EAST BERKSHIRE – For the past two years, Pine Cone Snack Bar owner Melissa Bonnette has ended her season on Labor Day, because business dies down just before school starts.
Expect the same this summer.
“The first year we owned this business, we had such good weather that we stayed open until Columbus Day, thinking the fall foliage would bring out the customers,” Melissa said, while seated in a knotted-wood booth at the Pine Cone.
That was in 2007, when Melissa and her late husband, Bill, became the seventh owners of the 40-year-old Pine Cone, a classic, roadside food-and-creemee joint that offers joyful, tasty, summer fun. As the menu says: “Dine in. Eat outside. Get it to go.”
“That’s what this place is really known for,” Melissa said. “You come here, and you eat outside.”
For starters, there are poppers, fried mushrooms and boneless Buffalo wings. The menu also contains a wide array of sandwiches, burgers, wraps, platters and dinners. (Don’t forget to wash it down with a creemee.)
What’s off the menu is also popular at Pine Cone. The property covers 10 acres and features monthly car shows during the summer; an 18-hole mini-golf course; a small playground; and a few furry friends: four llamas (Musetta, Trillion, Melody, and Sebastian) and one Alpaca (named Hippy).
The Bonnettes previously owned a 20-acre farm in West Virginia; they had 48 goats and 15 llamas at one point. When they eventually settled in Vermont, they scaled down on their number of animals.
“They were a novelty, here, and I guess they still are,” Melissa said. “Lots of people pull up and ask, ‘Where are the llamas? Where are the llamas?’”
Bill Bonnette was a Richford native who died of cancer in 2011, at 67. He eventually wanted to return home, while he and his family lived in West Virginia, Melissa said. They had been summering in Vermont when they decided to buy the Pine Cone from Tammy and Ron Larose, Bill’s nephew.
“It’s been fun for me,” Melissa said. “I never in my life had anything to do with the restaurant business before this.” She had been in clerical work for 25 years. “That certainly helped with the business end of things,” she said.
Melissa has 17 employees and two assistant managers: Mary Boudreau and Mike Marshia.
“The Pine Cone is just a fun, family-type atmosphere,” Melissa said.
Melissa is 56 and has one grown child, age 30, and a 2-year-old grandchild in Mississippi. With the right offer, she would consider selling the Pine Cone, she said, but she is not actively seeking a buyer.
“I’m happy with it right now,” she said. “Right now, I’m going to keep it.”