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Meals on Wheels

John Grossman and Dawn Cordeiro of Holyoke Hummus

John Grossman and Dawn Cordeiro of Holyoke Hummus

As the operator of one of the region’s more popular food trucks points out, food-truck culture in the Pioneer Valley is different than it is in metro areas like Manhattan, where the trucks are a constant street-corner sight. Here, they’re more common at fairs, music festivals, and community gatherings, in addition to city streets. And a few have morphed into brick-and-mortar locations as well, which operate in synergy with the mobile kitchens, giving patrons even more opportunities to experience new tastes.

John Grossman has told the story often about the year — it was 2013 — he attended the Holyoke Brick Race, an annual stock-car event in the Paper City. Organizers arranged for food vendors, but none showed up.

“I had been traveling to New York for work, and I was used to seeing falafel trucks on every other corner, and I really wanted to see food like that here,” he recalled. “I told the mayor, ‘next year, I’m going to be here with a falafel cart.’ He said, ‘go ahead, John, you do that.’ That’s all the inspiration and shoving I needed. Our first gig was the race a year later.”

Grossman calls his food truck the Great Garbanzo, and has since added a smaller trailer called the Little Chickpea. He and his wife, Dawn Cordeiro, have turned their enterprise, Holyoke Hummus, into a staple at events like Food Truck Fridays at MGM Springfield and Abandoned Building Brewery, as well as community events, music festivals, and other gatherings across the region, like last weekend’s Run the Runway 5K at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Festivals and other public gatherings have been key to the success of most regional food trucks, he said, as opposed to places like Manhattan, where they’re a constant sight on city streets.

“There isn’t the urban density to support food trucks” lined up along streets, he noted, adding, however, that MGM and others have done well to create buzz around weekly food-truck events.

“It’s not the people in the casino coming out to that; it’s the people who work downtown who say, ‘hey, there’s a bunch of food trucks,’” he told BusinessWest. Making food trucks a regular sight along city streets outside of festivals and events, he added, requires permitting and parking tangles that can be difficult to navigate, although many have done so in Western Mass.

Like Sun Kim, who launched her food truck, Sun Kim Bop, in Amherst in 2014, but eventually decided downtown Springfield would bring more traffic, so she set up shop in front of Tower Square in downtown Springfield.

Bop is cooked rice molded into a bun and grilled; it’s the foundation for her Bop Burger, a seasoned rice bun with dry seaweed sprinkles, sauteed kimchi, and pork, beef, or chicken in between.

“It’s a tough business, but exciting. It’s a good way to get to know people,” she said. “During the warm season, people want to go outside to eat, or have an outing with their employees, and the food truck can go anywhere — in a field, in a park.”

At events, she added, “so many restaurants come with a tent to set up, and they take quite a while, but with the truck, we can set up within 10 minutes and start to feed people.”

Her authentic Korean street food soon developed a following, but there was a problem: what to do during the cold months?

“We had a long break during the winter, from November through April, when we closed. Food-truck season is quite short — maybe two-thirds of the year — and I felt like people might forget about us during the winter. I felt like we were starting our business over every spring,” she said. “But with a restaurant, we could stay connected to people. They could keep coming back to the same place and remember us.”

So, two years ago, she opened a Sun Kim Bop restaurant on Main Street. And she’s not the only one who turned mobile success into a storefront; Holyoke Hummus opened its restaurant on High Street, across from Holyoke City Hall, two years ago, starting with lunch service and adding breakfast this past January.

Sun Kim says her restaurant patrons will often seek out the food truck

Sun Kim says her restaurant patrons will often seek out the food truck, and vice versa, bringing synergy to her two-pronged business.

For our annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest checks in with a few local food trucks, and learns how that model has evolved for them, or will, into brick and mortar sites that coexist along with those kitchens on wheels.

Local Flavor

Jake Mazar and Will Van Heuvelen both come from a farming background, and both worked at Brookfield Farm in Amherst when they got an idea.

“Will’s background is in cooking and baking, and mine is in business management,” Mazar said. “But we both came to the Valley to pursue agriculture and had a passion for local food.”

Brookfield Farm had no commercial kitchen, though, and the pair wanted to take their food passions further. So they launched a food truck called Wheelhouse.

Jake Mazar (left) says he and Will Van Heuvelen

Jake Mazar (left) says he and Will Van Heuvelen want to take concepts that resonate with the agricultural movement and make them more accessible to the public.

“We wanted to take a lot of the same concepts that resonate so strongly with the local agricultural movement and make them more accessible to the public,” Mazar explained.

Wheelhouse got rolling in 2015, bringing the wheeled kitchen to food-truck events, farmers markets, festivals, and fairs over the first couple of years. It still takes part in some 75 events per year, but mixed in with music festivals, like the Green River Festival, and other public gatherings is an increasing number of private, catered events.

“For some of those, we don’t actually use the food truck,” he said. “Or, sometimes we bring the food truck to a wedding and do a family-style dinner, followed by late-night tacos from the truck. We do a lot of private events, and generally, we don’t do as many public events as we used to.”

That evolution has brought them to the next step, and they’re in the process of purchasing a property in Amherst to — much like Holyoke Hummus and Sun Kim Bop — open up a brick-and-mortar version of Wheelhouse.

“Will and I both think the Valley is such a unique place, in large part because of the agricultural heritage here, and the amazing small farms and growers — and large farms and growers. We can get grain here, dairy, fruit, vegetables, meat, mushrooms, fish — you name it, there’s a different place for it,” he said. “And it’s sort of our mission to highlight the amazing work these growers are doing. The farms contribute in a big way to the culture of our communities, and we want to shine a spotlight on them.”

It’s a shifting spotlight, to be sure, as the menus at Wheelhouse are constantly in flux, based on what’s coming out of the ground locally that month — from spring vegetables to summer fruits to root vegetables when the weather cools down.

“We change the menus basically every week based on what’s fresh, what’s going to be in season,” he said, noting that will be a feature at the brick-and-mortar restaurant, too. “That’s a big challenge, to accommodate what’s available in a given week.”

Dawn Cordeiro are among a handful of food-truck operators

John Grossman and Dawn Cordeiro are among a handful of food-truck operators who have translated their success into a brick-and-mortar restaurant — or are planning to do so.

What helps is that the Pioneer Valley is home to a progressive, multi-cultural, and culinary adventurous population that’s open to new tastes, and that means opportunity for truck owners who can carve out a niche, as Grossman has with his creative takes on falafel and hummus.

