is niched at the junction of Route 100 north through the Deerfield Valley. On a bucolic hillock in the eastern periphery of town, the white House Inn creates a stately ambiance. Below its spacious grounds, a quorum of cars packs a road-side lot by a bray stand. These folks were enticed by a road sin featuring a caricatured little burger with animate eyes, spatula in cartooned hand, and a BLT mouth - the logo of Wahoo's Eatery.
Wahoo's itself is a picturesque slice of Vermont. It sits on a sizeable, carefully mowed and raked parcel of land with rivulet, tree line and verdant hills in the background. There are flower tubs and cuttings for gardening fans, mirthful fixtures (like giant jungle gym chair), and, most importantly, real good eats! A tidy, well-designed food stand fluidly handles customers. Folks casually sidle over to order, pickup, return and ice cream windows
Wahoo's Eatery is the culinary brain-child of Adam Grinold and two old pals, Chad Lackey and Andrew Palumbo. This capable trio grew up together in Wilmington and retuned to form a partnership. Though they've long outgrown their business union, they remain as tight as ever.
Adam admitted to an average, uninspired high school academic career but achieved with honors while a history/education major at Castleton College. There he met future wife Karen, then in her nurses training program, now a respected RN at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
Though he primed for a teaching career, Adam returned home after college to mow lawns, bartend and pursue odd jobs. He eventually managed the Whlte House Inn for his dad, Bob Grinold, and refined his own business acumen and food service knowledge. He was also insightful enough to buy a home with his two buddies, establishing equity and paving the way for a future family.
A decade ago, the popular owner of Creemee Ice Cream Stand in Wilmington sold the business to a fuel mart, creating a local void in the burger/ice cream trade. Perceptively, Adam and pals united to fill that void, but with an entirely new menu. They were committed to serving the absolute finest burgers, wraps, friends and shakes possible at a reasonable fare. They first opened in a trailer, which was prophetic for their late careers.
The mantra of Wahoo's is "Quality Burger, Quality Bun, Quality Help!" All their beef, poultry and pork products are grass-0fed, native to Vermont, Tomatoes, lettuce, condiments et al are all locally grown, most purchased at Blue Mountain Produce on Route 100 North. You'll find no frozen items at Wahoo's, everything is ground fresh. Burgers are succulent and tailored to taste. The options are numerous, my two favorites assuming the middle names of Adam and Karen's kids, Owen (8) and Grace (4). Wahoo's offered wraps long before the folded finger food mainstreamed American restaurants. And Wahoo's ice cream---boasts the highest butterfat available. The perfect dish for portly Diner Don!
To anchor your travel plans, Wahoo's Eatery is open a few weeks before memorial Day through early foliage. The food stand has captured a loyal following of locals and folks from afar. Since New England has few east-west corridors, wayfarers establish bonds with fine fooderies on the road. I'm amazed by the number of coastal and mid-western people I've met who have sampled Wahoo's fare.
Okay, okay...you're dying to know: from where did the title "Wahoo" come? According to Adam, he was sailing in the Caribbean and moored at a colorful indigenous eatery called "Wahoo's." The name stayed with him, enhanced by the rhyming popularity of "Yahoo." It seemed a terrific handle for his new Vermont stand. Little did he know that a potential business roadblock lay ahead 0 a chain of expanding restaurants in California named "Wahoo" with an inherent dislike for anyone who filched their title. If Adam were to grow beyond Wilmington, he would necessarily have to claim a new name. Herein lay the origin of "ZooHoo's Eatery."
When Adam and crew began Wahoo's operation, they had an underpinned plan to create a "Fast-Casual Restaurant Franchise." It just came to fruition. Ten years ago there was no such thing as a mobile-food franchise, even today there are only four such companies. The goal is to enable the right franchisee to enter the food trade inexpensively in an appealing, comprehensively equipped trailer.
With an investment range of $69,000 to $169,000, an owner purchases one of the two aesthetically designed trailer packages. The semi-permanent style features a 24' tailer equipped with a 36" griddle, 24" charbroiler, two friolators, 22-cubic-foot freezer/refrigerator, hood, water tank, heater, etc. the "Weekend Warrior" is smaller, around 16-feet, and is ideal for trekking to fairs and special events.
The franchisee must, of course, maintain the precise menu, service mode, cleanliness standards and cooking methods as manifest at Wahoo's. They must also purchase food stuffs at approved vendors and observe stipulated business plan, record and sales methods. 4 1/2 percent of sales are remitted to ZooHoo's.
In return, Adam and ZooHoo agents will provide in depth training and orientation. The franchisee will be totally versed in all legal, contractual, food quality, service and sales record expectations. After all, ZooHoo wants and needs the franchisee to succeed! These are truly conscientious folds; Adam is a past president of the Chamber of Commerce and a library trustee and wife Karen server on the Wilmington Planning Board.
As for Wahoo's future, Adam wants to keep it as is. Wahoo's Eatery is more than a grounded example for ZooHoo Franchisees, it represents the life and vitality of Adam Grinold, his family and friends. As he bid farewell to me and started back toward the stand to work the grill, I sensed Adam's pride in product and accomplishment. Stop by and bring your appetite. You'll return to Wahoo's often.