Culinary collaboration: Manchester Bookery cafe gets new owner-operator in Puskarich

Plus Birdfood Baking Co. brings the sweet stuff.

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From left, bookstore manager Jasmin Brooks, owner Liz Hitchcock and Tom Puskarich, who recently took over Bookery’s cafe operations. Photo/Brittany Grimes

MANCHESTER, NH – Tom Puskarich, the owner of Tulip Hospitality companies, Restoration Cafe and the vegan ghost kitchen Good and Planty, has taken over the cafe at The Bookery in Manchester, and he plans on making some changes.

Puskarich signed a five-year lease for the front counter and kitchen space in the back of the downtown bookstore and started operating the cafe at the beginning of September. Before that, Bookery owner Liz Hitchcock said the store has been managing the cafe since it opened in 2018.

Hitchcock said they’re excited to bring Puskarich on board to manage the day-to-day and raise up the quality of the cafe.

“We’re super excited to announce it to the community now,” Hitchcock said. “His level of food is exactly where I want to be. A little bit nicer than your typical sub shop but also quick and easy to grab … like a sub shop.”

So far, Puskarich has switched out point-of-sale systems (from Toast to Square) and replaced beer and wine taps with local cold brews. Beer and wine are currently unavailable until he obtains a liquor license. 

It will be branded the Cafe at The Bookery, with the word ‘cafe’ in the signature font of Restoration Cafe.

Hitchcock said Puskarich consulted on the design of the kitchen and the concept of the cafe in the very beginning. But in the years that followed the quality of the menu offerings became inconsistent and the concept slipped from the “elevated” cafe idea with specialty items like fresh-baked donuts, soups and artisanal breads to more basic fare like barbecue chicken sandwiches and paninis, according to Hitchcock.

“There’s been many iterations on it, and it’s been kinda one of the sticky parts,” Hitchcock said of the cafe. “Running a restaurant is extremely hard.”

The original chef had health issues and stepped down before the pandemic struck, after which the bookstore maintained a temporary partnership with Steve Freeman, the owner of Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop. Hitchcock said she realized they needed to find someone who could take over the cafe and started having discussions with other potential operators.

By early July, she had approached Puskarich with the idea of stepping in, which she said was a natural fit since he helped design it.

“I said ‘Oh my gosh Tom would be one of my absolute dreams come true,’” Hitchcock said.

Tom Puskarich extends his culinary reach at the Bookery Cafe. Photo/Brittany Grimes

Puskarich was too busy with Restoration Cafe in the summer but agreed to take on the cafe in the fall.

Eventually, Puskarich said he hopes to reinstate the original concept with quality donuts and soups and is feeling out other potential items to add to the menu. The goal is to make the cafe its own destination to drive incidental traffic for the bookstore, just as the bookstore drives traffic for the cafe.

“We wanted to create a destination sort of like ‘I want to come to this cafe because it has the best X, Y and Z,’” Puskarich said.

Two new items on the menu are homemade cinnamon rolls and cookies made by Trina Bird of Bird Food Baking Co. in Goffstown, sold exclusively through the cafe, according to Puskarich.

He said there’s a lot of synergy between the two businesses, and he hopes to help make it a cool hang-out space, remote workspace or event space when people feel safe again amid the ongoing pandemic.

Birdfood Baking Co. is now delivering the (baked) goods to the Bookery. You’ll need to devour these cinnamon rolls for your own good. Photo/Brittany Grimes

Puskarich also hopes to offer canned beers from local breweries like To Share Brewing and Great North Aleworks in Manchester, once he gets his liquor license, as well as retail some whole bean coffee from local roasteries like A&E Coffee & Tea of Amherst, Flight Coffee Co. of Bedford and Hometown Coffee Roasters of Manchester.

Puskarich opened Restoration Cafe in The Flats apartment building in Manchester in December 2016. He also operated a meal prep delivery service using the back kitchen called Your Personal Chef, which wound down in February 2020. 

Restoration Cafe started as a simple coffee shop and expanded its menu offerings over the years, such as breakfast and lunch items, healthy grain bowls and smoothies.

The company grew from three to four employees in the first year to 15 today, between Restoration Cafe and the Cafe at The Bookery. 

Good and Planty is a ghost kitchen that offers vegan meals made at Restoration Cafe sold through delivery apps like DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats.