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Chestnut Tree to add hours, options

Cheeses, cured meats, olives and spreads soon will fill the front counter at the Chestnut Tree.

In early April, the breakfast and lunch destination will expand its hours Monday through Thursday past 3 p.m. for the first time in 23 years. Appetizers, build-your-own platters with the display-case goodies and grab-and-go foods will be the new focus after 3 p.m.

The changes come as co-owner and chef Suzanne Johnson works to make the restaurant her own while maintaining the integrity of the restaurant's identity. Johnson, Ryann Reid, co-owner of Agua Dulce Mexican Kitchen; and their spouses -- Daniel Johnson and Rick Reid -- bought the restaurant from longtime owner Valeree Clegg late last year.

"While I'm putting my own spin on it, it's still going to be Chestnut Tree when you walk in here," Johnson said, who has cooked at the restaurant since 2010.

In the few years leading up to the change, Clegg was flirting with the idea of retiring and would travel for a few months at a time and leave Johnson in charge. When Clegg decided to retire, Johnson wanted to gradually update the space and menu rather than rush in changes.

"When she started talking about retiring, I was like, 'I love this place,'" Johnson said. "She wanted to make sure the flow and transition was something where she could walk in and feel like it was the place that she and her mother started, and I want it to be a place where she walks in and she's proud of what it is."

When Reid heard about the sale, she wanted to get involved. She and her husband bought Sweetwater Grill and Tavern in 2014, and from there, she and Johnson formed a fast friendship as downtown restaurateurs.

"For us, it was really kind of a no-brainer," Reid said. "She has some strengths that I don't have, and I have some strengths that she doesn't have, so it's really been a nice partnership."

The partnership works both ways, with Johnson also helping at Agua Dulce, formerly called Sweetwater.

Although the rebranding of Agua Dulce was in the works for months and executed over a weekend in November, they took a different approach with Chestnut Tree. Gradually, they made slight changes such as moving the lunch counter to the back of the shop and exposing the original brick walls and wood floors.

The focus now is getting the front counter up and running by the first Twilight Tunes concert on the courthouse lawn, set for April 20. There will be happy-hour specials, rotating appetizers and gourmet deli items for sale on a platter or by the pound.

"This is something that I've always loved -- I love eating cheese and crackers -- and I lived downtown for years, and there wasn't anything like this," Johnson said.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889.