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A Chef’s Dream Comes True

03/19/2024 08:35PM ● By MERYL SIEGMAN

Donnell Collins knew how she wanted to spend the rest of her life as soon as she got a job at the Storm Café in Middlebury, VT, as a teenager. Now, almost 25 years later, she has enjoyed a stellar career in the restaurant business that has been rich and productive. But what chef wouldn’t want a restaurant of their own? They fantasize about scouting the location, selecting every item down to the last spoon, creating the perfect ambiance, and devising a menu that diners will love.

 That dream came true when Donnell opened ELECTRA’S  in Shelburne in November 2023.



Originally from California, Donnell moved to Vermont in the early 1990s. Her high school job at Storm Café inspired her to attend culinary school at Newberry College in Boston. Following graduation, she solidified her skills at high-end California eateries like Bistro Liaison in Berkeley and La Folie in San Francisco.

After returning to Vermont, she added to her experience by working at some of the state’s best-known establishments, including an internship at the Basin Harbor Club, facilitating the opening of Starry Night Café, and working as a chef at Pauline’s and the Black Sheep Bistro. She ultimately landed at Leunig’s in downtown Burlington, where she continued to hone her skills in French cooking.


 In 2013, after almost a decade at Leunig’s, Donnell and her then-business partner, Bob Conlon, purchased the restaurant. In late 2019, she bought Bob out and became the sole owner. “It was a week before the pandemic started,” Donnell recalls. “It wasn’t the best scenario to walk into.” But she plowed through with determination, keeping the restaurant afloat on Burlington’s deserted Church Street as it weathered challenging times.

“I tried to do right by my employees,” she explains. “Quite a few had been working at Leunig’s for 10 or 20 years. It was very important for me to navigate the pandemic with integrity, keeping everyone employed and paying for their health insurance. So, we hunkered down and got through it.” This work ethic offers a glimpse into the chef’s priorities and why she has been such a success.

“I didn’t want to make any physical changes,” Donnell goes on to say, “because customers love the design. It feels like being transported to a restaurant in France.” But deciding to bring the menu back to its roots after it strayed into Italian dishes, she took advantage of her training and trips to France to create an authentic French bistro menu. She also recognized the importance of keeping the long-established restaurant relevant, saying, “It certainly has its regulars, folks who have been eating and drinking here for over 20 years, but we wanted to make sure we remained welcoming to fresh faces.”



For her next act, Donnell leased what used to be an old ticketing booth in a great location on the corner of Church and College streets, across from Leunig’s. She turned the 7-by-10-foot structure into the wildly popular Petit Bijou Kiosk, a takeout spot serving delicious treats prepared by Leunig’s, including beignets, croissants, and pastries, and, as she describes it, “classic sandwiches you’ll only find in France.” In the summer, tables and chairs are set out on Church Street, making it the perfect spot for people-watching.


Next came Le Marche Café in Shelburne Village, where Donnell lives and where her chef’s intuition told her a revitalization of the restaurant scene was needed. Formerly Harrington’s of Vermont, this French- inspired bakery, café, and market opened in 2022. (See sidebar.)


Donnell found the perfect venue in the building that previously was home to the Bearded Frog. Located on Shelburne Road, it is the oldest building in the town’s historic district, dating back to 1796. She worked with her team to renovate the 3,000-square-foot space, which also includes the adjacent storefront, turning it into a 110-seat restaurant, bar, and lounge. The Bearded Frog’s bar was converted into a separate dining room, which can be used for private events.

Donnell saw this as her opportunity to bring her ideal restaurant to life, drawing from her years of experience in the industry and her trips to Europe to realize her vision. She says, “For every restauranteur, there is an opportunity to create something from the ground up, something special. Electra’s is the first place I really had the chance to do that.” She was involved in every detail, from choosing fabrics and wallpaper to each piece of silverware and crystal stemware.

She cherished the idea of maintaining a traditional and classic vibe with staff who were well-dressed. She says, “These days at restaurants, you encounter iPads at the table for ordering and waiters wearing cutoffs and sneakers. That’s not the direction I wanted to see my restaurant go in.” She continues, “We are in the hospitality business. We should be able to feed people and give them an experience in a space they can admire and enjoy. Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants have moved away from that. I wanted to turn back the clock.”

Although Donnell’s cuisine is steeped in French tradition, she craved an opportunity to go in a new direction, saying, “I try not to give it a label and be tied to one type of cooking.
I’ve been doing French for so long. But I can do anything here, Mexican and Asian as well.” She settles for the term “American Classic Traditional” to describe the ever-changing menu.

In fulfilling her dream by opening Electra’s in Shelburne, Donnell Collins’ culinary journey has come full circle. Electra’s is not just a restaurant but a testament to Donnell’s dedication and innovation where diners can experience a meal to remember.


5247 Shelburne Road 

Shelburne, VT 



The recently opened LE MARCHE  in Shelburne is a welcome addition to Donnell Collins’ Vermont restaurant empire. A bakery, café, and market rolled into one, this charming spot offers French fare such as baguettes, coffee, and pastries. It also offers beer and wine, prepared meals, and custom cheese plates. In addition, there’s a market where customers can find a curated selection of delicacies they can’t find in the United States, “We worked with importers to source really interesting merchandise directly from France,” she says.

Donnell’s inspiration for Le Marche grew out of an idea for a place to grab something on your way to a picnic or outdoor concert. She says, “As a busy parent who works full time, I understand that some people just want somewhere to get a sandwich and where their kids can find something quick and easy.” Because she wasn’t interested in starting another sit-down restaurant, she originally conceived of Le Marche as a takeout spot. But, she says, “It’s gone way beyond my expectations. I was actually planning on not having tables.” But within days of opening, customers were clamoring for places to sit and linger while enjoying their food.

Le Marche in Shelburne epitomizes Donnell Collins’ commitment to providing a culinary venue where convenience meets indulgence, inviting customers to enjoy French-inspired delights and discover unique treasures from across the Atlantic in a charming market setting. It is also a place where people from the community can simply hang out.


5597 Shelburne Road 

Shelburne, VT 



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