Nuni hangs up her apron: Dorset Inn server retires after 32 years
DORSET — After 50 years in the service industry, Nuni will soon write down her last order at the longest-running inn in Vermont.
Nuni will celebrate 32 years at The Dorset Inn at her retirement party Tuesday. Steven Bryant of the Vermont Hospitality Collection, the group that owns the venerable inn said he's expecting more than 200 guests, from local friends and well-wishers to those traveling to Dorset just to wish Nuni well.
What's her last name? Don't ask. She goes by Nuni. And no one — not even Bryant — will budge on that point. But her real name almost doesn't matter because everyone in Dorset, and probably everyone who's stayed at the Dorset Inn the past 32 years, knows who Nuni is.
Through every holiday and busy season, Nuni could be found at the inn's tavern, making customers laugh while delivering the signature dishes served at Vermont's oldest continually operating inn.
"My motor nerves in my legs aren't 100 percent," she said after having spinal cord surgery a few years back. "They're just not what they used to be. Now, I'm lucky I'm walking."
In 1969, Nuni moved to Vermont from Connecticut to learn how to ski. She landed work at the Birkenhaus at Stratton Mountain — a small Austrian restaurant — and stayed on for 18 years. She said she would work nonstop from Thanksgiving until Easter and then she'd live in Austria for the next six months or so, with a month's break in between, consistently for 12 years.
"I was the only American there," she said. "That's where I learned the hotel business. [In Austria] I was up in the mountains in a hut. I could go hiking every day. It was great."
She said some Birkenhaus customers traveled down to Dorset when they weren't skiing or snowboarding and discovered the Inn — which is how she found out about it.
"It wasn't a problem, I fit right in," Nuni said.
Nuni got along with Sissy Hicks, former chef and owner, who bought The Dorset Inn in 1983 and ran it for 25 years. Nuni has built up a clientele and even influenced changes to the menu.
"I could read the customer. I knew what they wanted," she said. "I trained my customers how to be a customer."
In 2008, Bryant bought The Dorset Inn and Hicks moved north to open her own business. The Vermont Hospitality Collection also includes Barrows House, The Publyk House, Dorset Rising, Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Lake House and the Old Gray Barn.
"Nuni is a classic at the institution," Bryant said. "We expect her to do guest appearances as a hostess on a regular basis. She's well-loved and respected by all."
Nuni said no to the corporate world to become a full-time server. She decided it wasn't for her after realizing how much she enjoyed being outside. Having all day to herself before a dinner shift was ideal.
"I come in and do my work and come home," she said. "I could support myself."
Before her surgery, Nuni relished in regular tennis matches and hiking. She climbed mountains all over southern Vermont and had a goal of being a 46er — someone who climbs all 46 peaks in the Adirondacks. Upon retiring, she plans to visit family for reunions and Thanksgiving and Christmas — something she hasn't done at all in her time as a server.
One thing she'll miss the most about being at the Inn is having meals cooked for her.
"I have to learn all this ... how to budget money and cook," she said. "People learn this at 20 and I have to learn at 72."
It's clear Nuni doesn't want her serving days to end; the Inn family has become her own. But she knows her body won't allow her to continue.
"I thought they'd have to carry me out in a box," Nuni said with a chuckle. "That's what I always thought would happen."
Makayla-Courtney McGeeney is a frequent Southern Vermont Landscapes contributor.
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