Continuing a Culinary Legacy At Lakeville’s The Woodland
Woodland restaurant owner Brandon Scimeca has a long history with the place, associating transitions in his life with eras of operation at this longtime destination in Lakeville, Conn., for diners who are also committed food lovers. “I was a Tuesday night bar regular when Carol Peters owned it, back around 2002,” he said in a recent interview at The Woodland. “From then on, I understood the importance of this place to the community.”
Scimeca became work colleagues and good friends with Carol’s brother, the late Robert Peters, after she fired Robert from the kitchen in the early 2000s and he went out to work at competitors in Lakeville, first The Boathouse and then The Interlaken Inn, where Scimeca was the head chef.
In 2004, Robert bought The Woodland, and Scimeca shared with him the fun parts of the renovation that followed. They found lights, paintings and a tin ceiling for the new wrap-around bar, even discussing the menu. Little did he know he was helping to plan his own future.
After leaving The Interlaken, Scimeca was Director of Education of Plantin’ Seeds in North Canaan, Conn., for a couple of years, then started his own successful catering business, Hunt & Harvest, out of Millbrook, N.Y., catering weddings and other events, especially at Lion Rock Farm in Sharon, Conn.
Six years in, COVID-19 took over society, devastating the catering industry. So he filled in for short staffing at The Woodland two nights a week, then four nights, then became manager, helping Robert with the take-out food and outdoor dining that helped them survive.
He continued to help Robert, through a battle with cancer that led to his death in March 2021.
Then, Scimeca said, “The family came to me and said I was perfect to continue the lineage at The Woodland.
“It’s every chef’s dream to have their own restaurant. It was a comet going by, and I knew I had to jump on or forever regret it.
“It never went on the market.”
He stayed on, keeping the place going, until January 2022, when the sale went through and he became sole owner.
The menu of The Woodland is extensive, Scimeca said, giving him a large sandbox to play in and refine, without taking away what the restaurant is. The Woodland Classics are one side of the menu, including the top offerings of pistachio salmon, wiener schnitzel, steak au poivre and sole meuniere, and another sheet printed out every evening with the daily specials.
“I am into the sense of place and emotion of food,” Scimeca said. “There are things people expect and I want them to have them, while leaving room for growth and innovation. You can eat five different ways here, from sushi to a heavy multi-layered meal. I also believe strongly in freshness and seasonality in cooking.”
Scimeca has lived in East Canaan, Conn., for 15 years, raising his family on Green Quince Farm, where he grows produce that finds its way to the restaurant’s tables.
He is asked regularly about serving lunch, and while he says he will do it eventually, for now he wants to “work out the kinks.” The difficulty with finding additional staffing is also an obstacle.
Taking on the ownership of an iconic restaurant like The Woodland, Scimeca said at first there was just relief from patrons that it wouldn’t close. Then, relief that things wouldn’t change drastically from what they were used to. Then, excitement about fun new items coming out.
“It’s not all about me, but about The Woodland and what it means to the community. I know the soul and potential of this place, and I’m very excited to keep that going.”