“People in Holyoke are interested in a wide variety of foods,” he said.

As for the restaurant, “it has a fun vibe,” he added. “We always knew lunch and dinner would be the bread and butter. But we started breakfast at the beginning of the year, and we also went to seven days a week. We were able to grow the restaurant in ways we weren’t even thinking about.”

He wasn’t sure High Street was ready for a seven-day operation, he noted, because it’s a largely commercial district that clears out after business hours.

But we heard people telling us, ‘I live in Holyoke but work in Springfield, and I can’t get back from work in time to eat at your place. Weekends would be great.’ And weekends are going nicely; people are happy we have food available every day.”

Rolling On

Still, food trucks are still about getting into plenty of outdoor events and raising their profile — usually for one type of food, as Grossman has done, and as Kim has done with Korean street food.

She told BusinessWest she’s relieved to have the Main Street shop, as a food-truck-only business was problematic in some ways. Simply put, it’s not easy to prepare everything without a commercial kitchen, with limited space and always having to supply electricity, gas, and water to the vehicle.

“It was tough; we were working without a real kitchen, like a restaurant has. That’s why we started thinking, ‘if I opened up a restaurant, we could prep all those things in the restaurant’s kitchen.’”

In fact, the truck and restaurant have boosted each other, Kim noted. “Sometimes people who find us at the truck come to the restaurant, and the restaurant people come to the truck. They both have the same logo and colors, and they can make a connection. Rather than having only a restaurant or truck, that really gives us synergy.”

Cordeiro has been out front with marketing Holyoke Hummus — both the food truck and the restaurant — especially online. “We’re mobile, and people are mobile, too, and that’s how you reach them,” Grossman said. “She’s been a great voice for us, explaining who we are and reaching people who’ll want to follow us around and be a part of this.”

As for Mazar, “I like to joke that we started this business just so we get to eat more of Will’s food,” he said. “At the end of the day, we just love food. We’re not trying to be pretentious about it; we just want to make it accessible.”

When asked what he enjoys about the mobile food lifestyle, he was quick to respond.

“It’s the people — well, the combination of people and food. Food trucks are a great interaction between the natural world and the human world. That’s a great inspiration for Will and me. We work with amazing farms — it all starts with them — and we get to see people experience the natural world in an incredibly delicious and satisfying way.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Restaurants Sections

2018 Restaurant GuideThe region’s bevy of restaurants comprises one of the area’s most intriguing business sectors, one in which there is constant movement, new additions, and exciting stories unfolding. This year is no exception, and BusinessWest captures that movement, that excitement, in its annual Restaurant Guide.



There’s More Growth on the Menu

Bean Group has a number of intriguing plans coming to a boil


Taste of Italy

West Springfield’s bNapoli melds big-city style with local flavor


Who’s Cooking

A list of the area’s largest restaurants

Restaurants Sections

There’s More Growth on the Menu


Andy Yee says his family’s goal is to create the region’s largest and best restaurant group. Some would argue that the Bean Group is already there.

Andy Yee says his family’s goal is to create the region’s largest and best restaurant group. Some would argue that the Bean Group is already there.

Andy Yee says he’s heard what he readily concedes is a truism pretty much his whole life.

‘The restaurant business is really hard.’

But while he acknowledges this commonly held belief, or the related opinion that this business is certainly harder than it looks, he quickly adds that such work is essentially all he’s ever known, at least since his father first brought him to work at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee as a teenager.

“People do say it, and I hear it in the finance world all the time, that the restaurant business is not for the faint of heart — that it’s a very difficult industry,” Yee told BusinessWest. “I don’t know what that means, because I was born into this business — I don’t know anything but restaurants, so ‘difficult’ is not a word I exercise all the time.

“Yeah, it’s difficult, but everything’s difficult — life’s difficult sometimes,” he went on. “You make it what it is; to me, it’s fun, challenging in a good way, and rewarding.”

Which is why Yee is not only still doing this roughly 40 years after he got his start in the family business, he’s somewhat consumed with a mission to create the largest and best restaurant group in the region.

“It’s a personal goal of mine that my family shares — we’re all united in this goal,” he said. “And that is to be the quintessential restaurant group in this area.”

Some would say he’s already accomplished that goal with a portfolio of eateries, operating under the corporate name the Bean Restaurant Group, that includes several entities bearing his father’s first name — Johnny’s Tavern, Johnny’s Bar & Grill, Johnny’s Tap Room, and Johnny’s Roadside — but also the venerable Student Prince (Fort), IYA Sushi and Noodle Kitchen, and the Hu Ke Lau, although that landmark is currently closed and with a future described with those three letters TBD (more on that later).

But like Johnny Yee, the principals in the Bean Group — Andy, his siblings Edison, Anita, and Nick, and aunt Bonnie — are seemingly always in a building, adding mode, and that’s why there will soon be a second IYA location, this one in downtown Amherst, and another addition on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Indeed, the Bean Group is joining the Rondeau family, long-time owners and operators of Masse’s Seafood in Chicopee, in a venture to write an exciting new chapter in the life of the Dockside Restaurant at Brunelle’s Marina. The landmark will be renamed the Boathouse Tavern, with the tagline ‘waterside dining.’

A new upstairs deck is planned, as well as some changes and additions to the menu, with the goal of making the popular eatery even more of a destination and a complementary piece to the other eateries within the Bean Group.

But there are certainly more additions to come, said Yee, who was vague as he talked about what specific opportunities might emerge for acquisition or new development, but quite specific, and determined, as he talked about that broad goal he described.

For this issue and its annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest talked with Yee about his future plans — to the extent that he was comfortable doing so — but more about his career in this business that’s harder than it looks (to other people), and what drives him to continually build upon his portfolio.

Stirring Things Up

Yee said the chosen closing date for the Hu Ke Lau was anything but random.

April 6 was also the date his father opened the restaurant 53 years earlier, he said, adding that his family chose to close the loop in a sentimental and powerful way.

“It was a fantastic run — I’m still in mourning, I’m still crying; I have my moments,” he told BusinessWest as he talked about the iconic landmark that brought generations of people to Memorial Drive in Chicopee, or ‘the drag,’ as he called it, which he saw transform itself several times over a half-century.

As sad and sentimental as that day was, there was also a considerable amount of order and logic to it as well, said Yee, adding that the family decided roughly two years ago that the aging property had seen its day and that pouring more money into made little, if any, sense.

