Burnett's Country Gardens in Salem plans to add a café that serves gourmet food

Salem - Burnett's Country Gardens may be adding a café that serves local and organic foods, but first they will have to succeed in changing zoning regulations.

The garden center's owner, Todd Burnett, said he is hoping to open a gourmet and specialty foods market along with a small café in the space previous occupied by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

The Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled an Aug. 27 public hearing to allow resident feedback on the changes proposed by Burnett.

The district is currently zoned to allow a garden center, and the language changes would allow a garden center to prepare, sell and serve food items in a café setting.

By using language that allows the café only as a subordinate use in a garden center, the changes would not allow fast food restaurants or other unwanted businesses to move into the area, explained Town Planner Richard Serra at two Planning and Zoning meetings this month.

Burnett envisions the café associated with a market that would offer produce grown at his farm or by other local growers. He also plans to sell other local products, such as cheese from dairy farms in the region.

Opening such a market in the former Habitat for Humanity space would require extensive remodeling, said Burnett. Storing food instead of furniture will require air conditioning, among other updates.

The local, organic foods would be used to prepare a menu of smoothies, wraps, sandwiches, and paninis in the proposed café, said Burnett. He sees the restaurant as small, with no table service and selling food primarily for take-out.

Burnett said that while the garden center may hire additional staff to help with food preparation, some current employees would likely be involved in the project as well.

"We have people on staff who are very knowledgeable about organic foods," he explained.

If Burnett's proposed changes are approved, the Planning and Zoning Commission will have to sign off on his site plan. They'll review details such as the number of seats and parking spaces associated with the business.

In addition to the market and café, Burnett has other changes in mind for Burnett's Country Gardens. He hopes to renovate the building, which is currently a greenhouse, to change its appearance and add upgrades such as air conditioning.

Burnett said he will be hiring an architect and is hoping to create a more "rustic" environment by remodeling. He said he is considering using features such as exposed beams to bring the store more in line with what he sees as a farmers market type of business.

Burnett reopened the Route 85 garden center, which once belonged to his parents, in March. David and Cheryl Burnett first opened the garden center as Salem Country Gardens in 1983 and sold it in 1998. The company went through a series of owners before it was foreclosed upon for non-payment of real estate taxes.

Todd Burnett bought the property in a foreclosure auction last year.



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