By Caitlin V. Reidy
“We’re back.” These are the words from Gabi Bennet, upcoming co-owner of the revitalized, rebranded, and reborn Mountain Barn, which will be now known as “The Barn” in Princeton, MA.
The Mountain Barn in Princeton was a staple in town for nearly 40 years. However, like many restaurants during the Covid-19 era, staffing became difficult to find, and the family-owned site closed its doors about one year ago in 2021. With the end of the Mountain Barn era came a promise: An attempt to regroup and reopen when and if the timing was right.
The timing is now right, and a family tradition is being continued by mother and daughter team, Carla Zottoli (mother) and Gabi Bennet (daughter). Carla stated that she built The Mountain Barn with her father in the 1980s. They always referred to the restaurant as “The Barn,” so when the opportunity presented itself to bring this beloved staple back to town, Carla and Gabi embraced the challenge with open arms and with its old nickname etched in a new permanence.
“This place made me who I am,” Gabi stated. “I was raised at The Barn, my mom was pregnant with me here.”
Carla said that she and her father, Bill Zottoli, originally ran the restaurant for 17 years, since its establishment in 1983. Carla then leased the restaurant to her cousins, Steve and Mindy Zotolli, who continued the business for another 20 years. Treasured by many locals and out-of-town visitors, several regulars offered support and words of encouragement when The Mountain Barn was forced to shut its doors last year.
Gabi stated that though they’re rebranding the restaurant, The Barn will still have the same “family vibes,” community-feeling, and “nostalgic” presence that it’s always had. The same lantern from 1983 will still be hanging as a “nod to the past,” according to Gabi.
In addition to her family’s history at the restaurant, Gabi Bennet had another reason for wanting to continue The Barn; she met her now-husband there, and stated that she “wants to raise her own family in this place” as well.
According to Gabi, she met her husband in a “humorous way.” He had come in for dinner with his mother and family, and she stated that her current mother-in-law said that “she had a son in the bathroom that you [Gabi] should meet.” Gabi said that her current mother-in-law played “matchmaker,” and when Ryan (her now-husband) came out of the restroom, the two started talking, and it eventually ended in them tying the knot last year. It turns out that the two had crossed paths several times growing up, but had never formally met until they did so at the restaurant.
“This is a family place, but it’s also one where you never know who you’re sitting next to,” Carla added. “You might be sitting next to a CEO from a major company, or next to the kid who mows lawns from down the street.”
Carla also stated that as a safe and family-friendly restaurant and bar, The Barn, like its previous reputation, will be the type of place where “Moms can come in and get fun drinks,” and that it will not be “anyone’s last call.”
“Unless someone likes to ‘hit the hay’ at 8:00PM, it won’t be that type of last call,” Carla added, humorously.
Gabi said that the new menu will include food that is “locally and seasonally inspired.” There will be a curated wine list, draft beer, and seasoned cocktails as well.
“Food and drinks will be adjusted seasonally to showcase seasonal produce and to create a cool and different vibe,” Gabi said. “The framework will include a menu that remains the same 40% of the time, and one that changes 60% of the time to correspond with each season.” Gabi also said that there will be about 10-12 appetizers, a few different types of salads, and that some food would be “unusual, but approachable and elevated.”
“We love food, food contributes to a good quality of life, and quality of life is important,” Carla stated.
“We want to feed people the way we want to be fed,” Gabi agreed.
Carla and Gabi’s approach to a family setting and a good quality of life doesn’t stop in the dining room. Carla emphasized the importance of hiring a good chef to help “create a barn family.”
“We are going to hire a chef who can make excellent food and work well with others. There will be no shouters or animosity between the front and back of the restaurant. The Barn will be an all-around family place,” Carla emphasized.
“We hope to open at the end of this year,” Gabi stated. She stated that some materials have been difficult to order and receive because of gas prices and the current economic state, but the family is committed to opening in the upcoming months.
There have been a lot of renovations and upgrades in the last few months, some by a friendly and familiar face. Gabi stated that just a few weeks ago, her grandfather, “Bill Zottoli,” original co-owner and founder, was replacing a door in 105 degree weather.
“I told him he should take a breather and he just kept working,” Gabi stated. “He even brought a ruler because he doesn’t want to embrace the modern tape measure!”
Family, food, and culture is what The Mountain Barn was known for, and it’s what The Barn will continue to carry on in this new generation of owners. Along with Carla and Gabi, Gabi’s husband, Ryan, will also take on an active role in The Barn’s management and day to day functions. Though Princeton had to say goodbye to The Mountain Barn in the dark days of Covid, the same old lantern from 1983 will be lit to maintain the familiar sense of community and nostalgia in this old town’s staple restaurant.