“The family was united in shutting it down not because it wasn’t profitable, but because the building had run its useful life,” he explained. “We were putting Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids; when it rains outside, it pours inside.”

As to what comes next, not only for the Hu Ke Lau restaurant but for a large property on that radically changed, now extremely vibrant ‘drag’ … Yee was non-committal on both matters. He would say only that the family has taken steps to protect the Hu Ke Lau brand until it decides what to do with and it, and that it will look at a wide range of options before deciding anything.

“The Hu Ke Lau brand has been in our community for a great amount of time, and my family doesn’t see it going away,” he said with conviction. “Will it be 27,000 square feet? I think big restaurants today are difficult to operate; dark rooms don’t produce income.

“There’s another chapter to begin with the Hu Ke Lau,” he went on. “We’re looking, but we’re not looking too hard because we have some other things we’re doing right now.”

The only other thing he said with finality in his voice is that the building will be coming down soon. “We’re packing up,” he said.

That was a reference to the fact that Hu Ke Lau property was not only home to the restaurant, but to the Bean Group’s corporate headquarters, if you will, which were on the second floor.

These offices will soon be relocated to Union Station in downtown Springfield, in space to be subleased from his business partner in the Fort venture, Peter Picknelly, who recently moved his family’s bus company, Peter Pan, into the recently reopened transportation hub.

Thus, that subleased space will now be home to what he called MMMs, short for Monday morning meetings, strategy sessions staged by Yee family members since as long as Andy can remember.

And there’s been lots to discuss and do as these meetings in recent months, including the finalization of plans for the second IYA Sushi and Noodle Kitchen location, a 2,000-square-foot location on East Pleasant St.

Yee said the setting is ideal given the proximity of UMass Amherst and the other institutions comprising what are known as the Five Colleges, and he sees plenty of opportunity despite the growing number of eateries with sushi on the menu.

“There’s plenty of sushi there, but we’re going bring a new and very unique eatery to the marketplace,” he explained. “We’re going to bring big-city flair and a higher caliber of execution to this area.”

Construction of the IYA facility is underway, and Yee anticipates a ribbon-cutting ceremony in September, coinciding with the return of students for the fall semester.

As for the new Boathouse Tavern, Yee will be partnering in that venture with his brother-in-law, Donald Rondeau, and other members of the Rondeau family. The Dockside has been a South Hadley institution for years, and the facility was famously rebuilt and expanded after a devastating fire in 2013.

The Brunelle family made the property available, he went on, and the new partnership is determined to take full advantage of what Yee sees as a tremendous opportunity.

“We’re going to change the brand and introduce waterside dining,” he said, adding that his team has closed on the property and already commenced work on everything from marketing to construction of the new deck to changes on the menu.

Food for Thought

While those MMMs at Union Station in the weeks and months to come will no doubt have packed agendas with just the two latest additions to the Bean Group’s portfolio, Yee said they are just a few of the items to be discussed.

Indeed, in addition to matters that fall into the category of old business, there will plenty of new business as well, as the group drives ahead with that broad goal of becoming, if it isn’t already, the quintessential restaurant group in the area.

Andy Yee isn’t ready to say what this new business — or new businesses, as the case may be — is just yet, but he knows that opportunities will continue to present themselves, and the group will take advantage of some of those opportunities.

And that’s because, as hard as this business is, it’s all they’ve ever known, and ‘difficult’ isn’t the first word they would choose to describe it.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Restaurants Sections

Taste of Italy

Jerry Moccia says his goal is to provide diners with an authentic Italian experience.

Jerry Moccia says his goal is to provide diners with an authentic Italian experience.

If today’s dining public has become more demanding, Jerry Moccia says, television may bear some of the blame. But he’s not complaining.

“People are very into food — they know flavors, they know a lot about food, and things like the Food Network have brought a lot of exposure,” he noted. “People are more into food than they were 15 years ago, and expectations are much higher — which makes it more comfortable for us.”

He referred generally to the world of upscale dining, and specifically the Italian restaurant, bNapoli, he opened almost two years ago on Elm Street in the heart of West Springfield’s downtown.

Moccia is no stranger to the location, having opened Bella Napoli Pizzeria next door in 2005, four years after arriving in the area from his homeland of Italy. He ran that establishment for almost a dozen years before moving into the larger, neighboring space vacated by Curry Printing several years ago and creating a higher-end eatery.

“This is more my background,” he told BusinessWest. “We did Italian-American next door, with delivery, and I just wanted to bring something more authentic to the area, less Italian-American and more authentic Italian. I want people to experience how people really eat in Italy, while many restaurants in surrounding areas offer more Italian-American food.”

Thomas Fawcett, who oversees bar operations at bNapoli, said the restaurant is the culination of Moccia’s long-term vision.

“He plugged away there day and night with the vision of doing this,” Fawcett said of the pizzeria. “He always knew he wanted to open this; it was always sort of in the back of his mind. It was hard work, and that’s what he wanted. He was growing something.”

The goal, he added, was to serve fare that was ahead of the curve for the region, but not jarringly different. It was a risk, considering the success of Bella Napoli, but one that has paid off.

“Originally, it was tough, because people knew Jerry for next door, for the pizza shop — red sauce, Italian-American food,” he said. “A few people walked in here out of the gate with that expectation. But people gave it a shot, and maybe it wasn’t somewhere they could eat every night, but they knew on a special occasion they could. Then they told a couple people, who told a couple people, who tried it and told a couple more people.”

They’re still coming — and still telling their friends.

Heart of the City

Stepping inside bNapoli, diners are greeted by elegant, modern décor — all clean lines and earth and grey tones — meant to reflect what they might experience in a trendy restaurant in a big city, Moccia said. Meanwhile, the extensive menu currently runs the gamut from a grilled octopus appetizer and a house beet salad to creative entrees featuring veal, short ribs, haddock, ribeye, and a broad range of pastas.

“It feels very urban, metro New York or Boston,” he said of the atmosphere. “As for the food, we have some traditional, authentic Italian dishes with a contemporary spin. Everything is farm to table. We change the dinner menu three times a year based on the seasons. Tom came in over a year ago and brought the same expectation from a bar point of view.”

Indeed, when Fawcett showed up, there was no bar program to speak of, and he went to work crafting a unique experience for diners based on his training in Boston, where he was mentored by cocktail notables like Patrick Sullivan, who put B-Side Lounge in Cambridge on the map starting in the late ’90s, and Jackson Cannon, Fawcett’s fellow B-Side alum, who went on to establish Island Creek Oyster Bar.

