Johnny Helzer took the circuitous route to Peg and Ter’s, the restaurant he and his wife, Tina, recently opened in Shelburne. “I grew up in Charlotte, went to CVU and UVM, spent some time working in the medical field in California, then lived in New York for a couple of years until I was finally able to convince my wife to move back to Vermont,” he explains, telling the story of the many who started life here on the shores of Lake Champlain and eventually ended up back home.
“I grew up in a home where there was an emphasis on food,” he says. “My mother is French and my dad was a true Francophile. They loved to cook and they loved to eat” is how he tells the story of his early influences. “Whenever we traveled, the day was always planned around what we were going to eat,” he says. The same was true of Tina’s parents, Peg and Ter, for whom the restaurant is named. “Our hope is to embody their spirit here,” Johnny says, describing his in-laws who passed away 15 years ago. “They loved to entertain, they were the perfect hosts in their Greenwich, Connecticut home.”
While he was living in New York Johnny took classes to earn his Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certification. He worked in a wine shop, a cheese shop and a wine bar. “I wanted to pursue my passion for food and wine,” he says. “I went full steam into the food world.” Then, when the couple and their two young daughters (They now have three—their third daughter was born this past January, two weeks after they bought the restaurant building.) moved to Vermont in 2016, Johnny went to work for Dedalus Wine Shop and Bar in Burlington. “It was at a time when they were opening in a new location,” he explains, “so I got to learn that whole process and I made a lot of great connections in the wine and food world here.”
“Every day I would pass the empty Café Shelburne building,” he says. “The Greek restaurant that had been there had closed down and it was so empty and sad, in a state of disrepair.” The couple imagined what it could be; they knew they wanted to start some kind of business, “and we knew we wanted it to be in the town where we live.” Thus Peg and Ter’s was born.
The restaurant opened on June 26 and has been running full-tilt since then. Jesse Luberoff manages the bar, overseeing with ease and expertise the spirits, cocktails and beer. “He not only makes a great cocktail,” Johnny says, “he can tell you everything about it, too.”
Johnny oversees all of the wine bought and sold and Corey Perkins is the magician in the kitchen. Most recently at the exclusive Twin Farms Resort in Barnard, Vermont, Perkins now does all the food at Peg and Ter’s, including the desserts, the area he majored in in cooking school. Tina takes care of the business end of things: accounting, payroll, human resources. “We have a great professional team here,” Helzer says, “and things are going really smoothly.”
“It feels great,” he says, “it’s really satisfying to see the community’s response, to see everyone enjoying this space.” A space that meant a lot to Helzer when he was young “and my folks would bring us here for special occasions.”
“We love the soul of this building,” he says, “it’s got great history and it’s been a joy to renovate and reinvigorate this place.”
Located across the street from Shelburne Museum, Peg and Ter’s is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Their menu can be viewed on their website.