by Tim Simard
The first thing one notices when entering The Hippie Chickpea is the tantalizing aroma of spices, cooked meats, and roasting vegetables. In an instant, you are transported from the sidewalks of Elm Street to a languid afternoon in a café on the Mediterranean coast.
That’s one of the main goals of owners and husband-and-wife team Vincent and Vania Muraco—to give Montpelier residents and visitors an experience they can’t get anywhere else in the area. While the menu offerings change almost daily, diners will always encounter traditional Mediterranean mainstays when they visit—falafel, gyros, baklava, and more.
“We looked around and realized there’s nowhere close by where you can get authentic Mediterranean food, and I’m the master of Mediterranean food. It looked like there was a need in town for something different,” says Vincent Muraco.
With Vincent’s Italian heritage always at the forefront of his culinary approach, the husband and wife team wanted to honor his background and focus on the flavors of Europe’s southern coast.
“I just love what I do. I’m Italian, so I want to cook for lots of people,” he says.
The Hippie Chickpea, which opened last week, is located in the same space as the former Banchan Korean restaurant, which closed in August. The Muracos jumped at the chance to open their own establishment. In just 12 days, they transformed the space into a small Mediterranean café.
“We had this goal and we just went for it,” says Vania Muraco. “We want to be a real neighborhood restaurant. So far, everyone keeps telling us how wonderful everything is.”
The owners are not rookies by any stretch when it comes to cooking and running restaurants. Vincent Muraco has nearly 20 years of experience working in and operating upscale restaurants from San Francisco to New York. When the family visited friends in Vermont two years ago, they knew immediately that they wanted to make the state their home. They were especially attracted to Vermont’s agricultural, farm-to-table, and sustainability culture.
The state’s agrarian philosophy carries through to The Hippie Chickpea’s menu. Almost everything is locally sourced and made from scratch. The Muracos have partnered with farms throughout Central Vermont and the Mad River Valley—such as Green Rabbit Bakery, Ploughgate Creamery, and the von Trapp Farmstead—to provide local ingredients.
“If you source everything locally, the quality is fresher, the flavors are better. Vermonters know this. They get why it’s so important to support local farms. They’re passionate about local businesses like ours,” says Vincent Muraco.
The Hippie Chickpea may only be a few days old, but The Muracos have big plans for the area and foresee opportunities to open other restaurants with different themes. In the meantime, the couple is making their mark on Montpelier and hopes to draw an enthusiastic local following. It also helps that their premier restaurant has such a memorable title.
“The Hippie Chickpea—it’s a fun name. You don’t forget it,” says Vincent with a smile.
The Hippie Chickpea is currently open five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 am to 7 pm for lunch and early dinner. The Muracos hope to be open seven days a week in the near future once they hire more staff.