Fawcett, who grew up in restaurants — his first job was at age 13 at Wild Apples Café in East Longmeadow — eventually enrolled in Jackson’s bar protégé program and became bar director at the second Island Creek location. He said what Moccia is doing at bNapoli — and what he has developed with the drink service — is very much in the spirit of those establishments, but innovative for Western Mass.

“It’s just different for this area. What we’re doing with cocktails out here is unheard of,” he said. “We make everything we can possibly make. We infuse our own spirits; we blend spirits for house blends. Strawberries just came into season, so we purchased strawberries from a farm and made a puree with them, which we won’t do in December, because we’d have to buy strawberries from California.”

As a result, the bar is even more seasonal than the restaurant, with a cocktail menu that changes roughly every six weeks. “Guests can come in today for their anniversary, and then if their birthday is in three months and they want to come back, the drink menu is totally different,” Fawcett said. “It’s something to look forward to for the next season. Right now we have a blueberry-infused Campari in one of our cocktails.”

Thomas Fawcett (right, with bar manager David Lazaro) says he has applied the restaurant’s from-scratch ethos to its drink menu.

Thomas Fawcett (right, with bar manager David Lazaro) says he has applied the restaurant’s from-scratch ethos to its drink menu.

Meanwhile, he expanded the wine menu from 40 to 100 labels but also focused it almost exclusively on offerings from Italy and the American West Coast. “This was fun for me; I’d never written an Italian wine menu, and I have fallen in love with Italian wine. What a great area of the world to grow grapes.”

As for beer selections, don’t look for big names like Anheuser-Busch and Miller; the roster is dominated by craft breweries — local names like Iron Duke and Fort Hill, but also small-batch producers from Maine to Virginia. “We are just a small, local restaurant, and we want to honor other small, local businesses.”

And Moccia definitely wanted to start small, Fawcett added.

“We’ve taken a slow approach. We didn’t want to open and have 1,000 people here right out of the gate. We’re sort of feeling our way, and we put a ton of time into what we do. We don’t have to work this hard, but we do because we’re passionate about it. David, the bar manager, doesn’t have to be here at 9 a.m. on a Monday pureeing strawberries for the week when we could just purchase it for a nominal fee and be done with it. But we take pride in what we do, and we love this and want to share this with everyone else.”

The feedback Moccia and Fawcett get from customers tells them that going the extra mile is appreciated.

“When I talk to people, they feel our passion for it,” Fawcett told BusinessWest. “When we’re at the table talking to them about what we do and how we do it, it’s a little more than just reading a list of ingredients. We’re sharing more of an experience. We’re bringing guests into the restaurant life, if you will.”

A Risk Pays Off

That life is one Fawcett knows well, and that Moccia has known for even longer. “He grew up in restaurants, and he understands the kitchen; he plugged away in one for 15 years,” Fawcett said. “So he had the back of house nailed down.”

His vision captured Fawcett’s imagination during their first meeting.

“I did not move back here expecting to see this,” he said. “I thought, there’s not going to be a restaurant that’s looking to do what I was doing in the city. But I met Jerry, and he said, ‘this is what we’re about; this is what we’re trying to achieve.’ And it has not been for naught.”

In some ways, Mocchia has been a risk taker, Fawcett said, but he’s adapatable, too, willing to alter offerings based on customer feedback.

“We just want to offer something fun and different which is fresh, and something that we believe in as well,” Fawcett went on, adding that bNapoli has amassed a strong cadre of regulars the staff knows on a first-name basis.

“We’re building relationships,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re a small restaurant. We don’t have the freedom of some large restaurants to be distant to their guests. You can walk into any big-brand restaurant and then walk out, and get a hello and a goodbye, and that’s it — and you could be fine with that. But here, I want to know how they’re doing. I want to know how their week was. I want to know if there’s a small touch we can make.”

In short, the goal is a big-city-type restaurant with a connection to the neighborhood, he went on — and his definition of ‘neighborhood’ is expansive, with regulars coming from places like Northampton, Wilbraham, and West Hartford.

“People make that ride, and they’re happy to be here,” he said. “People out here, when they believe in something, they stick with it. When they feel like you’re advocating for them, building something on their behalf, they will stick with you tooth and nail as long as you’re producing a good product, not taking shortcuts. If you’re working in their best interest, they know that.

“We’re in the business of hospitality,” Fawcett concluded. “It’s so much fun coming in here. We have a really strong group of people who bring that passion to the table, and we just want people to enjoy themselves.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Restaurants Sections

Your Annual Guide to Eating Out

restaurantguidedpThe Western Mass. region is well-known for its culinary diversity, offering nearly endless choices when it comes to cuisine, atmosphere, price range, and overall experience. For our 2017 Restaurant Guide, we made our way to four restaurants — from a 40-year-old icon to newer establishments well on their way to becoming household names. There’s plenty on the menu, so read on.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.


‘Accommodating Cuisine

At Sierra Grille, they’re not fixing what isn’t broken

Upwardly Mobile

Cima is making more history at a long-time dining destination

Pop On Over

Judie’s continues to draw a crowd 40 years after its opening

Taking a Simple Approach

The Alvah Stone offers a view — and much, much more

Restaurants Sections

‘Accommodating Cuisine’

By Kathleen Mellen

Sierra Grille sous chef David Moses has his eye on pleasing the customer.

Sierra Grille sous chef David Moses has his eye on pleasing the customer.

We’ve all been out to dinner with that person: you know, the one who pores over a restaurant’s menu and then tries to reinvent it on the spot.

“I’d like the tuna,” your companion might say, “but instead of the baked potato you have listed here, I’ll have mac and cheese, and rather than a salad, I’ll go with butternut squash.”

Let’s face it; the creative orderer can be a waitstaff’s nightmare. It’s why you’ll see the words “no substitutions, please” on so many menus.

But not at Sierra Grille, where diners are invited to build their meals at will, from a menu that features a dozen entrées, 18 ‘small bites,’ 10 special sauces, seven choices of salads and paninis, and nine sugary desserts — and that’s not counting the sliders, soups, and daily specials.

Say you’re craving a blood-red tenderloin steak, but you aren’t a meat-and-potatoes fan, per se, and would prefer a double order of locally grown asparagus in place of the more traditional spuds. No problem. Or, maybe it’s meatless Monday, and your mouth is screwed up for seitan or tempeh, cooked on a veggie-only grill, and paired with royal basmati rice and grilled vegetables. Sierra Grille has you covered.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

This place is a mix-and-matcher’s delight.

