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When you enter Herb's Country Deli & Restaurant off of Route 32 in Uncasville, the first thing you might notice is a window looking into the kitchen.
The restaurant's founder, Herb Plotnick, wanted a window for two reasons: to make food service faster (you don't have to open a door to deliver a dish to wait staff) and so he could talk to people while he cooked.
Herb knows everyone, family members say.
Herb, 84, started the restaurant 40 years ago, and 25 years ago added Herb's Country Store next door. While he has stepped into the background and works more as a consultant for the business, the restaurant and store remain in the hands of family.
Herb earned his first stripes in food service by selling farm products door to door both as a teenager and as a young man, after returning from his service in the army.
Having grown up in a farming family in Montville, Herb said he was able to avoid the service for a time "because I was feeding the country, so to speak."
During his time in the army in the 1950s, Herb ran commissaries in Germany. His work selling food at the commissaries also helped him gain the know-how he needed to start a restaurant.
The store, where Herb can be found sitting in a corner ready to talk to customers in an instant, mostly sells organic products and products from local farms. Vermont products are also popular.
"You take care of the local people and they come back," said Herb.
His son Jeff Plotnick runs the store with him. His daughter Ellen Curtin and his grandson David Ravenelle run the restaurant, and his wife Frances Plotnick works the deli register on Sundays. Frances worked as a school teacher for 30 years while Herb ran the restaurant, and now works for the Pequot Museum.
On Tuesday last week, Curtin darted table to table at the restaurant, taking orders from a mix of new and regular customers. Ravenelle hustled in the kitchen, whipping up a blend of diner fare classics and the restaurant's own specialties.
"Family businesses, you know, can be tough," said Curtin. She said customer satisfaction makes for a fine reward.
Ravenelle said that customers sometimes expect the kind of speed you'd find at a chain restaurant or fast food joint. He said it can be a challenge when cooking from scratch to keep up with the flow of people - "line out the door" on weekends - but that ultimately the challenge is worth it.
"I just wanna keep it going," said Ravenelle. "Do it another 40 years."
He said the family hopes to eventually expand restaurant hours to include dinner. The restaurant currently closes at 2 p.m.
Regulars say they come in for the food. On this Tuesday as the lunch hour wound down, married couple Rich and Julie Megenedy, who live primarily in Florida, sat eating lunch. The two started coming to the restaurant about five years ago after buying a summer home in Montville.
"The food's great, it's homey, everybody that works here is so nice," said Julie.
Diagonal to them sat former Leonard J. Tyl Middle School band director Amy Stoodt, who said she'd been coming to the restaurant since she was a teenager, which was not too long after the place opened. She said that since retiring three years ago, she frequents the restaurant with her husband a few times a week
She commented that the Montville Lions used to meet regularly at Herb's. Herb said he was a member of the Lions for 52 years.
"It's a meeting place," Stoodt said.