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Ottauquechee Yacht Club: A Gathering Space For Everyone

Mar 18, 2024 08:41PM ● By Corey Burdick Photography By Lynn Bohannon

Kurt Lessard, Jona Tuck, John Knight.

The spot where the Ottauquechee Yacht Club (OYC) sits is historic. Once home to Spooners Dairy Barn and then Spooners Restaurant for 40 years, the space holds a lot of memories for those who visit. Jona Tuck and John Knight, a couple that possess impressive restaurant industry backgrounds acquired both in New York City and Vermont, opened the club in October 2023. The duo runs the day to day of the establishment, and Kurt Lessard of the Worthy Group is an equal partner in the venture. Kurt was a natural choice for collaboration since both Jona and John had worked with him at the Worthy Kitchen. However, the Ottauquechee Yacht Club is not part of the Worthy Group and is, in fact, a separate entity.

The name, Ottauquechee Yacht Club, was devised by John. The bar sits next to the Ottauquechee River and the yacht club addition “is a nod to the many bars and social clubs, especially on the east coast, that use ‘yacht club’ in their name but are actually just social clubs or old-fashioned drinking bars,” John explains. When one walks into the space, it’s hard to deny the nautical touches, but John notes that they tried not to do too much with the theme. Despite this, customers have really embraced it, even going so far as to bring them burgees, the identifying flags of a true yacht club.

Focusing on Customers

Although the restaurant has only been open a short time, it has quickly become a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to drop in for a post-work snack, to watch a weekend game, or to spend time in the game room with friends. There aren’t any servers at Ottauquechee, so patrons can seat themselves either at the bar or in one of the other rooms, one of which houses their indoor food truck, Sharky’s. At the bar, patrons have the full attention of the bartender who, since they aren’t running back and forth to the kitchen to tend to food orders, have the opportunity to focus on customers. One special note about the bar in particular is that bartender Erin Bell actually built the bar herself. Erin runs Curiosity Woodworks, where she has created a number of bars for local businesses as well as custom woodwork projects.

On the Perfect Path

John and Jona met while living in Brooklyn. Jona most notably worked at the Blind Tiger in the West Village and as it happens, one of the owners of the Blind Tiger is also a partner in the Worthy Group. Jona says, “When John and I married and moved to Vermont, I was able to help them open the Worthy Kitchen and worked there happily for eight years. Then we left to help care for some family members in my hometown of Atlanta. When we returned to Vermont, we began working at the Woodstock Inn & Resort for a couple years and Saskadena Six bar.”

John has an impressive hospitality background as well. After attending UVM, he owned a cafe in Burlington then moved to St. John in the Virgin Islands, where he worked as a chef for several years. He returned to Burlington in 1996 where he bartended and managed several well-known establishments. In 2002, he moved to New York City, where he was employed by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and worked at his flagship Michelin-star restaurant AQUAVIT for 10 years as bar manager and beverage manager. In 2012, John explains, “I received another lucky opportunity, which involved moving back to Vermont and opening the Worthy Burger in South Royalton.” The relationships the couple developed both at the Worthy Group and in the wider community put them on a perfect path to open their own venture.

Jona and John, having lived in Woodstock for 10 years, had the opportunity to watch as the restaurant space where OYC now lives evolved. When they left Vermont briefly for Atlanta and returned, they knew once the height of the COVID pandemic passed, that the timing to make an offer would be just right.
Jona explains that the couple’s excitement about the space had a lot to do with its history as the old Spooners Restaurant. Spooners was well established in the space for decades where it became a true social hub for the community. Now, 35 years later, Jona and John are working to create a similar gathering spot.

The Space

The restaurant is a good-sized space and given that reservations aren’t needed, it lends itself to being an impromptu meeting place for everything from business meetings to reunions. There’s a game room that includes board games, cards, cribbage, and darts. In the warmer weather, horseshoes or bocce may be possibilities. The back porch is an ideal spot to enjoy year-round since it overlooks snowy fields in winter, foliage in the fall, and conveniently is close enough to the East End Park walking trails that a break for a jaunt is not out of the question.

The Bar

Bartender Kirstin Davis serves up some fun.

The focus of OYC for the couple was to open a big, casual bar where people didn’t need reservations. With 18 seats, the spacious bar allows for ample space while catching the latest sporting event on one of the bar’s TVs or simply enjoying time with friends. This bar has something for everyone, from wines to top-shelf martinis to draft and bottled beer. For alcohol-free options, the restaurant offers Culture Pop probiotic soda, beverages from Upstate Elevator Company, nonalcoholic wine and beer, and a new turmeric ginger vinegar tonic.

John says, “All of our bartenders are experienced and are happy to get you a Budweiser or make you a martini. We have some great house cocktails as well as our own house ale brewed for us by Upper Pass in Tunbridge.”

The Food

Happy Harry at Sharky's Indoor Food Truck.

Sharky’s is an indoor space that is set up as a food truck. Jona explains, “It’s counter service and keeps with the casual style we are going for.” With easy comfort foods like chili and nachos to meatball subs and tacos, there’s something at Sharky’s that’s sure to satisfy. The menu often features items from Black River, North Country Smokehouse, and Vermont Tortilla Company stone-ground tortillas. “I think of it as a collaborative kitchen,” Jona says. “We wanted quick-and-easy bar food. We also have Grab and Go where you can make a quick stop and pick up our house-made soups, dips, meatballs, and more and take them home with you to enjoy, bring to a party, or snack on at the bar.”


The Yacht Club dipped its toe into events this winter with crafty Sundays leading up to Christmas. Employee Becky Rodgers had the idea to buy supplies for ornament making and place them in a basket by the window, inviting customers to get creative at the bar. The activity was both unexpected and well received. Now those ornaments have been boxed up and in true community-building fashion will reappear on a tree next year so people can come back to see their works of art proudly displayed.

In addition to the craft nights, in early 2024, the restaurant held its first two live music events. Given their popularity, more musicians have been booked and patrons can check the full lineup of upcoming shows and events on the OYCVT website.

In only the short time since opening, Jona and John have felt very supported by the community and they truly hope everyone feels welcome at OYC. Jona urges, “Come in, sit wherever you’d like, order your drinks at the bar, order your food at the window, and have fun!”

Ottauquechee  Yacht Club
21710 Maxham Meadow Way
Woodstock, VT

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