“I call it an accommodating cuisine,” said Sierra Grille owner O’Brian Tomalin, in a recent interview at his establishment at 41 Strong Ave. in Northampton. “Did you ever go to a barbecue, where you bring a six-pack, which you add to the collection of six-packs, and then you bring a side dish, and it lands on a table, and there’s something on the grill? You take what you want from the grill, you have this great selection of sides to choose from, and there’s a selection of beer and wine. This is that kind of experience, extrapolated to a restaurant. Everybody can find something they like here, and that’s what I strive for.”

Tomalin, 49, opened Sierra Grille in 2006 after working in restaurants and breweries in his home state of Maine and, later, as the first bar manager at Amherst Brewing Co. And while he says he’d never call himself a chef, he does know a thing or two about cooking. As the youngest of nine children, four boys and five girls, he learned to make himself an egg for breakfast by the time he was 6, out of necessity.

By the way, one of those nine is actress Susan Sarandon, a fellow foodie who has eaten at her brother’s establishment on several occasions, surprising diners as she’s supped on the likes of hanger steak and scallops. After a recent visit, she asked Tomalin what he had used for a marinade on the scallops. “I said, ‘nothing. They’re just beautiful, fresh scallops. A little white wine and a tiny bit of butter.’ She said they were incredible.”

For this issue and the magazine’s annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest visited Sierra Grille and talked at length with Tomalin about his accommodating cuisine and why it resonates with his customers.

Food for Thought

On a recent afternoon, just before the day’s 3 p.m. opening, Tomalin was seated at a two-top high table in the vintage bar area of the restaurant, dressed casually in a short-sleeved shirt, cargo shorts, and a baseball cap. Light poured into the wood-paneled room, its effects dappled in spots as it shone through stained glass embedded at the top of two grand, arched windows.

The mahogany bar top dates from 1947, and while Tomalin had it refurbished about five years ago, he said, nothing was changed — other than removing about 50 cigarette burns that harkened back to the days when smoking was allowed in eating and drinking establishments.

The building was constructed in 1880 as a hotel for railroad passengers who arrived or departed from the city’s train station, just across the street. In the 1980s and ’90s, as the Baystate Hotel, it was a popular venue for live music.

As an ode to that history, Tomalin recently revamped a long-defunct program, “Reanimate the Bay State,” which features live music every Thursday, starting at 10 p.m., with a cover charge of $3.

The dining room at Sierra Grille

The dining room at Sierra Grille in Northampton, home to what owner O’Brian Tomalin calls “accommodating cuisine.”

“The bands — most of them local — get 100% of the cover charge, and they get beers while they play,” Tomalin said. “It’s really exciting.” It has also boosted business, with the bar doing up to an additional $1,000 in sales on Thursday nights.

Tomalin leases the ground-floor space from the building’s owners, brothers Antonio and Efthimios Rizos, who also own the Opa Opa Steakhouse and Brewery in Southampton, and business partners Volkan Polatol and Petros Mirisis. The quartet runs two other restaurants in the building: Mulino’s Trattoria on the second floor, and Bishop’s Lounge on the third.

Sierra Grille is open seven days a week, from 3 p.m. to midnight, but never on holidays (it’s a policy, he says, that his staff appreciates. “The restaurant business is pretty flaky; whatever makes you a whole person — it makes it better for us.”)

An early/late menu that includes everything but the entrées is available from 3 to 5 p.m., and from 10 p.m. to closing.

In addition to the array of culinary choices, the restaurant features 24 beers on tap, as well as a selection of bottled beers. Tomalin is also the owner of Building 8 Brewery in Northampton, and he always has a couple of those brews on tap at Sierra Grille. He also serves selections from other local brewers, including Green River Ambrosia, a mead made with honey from local bees that comes from the Artisan Beverage Cooperative in Greenfield, as well beers from Germany and Belgium and elsewhere in the U.S.

Berkshire Brewing Co. is always on; we pour their Steel Rail and their Coffeehouse Porter,” he noted. They also go through a keg a week of Allagash White, from the Allagash Brewing Co. in Maine, often using it in recipes. The hoppier beers are customer favorites.

Most of his wines are available for purchase by the glass, and are priced in the mid-range (“I call the selection ‘Wine 101’”), and though there are no obvious favorites, customers invariably switch between reds and whites with the seasons.

The biggest change for imbibers is Sierra Grille’s full liquor license, awarded by the state in January after an 18-month-long process of meetings, applications, and more meetings. Tomalin is in the final stages of designing a stable of craft cocktails, with selections from boutique distillers, which will be priced in the $8 to $12 range.

“You won’t be able to get a Jack and Coke here,” he explained. “We like supporting the little guys.”

Tomalin says he’s committed to supporting smaller growers as well, and buys his food locally, or regionally, as much as possible.

“We can get wahoo from Hawaii, and it’ll be here the day after it’s caught, but do you think I want my fish flying on a plane, blasting stuff into the atmosphere? No.”

Seafood comes from the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine; burger meat comes from local sources; and, when they’re in season, he gets his veggies at local farms, like Queen’s Greens in Amherst, as well as from area foragers. During the growing season, he often stops by Northampton’s farmer’s markets to see if anything strikes his fancy. Those items might just turn up in that day’s specials.

Tomalin says his customers appreciate the local freshness. “We just switched over to local asparagus, and we’ve doubled what we’ve been selling.”

With an eye toward environmental sustainability, the restaurant also recycles plastic, glass, tin, and even cooking oil. “Until recently, an employee was using the oil in his car,” Tomalin said.

The restaurant also supports a number of causes dear to Tomalin’s heart (during the last presidential primary, he held a fund-raiser for Bernie Sanders, where he read a statement of support from Sarandon, a longtime political activist), as well as local nonprofit organizations. This month, for example, the restaurant is running a “Half Pints for Half Pints” campaign: half the cost of each pint of beer sold on Mondays is donated to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s “Cooley Cares for Kids” fund-raiser.

“The benefits stuff is pretty great,” he said. “It is nice to do something, have an issue, accomplish that, get it done, and see it work.”

Something to Chew On

Even though Tomalin quips that the restaurant business “would be great if it weren’t for the customers,” he says he’s committed to satisfying diners at his busy establishment.

On an average Saturday, the restaurant serves between 225 and 275 meals; on a bigger weekend, like at college-graduation time, the number rises to about 300.

