ESSEX — After surviving a serious car crash in the fall, Mark Audette and his family have finalized their purchase of the Village Restaurant.

Audette, owner of Aztec LLC in Newburyport, officially took over as owner on Dec. 19.

"The way the town, the Riccis and Bank of Gloucester have been so empathetic and welcoming (after the accident) was beautiful," said Carling Audette, Mark's daughter and one of the Village's current managers. "I couldn't be more grateful. If it was any other family or bank, I don't think we would have gotten it done."

She did not wish to comment on the specifics of her father's accident, instead referring them to her family's lawyer, Robert Mazow of Mazow-McCullough, PC in Salem. Mazow could not be reached in time for publication.

Joining Carling Audette on the Village's new management team is Matt Belliveau and Roman Mondalto. The trio also manage The Deck, a seasonal restaurant at the Audettes' Bridge Marina in Salisbury. According to Carling, they will split their time between the two restaurants when The Deck reopens in May.

Also helping out during this transitional time is Carling's mother Cara and brother Conrad, and former Village co-owner Mark Ricci.

"(The Audettes) are a great family," said Mark Ricci. "I'm looking forward to seeing them do great things, and I want to help them in any way that I can." 

Carling Audette said her goal for right now is to keep the Village's family-focused vibe intact. The Audette family has kept the Village's current 50-person staff. In October, the Essex selectmen granted the Audettes the restaurant's all-alcohol license.

"We're not looking to change any recipes or anything," Carling Audette said. "They've been in the family for decades. Any changes we would make would be additions."

The Village was first opened in 1956 by Carl Carter, his wife Alberta Rodgers Carter, daughter Kathleen Carter Ricci and son-in-law Armand Ricci. The 200-seat restaurant grew substantially over the years from its roots as a 15-seat "burger joint." Carl Carter retired in 1979 and Armand Ricci passed away from cancer in 1989. Mark Ricci and his older brother Kevin took over the family business shortly after.

Earlier this year, though, "we felt it was time to start the next phase in life," said Mark Ricci, 54. Around the same time, the town of Essex was offering to buy the Village's land to house Essex's planned new public safety building. Mark Ricci said "the timing just seemed good."

However, Town Meeting in May failed to approve the purchase, 16 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. 

"We were still interested in moving on," said Mark Ricci. "The weekend after the vote, Mark's brother, a regular customer, came in to have dinner." While the two were discussing the what happened at Town Meeting "(Mark's brother) said, 'My brother might be interested in buying the restaurant.' The next day, Mark (Audette) came down and we started talking."

The financial terms of the sale were not released, but Kevin Ricci has said the price was "in the area" of the $2.4 million deal the brothers were seeking from the town.

Carling Audette said her father instantly fell in love with the Village.

"Essex is just so accommodating, and you could tell the Riccis really loved their restaurant," she said.

That love has been hard to shake off, Mark Ricci admits.

"Owning a restaurant is a 365-day job," he told the Gloucester Daily Times on Thursday. "Today is my first official day off in years. I haven't gone into the restaurant at all today. There has never been a day where I hadn't stopped in before. It's a bit weird!"

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.