Peaches and Jeffrey Paige (Christine Carignan)
Jeffrey and Christine “Peaches” Paige, owners of Cotton Restaurant in Manchester, had just returned from their first vacation in three years when the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants across the state to close for three months. Between the 23-year-old restaurant having reserves and tapping into state and federal aid, Cotton was able to reopen and retained most of its staff.
“It was weird when COVID hit. It was like opening a new business,” Peaches says. The lingering effects of the pandemic combined with rising food prices and a tight labor market have transformed the way the eatery operates. The restaurant, once a hotspot for business lunches, is no longer open for lunch and is now open for dinner five nights per week instead of seven. Even with that cutback in operations, revenue is almost back to pre-COVID levels.
Cotton made it through these challenging years due to the depth of experience of the couple behind it. Peaches has worked in restaurants her entire career, and Jeffrey started in the industry as a dishwasher at 13 years old, dreaming of the day he would open his own restaurant.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, where he was named one of the top 100 alumni in the 1980s, he became a nationally renowned chef at Levi Lowell’s in Merrimack, establishing one of the first food-to-table channels in the state. His love of fresh, local ingredients led him to become the chef at Canterbury Shaker Village for 12 years, where he cooked for Julia Child on her birthday. He won acclaim in national media, including Forbes and Good Morning America, and co-authored three books.
He then decided it was time to fulfill his dream and in 2000 partnered with two industry veterans to buy a restaurant in Manchester’s Millyard and transformed it into Cotton. It was here he met Peaches and the two later married. While the business partnership eventually ended, the couple’s partnership (in marriage and as business partners) has stood the test of time, through good times and bad.