“People always tout our consistency,“ Tomalin said. “I look at cuisines and see what’s trending, but I don’t want to be trendy. We’re still evolving a bit, but we do what we do. As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

Restaurants Sections

Upwardly Mobile

Tony Dimaio and Mindy Sullivan

Tony Dimaio and Mindy Sullivan say Cima is off to a solid start, thanks to a great location and a diverse, eclectic menu.

Mindy Sullivan says she and partner Tony Dimaio didn’t realize that, when they chose the name Cima for their restaurant venture in Wilbraham, it would turn into such a conversation starter.

But that’s what it has become, and in most all ways, that’s been a positive development.

For starters, there’s the pronunciation; most don’t get it right. It’s actually ‘cheema,’ although most will leave out the ‘h,’ which leads to a quick correction if Sullivan or another staff member is within earshot. Then, there’s the translation of that term, which usually comes up, because most patrons need one.

In Italian, cima means hilltop (or summit or mountaintop, although Sullivan and Dimaio usually focus on hilltop), which is what the restaurant lies on; it’s also the name that was on this building years ago — the Hilltop (it was most recently known as Horizons, however).

Between the pronunciation, the translation, and then a quick history of this property along busy Route 20, there’s plenty to talk about, said Sullivan, adding quickly that there’s generally more to the conversation.

And this often comes down to what Cima Restaurant and Chop House isn’t — although the menu makes this abundantly clear. Indeed, while the name is Italian, this eatery isn’t what would be called traditional Italian in its cuisine.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

Indeed, while there are some of the stalwarts, like linguini with clams, chicken Milanese, veal marsala, and seafood Mediterranean, the menu tilts heavily toward the ‘chop house’ side of its name, said Dimaio, with everything from a 20-ounce ribeye to double-cut lamb chops to a thick veal chop.

“We didn’t want this to be the typical red-sauce Italian restaurant,” he said, adding that the traditional Italian favorites, steaks and chops, and the overall broad diversity of the menu has made it easy for patrons of the other establishments that have been on this site to return to that stretch of Route 20.

“This has long been a dining destination,” Dimaio, formerly the long-time executive chef at the Monte Carlo in West Springfield, told BusinessWest. “And with Cima, it’s become a destination again.”

In many ways, this venture represents the summit — to date, at least — in a career in cooking that began with Dimaio working in various pizza shops before gradually opening his own place, with Sullivan, in rural Erving.

Cima is closer to home (East Forest Park) for the partners, and also closer to the vision of the restaurant operation the two have long sought to operate.

For this issue and its annual Restaurant Guide, BusinessWest ventured to the hilltop (that’s lowercase) to see why the latest name over the door on this well-known property is generating conversation that goes well beyond that name and what it means.

The dining room at Cima can seat close to 100 people.

The dining room at Cima can seat close to 100 people.

High-steaks Venture

It was a week or so before Mother’s Day, and the calls to the front desk at Cima were coming at a fairly steady clip.

One only needed to hear Sullivan’s side of the conversation to grasp the big picture — and the questions being asked on the other end. Over the span of a few calls, she communicated that the restaurant would have special hours — it would open at noon rather than at 4 — as well as a ‘holiday’ menu with a few additional specials, and, yes, they were still taking reservations.

“It’s become one of the very busiest days of the year — right there with New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day,” said Sullivan, who, by day, is the director of Environmental Health and Safety at Westfield State University. She added quickly that, while Cima would certainly do well on Mother’s Day, as most restaurants do, she and Dimaio were more focused on the hundreds of non-holidays.

And by most all accounts, she said, Cima, which will soon mark a year in business, is off to a very respectable start in a highly competitive business — and also a highly competitive stretch of road.

“We’ve been quite pleased with the response thus far — business has been quite steady, and we have a great base of customers that keep returning on a regular basis,” said Sullivan, who attributed the solid start to a number of factors.

The location is obviously one of them, she told BusinessWest, adding, again, that generations from the same family have now been dining at that location, and essentially from the moment Horizons, which operated on that site for many years, closed, there was speculation — and anticipation — about what would follow, and when.

“A of people missed Horizons, and they were anxious for us to get the place open,” she recalled. “Throughout the three months we were readying it, we had a steady stream of visitors asking when we would be opening.”

And the site has a long history as a restaurant for a reason, said Sullivan, noting that this stretch of Route 20, just a mile or so from the Eastfield Mall in Springfield and also Post Office Park in Wilbraham, is very well-traveled. It’s also accessible to a number of communities, including Ludlow, Palmer, East Longmeadow, Hampden, and others.

And this location certainly played heavily in their decision making as the two partners looked for a solid opportunity within the broad hospitality sector.

“We were looking for something closer to home,” she noted. “And when this particular piece of real estate came on the market, we wanted to be part of the community.”

But location, while always one of the main ingredients for success in this business, to borrow an industry term, is just part of the equation, said Sullivan and Dimaio.

Other important ingredients include an eclectic menu, great service, and, above all else, consistency, they said, with one voice, adding that this is what Cima strives to deliver.

“That consistency is very important,” she noted, adding that it is a key factor in generating both return business and positive word-of-mouth advertising, which have been other factors in Cima’s solid first year in business.

Along with consistency, there is variety, said Dimaio, adding that several specials are offered every evening (prime rib is a common addition), as well as a number of seafood, veal, chicken, pasta, and salad options.

While Cima has become a destination for dinner, it is also “finding its way,” as Sullivan put it, when it comes to private functions such as memorial receptions, showers, birthdays, and others. On the day BusinessWest stopped by, the staff was cleaning up the restaurant after a first Communion gathering.

“The biggest challenge is keeping your product interesting to the public, and consistency is key,” she said in summation. “And we’re definitely keeping things interesting.”

Meat and Greet

While the new name over the door at 2200 Boston Road has been a conversation starter, the diverse menu, thick chops and steaks, and that consistency mentioned earlier are keeping the conversation going.

They’re also helping to continue the site’s long history as a dining destination.

The name means hilltop, and for the establishment’s owners, it means taking things to new heights — in all sorts of ways.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Restaurants Sections

Pop On Over


Judie’s has expanded its space multiple times over the years to meet growing demand.

David Williams worked in architecture, not food service, when he was inspired, 40 years ago, to open a restaurant. His inspiration was a young woman named Judie Teraspulsky.

