Once upon a time, almost half a century ago, there was a red dairy barn on Riverside Drive (U.S. Route 201) that was a popular local ice cream stand. Robert Benedict bought the business, expanded the menu and started a family restaurant here in 1977. He had help from his own family members, including his little sister, 11- year-old Laura.
“I worked hard, waiting on people, pouring drinks, whatever needed doing,” she recalls. “I stood on a milk crate so I could reach the counter.”
The place was small back then, about a third of the current building — with indoor seating for only two or three customers, and Adirondack chairs outside. Laura Benedict never stopped working — and relishing every moment. She took over the business in 1986, a seasoned pro at the tender age of 19. Over the three decades since the Red Barn opened, many area family restaurants — Christie’s, Roseland and others — have gone by the wayside. But business at The Red Barn is bigger and better than ever. An astute businesswoman, Benedict attributes the success of The Red Barn to consistently great food that is prepared well, in a friendly atmosphere, all at affordable prices. Her own energy; tenacity and positive, straightforward approach are contagious, reflected in the staff of as many as 18 who now work here.
She admits to having high expectations — and frequently meeting or even surpassing them. “I constantly raise the bar — even if the customer’s in no rush, I want that fish fillet sandwich order ready in 30 seconds, or else!” she says with a grin. “Of course, we try not to make mistakes in the first place, but when we do, we are quick to recover. We listen, assess, and then — immediately — we’ll do whatever it takes to make it right.”
Benedict clearly pays attention, and not only to individual customers (many of whom she greets by name as they walk in the door). Her winning business philosophy also ex tends to analyzing the capital area restaurant market, identifying needs and creating strategies to build her business by addressing them.
Growing up as the ninth of 10 siblings, Benedict and her family had their share of hard times. Looking back now, she is grateful for this experience, believing that adversity makes you try harder, work for what you want and value what you do have. Laura’s older brother, Peter, and younger brother, Ronnie, are essential today to the success of the family business.
“We’re a team, and so much on the same wave length, we can practically finish each other’s sentences”