“We had an office in Boston, in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and one here in Amherst,” he said over lunch one recent afternoon at a brightly sunlit table overlooking the stretch of North Pleasant Street that passes by Judie’s restaurant. “We used to take clients to the Lord Jeffery Inn, where Judie was the baker and a lunch waitperson, and we’d always sit in her section.”

Those lunches became well-known and well-liked by clients. “They would come to my office and say, ‘can we cut this meeting short, and go to the Lord Jeffery and sit in Judie’s section?’”

He had an idea.

“One day, I mentioned to her that I recently designed three restaurants in food courts in shopping centers. I said, ‘we should start a restaurant together.’” She found the possibility appealing.

The location they chose had recently housed a natural-foods restaurant that didn’t last long, so Williams bought the property and all the equipment, procured financing, and brought Teraspulsky on as an equal investor. Judie’s opened in May 1977 — 40 years ago this month — and quickly became, and has remained, one of the Valley’s most celebrated culinary success stories.

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

“The first day we opened, Judie came to me and said, ‘can I be the manager?’” Williams recalled. “I said, ‘Judie, you own 50% of the business. It’s named Judie’s.’”

He said that particular idea wasn’t hers — she would rather have kept her name off the façade. But he also knew that her reputation at the nearby inn would help bring in patrons in those early days.

The target audience, at first, was professional women, who Williams and Teraspulsky felt were underserved by the town’s culinary choices in the late ’70s. “It was all pizza and hot dogs; there wasn’t a lot of ‘adult food’ in town,” he said. “She targeted women realtors, attorneys, insurance agents — and it took off like a shot.”

David Williams

David Williams says he and Judie Teraspulsky saw a need for more eclectic fare in downtown Amherst in the late ’70s.

The idea was that women were more open to experimental food — “and they tip better,” Williams said with a laugh — and, indeed, Teraspulsky’s eclectic menu, rife with fresh ingredients and interesting combinations, proved an immediate hit.

Even with that early success, what the restaurant needed, they felt, was a signature item. They certainly found one.

Enter the Popover

The fateful inspiration was the Proud Popover, a Boston-based restaurant and tavern affiliated with the Magic Pan. After trying that eatery’s namesake starch, Teraspulsky wanted to create something similar in Amherst — but bigger, and more impressive, than the smaller version she enjoyed.

“She came back here and experimented and managed to come up with the Judie’s popover, and it’s been the staple ever since. Nobody else went that big,” Williams said, adding that they’ve never made public how they’re baked. “There’s a very special way you make them in terms of heat and periods of time. It’s a closely guarded secret.”

A popover slathered with apple butter may be the Judie’s classic, but over the years, she’s turned them into sandwiches, incorporated them in stews and salads, filled them with everything from basil pesto chicken to a spicy gumbo, and even used leftover batter to make popover crepes. The Souper, a soup served alongside a popover and salad, has long been a best-selling item.

“I wanted people to have a ‘wow’ experience,” Teraspulsky told BusinessWest several years ago, “so when we put the trays down, the first thing out of their mouth is ‘wow.’”

The popover isn’t the only well-regarded Judie’s original, though. Williams said she’s been ladling out her popular seafood bisque since day one, among other early creations. And her variety of meal-size Caesar salads are another mainstay.

The experimentation that has made Judie’s menu a hit — and with a much wider audience than professional women — reflects a wave of culinary inspiration that has settled across downtown Amherst in the ensuing decades. Visitors can still get pizza or a hot dog, but Judie’s and the Lord Jeffery Inn are now joined by institutions like Johnny’s, Chez Albert, and Oriental Flavor. Of the latter, Williams noted, “a good friend of mine from Taiwan said that’s the best Chinese food you can eat outside of China.”

He doesn’t think it odd to talk up these offerings while simultaneously competing with them for business, noting that the restaurant scene is part of a downtown renaissance that benefits everyone.

“I’m never scared of competition,” he told BusinessWest. “It means there’s going to be more people coming here, and we’ll always get our percentage because we have a unique menu. Judie has crafted a unique destination in terms of the menu, and, having been a waitperson, she is crazy about the service — it’s got to be perfect.”

Art of the Meal

The years have seen plenty of changes and innovations at Judie’s, many of them related to the restaurant’s consistent growth and need for more space. The partners built out the front of the structure early on, and in 2007, they turned an adjoining bar into still more seating, along with an expanded kitchen and new restrooms; the renovation shut the restaurant down for only five days.

Donna Estabrooks’ wildly colorful tabletops have become a hallmark of Judie’s.

Donna Estabrooks’ wildly colorful tabletops have become a hallmark of Judie’s.

A third partner, Katie Day, took on that role in 2000, after coming to work at Judie’s in the 1980s; her sister was the general manager in the restaurant’s early days, and she learned the business from the ground up.

Judie’s has also become known for its striking, colorful paintings that adorn the walls and tabletops, all created by Florence artist Donna Estabrooks, which has effectively turned the restaurant into a gallery. Patrons are welcome to buy the paintings — and, yes, even tabletops — and Estabrooks changes out the offerings on a regular basis.

“Judie has always been fond of artists,” Williams said, noting that she gave additional vent to this passion a few years ago by opening Judie’s Art Bar, an art classroom tucked behind the restaurant where people come and learn how to unlock their own muse — and leave with their own painted creations.

But Judie’s remains best known for its culinary creations, with head chef Michael Babb firing up everything from sea scallops with tomato tart tatin to lamb shank served with a crisp, shredded potato pancake stuffed with grilled tomatoes, caramelized onions, and mascarpone whipped potatoes.

One might assume a restaurant with a four-decade arc would have passed its peak days, but Williams said business continues to increase an average of 4% every year.

“Of course, the area keeps growing,” he was quick to add, pointing out the window at the main artery through downtown Amherst. “Look at this traffic. In 1970, you could lie down in the middle of the street and never get run over, but now, it’s super busy.”

As Judie’s celebrates its 40th anniversary, Teraspulsky, Williams, and Day continue to welcome patrons eager for a hot, fresh popover or any number of other tempting offerings, in an atmosphere drenched in sunlight and dappled by Estabrooks’ artistic visions.

“When Judie realized she was not the manager, but the owner,” Williams recalled, “she really threw her body, mind, and spirit into this place. She knew what she had here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Restaurants Sections

Taking a Simple Approach

By Kathleen Mellen

The view is just part of the package at the Alvah Stone.

The view is just part of the package at the Alvah Stone.

Tucked away in the tiny Franklin County town of Montague (population 8,437), is the Alvah Stone, a small-burg restaurant with a big-world sensibility — one that it comes by honestly.

Owner Howard Wein has been a major player in the hospitality business for many a year. Since receiving an MBA in hotel and restaurant administration from Cornell University in 1999, he’s built an impressive résumé, launching the W hotel chain and opening big restaurants, like Buddakan and Iron Chef Morimoto, both in New York City, as well as others across the country.

Most recently, Wein, 45, founder and president of Howard Wein Hospitality, created 10 restaurants and bars in eight months for the Diplomat Beach Resort. He finished that job in late April, when he launched establishment number 10 — Monkitail, an izakaya-style Japanese restaurant.

It’s been very exciting (and exhausting), Wein says, but all that corporate work has been for other people. He wanted to create a home where his heart is — in Montague, with his wife, Jennifer, their 8-year-old daughter, Lyla, 7-month-old son, Simon, and, for the past three years, his other baby, the Alvah Stone.

“I love this part of the world,” said Wein, who graduated in 1995 from Hampshire College, where he met Jennifer. “We wanted to come back, but, professionally, I was doing such amazing things. It was impossible to figure out how to ride the career wave from here. Finally we said, ‘we’re not going to figure it out. We’re just going to do it.’”

SEE: List of Restaurants in Western Mass.

So they moved to Montague, and Wein set up an office next door to the Night Kitchen, a restaurant at 440 Greenfield Road. When that establishment closed in 2013, he decided it was time to create a restaurant of his own. So, in 2014, he signed a lease and opened the Alvah Stone.

“This is the only restaurant I’ve ever done that’s really, truly a reflection of me,” Wein told BusinessWest. “I’m everywhere. I did the design. I hired all the people. Doing this keeps me fresh, keeps me focused on the things that really drive success in this business, which is keeping an eye on quality and building a really strong culture of excellence.”

Owner Howard Wein

Owner Howard Wein says patrons come for the local food items, creative cocktails, and spectacular view.

Wein shares the building with the Montague Bookmill, a popular bookstore whose tongue-in-cheek motto is “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” And though the restaurant, like the bookstore, is decidedly out of the way, customers have increasingly beaten a path to its door, in search of its signature, all-local food offerings; creative, crafted cocktails; and spectacular view (the restaurant is perched high above the rushing Sawmill River).

They also find old-school hospitality.

“We have a simple approach,” Wein said. “The best thing you can do to build your business is to make sure that every single plate that goes out is great, and that every interaction is satisfying.”

The restaurant, which seats 65 inside and 40 on an a deck, weather permitting, is open seven days a week, from noon to 10 p.m., for lunch and dinner, and brunch on Sundays, year-round.

“In a destination like this,” Wein said, “you don’t want people wondering if you’re open. If you change the hours all the time, you’re going to lose people.”

Reservations are accepted, but the restaurant is never fully booked in advance, leaving room for those who stop by unannounced. “If you fully book, that’s the same as being closed to someone who just drove all the way here.”

Historical Perspective

The Alvah Stone is named for the first owner of the mill, which was constructed in 1834. It’s a name that firmly cements the restaurant in the building’s history, Wein says. “I didn’t want a trendy or hokey name —  that’s not who we are. The Alvah Stone has strength. It’s unique to the place and to the story of where we are.”

That attention to detail extends to naming cocktails, too. Each is inspired by the history of the building, the geographic location, or a literary reference. Take the Seldom Heard, for example, which features bison grass vodka, maurin quina (a French aperitif), cashew, coconut, lime, and cardamom.

“We were working with this rye vodka from Poland, infused with bison grass, so we went for a theme based on lyrics to the song “Home on the Range” (“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam …’),” explained bar manager Lincoln Allen, one of 25 employees.

Wein says it’s important that his employees, like Allen, share in the restaurant’s creativity. “We have fun going back and forth about the cocktail names,” Wein said. “If there’s no creative process, then creative people don’t stay. And if we lose creative people, then we don’t have the product we want here.”

Wein calls his food “authentic American,” and says he puts the emphasis on quality and comfort. “We want to be known as one of the best restaurants in the Valley, but definitely not one of the most pretentious. Or serious.”

The menu, which is driven by chef Dave Schrier’s creative juices, features snacks and smaller items, like the li’l pork belly sandwich on a brioche roll with Alabama white sauce, iceberg lettuce, and a pickle; and beets with pickled shiitake mushrooms, toasted seeds, crispy wheat berry, and crème fraîche. Entrées on the menu that changes daily might include an Alvah Stone burger on an English muffin with onion marmalade, mayo, cheddar, and a pickle; and seed-crusted cod, served with a ramp condiment, coconut milk, and sorrel. Desserts and cocktails, wine, and “really local” beers are always available, too.

“The idea of the menu and the pricing is flexibility,” Wein said. “If you want to have a beer and a warm, soft pretzel, you can spend $15. Or you can eat traditionally, where you have a couple of snacks, and everyone gets their own entrée.”


Menu items are also determined by what’s fresh. Most vegetables come from the Kitchen Garden in Sunderland and other local farms, and there are also a number of foragers who pop in — including one who arrived on a recent afternoon carrying a tray piled high with pungent ramps.

“We don’t have a green salad with cucumbers and tomatoes unless it’s August or September,” Wein said. “You won’t get a bad tomato on a burger, ever, and we won’t give you mesclun mix from California.”

Just Desserts

The biggest challenge to owning a restaurant is reacting to things you can’t control, Wein says, like rising wages and health-insurance costs for employees. “We’re in favor of always trying to improve the quality of life for workers, at any and all levels, but it’s really difficult when you have a small business.”

And then, there’s the weather. “The deck is an incredible setting, but if it rains every Saturday, it cuts the traffic down, and you’re talking about a dramatic impact on our year.”

But there are plenty of pluses as well, he added.

Before he opened, Wein composed a list of goals: to be a place where people want to work, to be the best restaurant in the Valley, and to have an incredible commitment to hospitality.

And he thinks he’s achieved all three.

Cover Story Restaurants Sections

Plenty to Chew On

This Year’s Restaurant Guide Reflects a Diverse Dining Scene

RestaurantGuideSecDPBy all accounts, restaurant are flourishing across Western Mass., a region that offers nearly endless choices when it comes to cuisine, atmosphere, price range … you name it. For this special section, the 2016 Restaurant Guide, we venture to three establishments — with calling cards ranging from solar-brewed beer to classic French cuisine to singing servers — that clearly reflect that variety. Bon appetit!

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