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Jake's Northampton, MA and Jake's at the Mill in North Amherst, MA - VisitingNewEngland small business partnership

Local Dining Out Gems: Jake's in Northampton and Jake's at The Mill in North Amherst, Mass.

Lifelong friends and master chefs Alex Washut and Chris Ware have taken basic breakfast and lunch concepts to an entirely different level (like the astonishing selection of hash dishes)

Breakfast is served at Jake's at the Mill in North Amherst, Mass.
Jake's at the Mill waitress Paige Chiaretta brings out pork belly eggs Benedict and bagels and lox.


Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo. Story created on 10/29/2019.

Alex Washut and Chris Ware grew up as best friends in Northampton, Mass., and have many special childhood memories that can never be taken away.

Fast forward to their 30s: Alex and Chris are now making special adulthood memories as owners of Jake's  in Northampton and Jake's at the Mill in North Amherst, Mass. Although education and work took these two Eagle Scouts far away from each other geographically for many years, fate and a common love for food eventually brought them back together as business partners. As long-time fans of Jake's -- a local landmark in Northampton located in the Calvin Theater building since the mid-70s -- Alex and Chris jumped at the opportunity of buying the restaurant in 2011.
 
Jakes restaurant in Northampton, Mass.
Jake's in Northampton. Photo source: Jake's Northampton Facebook fan page.


"We said, 'What the hell,' let's buy this place," said Alex, with a laugh. "We grew up eating here. The food was standard stuff but food everyone loved.  We wanted to put a fresh spin on things -- to take the grease out of the spoon."

Alex Washut and Christopher Ware, owners of Jakes in Northampton and Amherst, Mass.
Alex and Chris. Photo source: Jake's web site.


The career move proved to be the right one as a local institution became a next generation phenomenon.
Alex and Chris have always focused on making everything from scratch and sourcing locally, whenever possible. Sometimes, their collective culinary creativity has occurred at the spur of the moment instead of planned in advanced. Case-in-point: One morning, Alex bought a homemade raspberry pie across the street from Atkins Farm, smooshed it up, added a few other ingredients and created an original masterpiece in the form of stuffed raspberry French toast...

Raspberry stuffed French toast from Jake's in North Amherst, Mass.
Stuffed Raspberry French Toast. Photo credit: Jake's.

Whether from the regular menu or choosing one of the daily specials, the crowds have consistently lined up to frequent this downtown eatery within an 1880s building. The locals love having a choice of traditional meals and innovative dishes without any side orders of pretentiousness.

It is a no-frills place for classic comfort food breakfasts including pancakes, waffle and, egg dishes...

Eggs benedict from Jake's in Northanpton, Mass.
Breakfast at Jake's. Photo source: Jake's Facebook fan page.

And fresh salads, soups and sandwiches for lunch...

Sandwich from Jakes in Northampton, Mass.
Lunch at Jake's. Photo source: Jake's Facebook fan page.

"The key is to make homemade food that is actually made in house," said Alex. "It's always scratch cooking. We make our own salmon lox. We add bold flavors to our dishes. But we are not stuffy and don't have the attitude and pretentiousness. We are regular people. We can cater to anyone, any demographic and are always conscious to food allergies."

For starters, Jake's sources from Atkins Farm, Kitchen Garden Farm (a certified organic farm) in Sunderland, Mapleline Farm for dairy in Hadley, Sutters Meats in Northampton (for the Jake's location in Northampton), and a "potato farmer friend" in Hatfield.

"We like to build relationships with local farmers and businesses," said Alex. "It's awesome what we can offer just by sourcing locally."

By the way, there was never any Jake involved with the restaurant, according to Alex.

"The original owner told us it was a toss between Alice's or Jake's for the name of the restaurant," said Alex. "Alice's would have been too much like the Arlo Guthrie song (Alice's Restaurant) so he went with Jake's. Back then, Jake was known as a positive term. 'Everything is Jake" means that all is good!"

About Jake's Hash, Family Recipes and Taking Chances

Bacon cheeburger hash from Jakes in Amherst, Mass.
Bacon cheeseburger hash with scrambled eggs and homemade bread from Jake's in Amherst.
 
Typically, hash consists of meat, potatoes, and spices, cooked either alone or with other ingredients such as onions. Jake's follows the critical tenets of traditional hash but also takes it to an entirely different level.
The huge hash menu remains a staple of Jake's and includes the following choices:
 

  • Braised Pork and Roasted Sweet Potato
  • Country Ham with Mop Sauce
  • “Red Flannel Hash”: Bacon, White Potatoes and Roasted Red Beets
  • Roasted Pork and Green Apple
  • Sweet and Sour Thai Pork
  • BBQ Pork
  • Italian Sausage and Peppers
  • Roast Beef with a Horseradish Cream
  • Braised Brisket
  • Mom’s Pot Roast Hash
  • Traditional Corned Beef
  • Southwest Chicken and Poblano
  • BBQ Chicken
  • Bourbon Bacon
  • Beef Stew
  • Duck Confit
  • “Hawaiian”: Fresh Pineapple and Canadian Bacon
  • Shepard’s Pie
  • Beef Chili
  • Turkey Club
  • Chicken Stir Fry
  • Roasted Salmon

Pancakes are another specialty enhanced with local buttermilk and "an old recipe from my grandpa," says  Alex.



Additionally, Jake's optimizes the taste of its ham through a 16-day process -- no short cuts here!

Jake's takes some chances, also, with dishes not akin to this region, including grits -- typically a favorite from down south.

"We have had parents from the south visiting their kids at UMass Amherst, and they have told us that we do a good job with grits," said Alex. "We try our best. Sometimes, it takes a little extra work but we come through."

Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Restaurant in Amherst

Alex Washut, owner of Jakes in Amherst, Mass.
Alex Washut at Jake's in North Amherst.

The will and a way to improve upon the basic comfort foods concept became so successful in Northampton that Alex and Chris opened a second location, Jake's at the Mill, at the Trolley Barn building in North Amherst. Sharing virtually the same menu with the Northampton location, Jake's at the Mill also brings in a steady crowd.

Jake's at the Mill has become part of a bigger picture to create a mixed use community called
The Mill District in North Amherst. Developers have focused on creating a neighborhood with dining, arts, entertainment, open spaces and a housing complex. The Cowls family -- spearheading this new paradigm -- has played a significant role through nine generations, dating back to 1741, keeping commerce thriving in this quaint neighborhood. The Cowls family has been involved with growing crops, processing dairy products, manufacturing lumber in America's first electric sawmill, and developing and housing the Sunderland-to-Amherst railway system.

Now, a new day is dawning in North Amherst, starting with breakfast at Jake's at the Mill.

Jakes at the Mill in North Amherst, Mass.

The comfortable restaurant resides in a five-year-old building that assimilates flawlessly with the old-meets-modern vision of an emerging downtown district. Jake's interior combines an industrial look with exposed pipes, repurposed wood, plenty of light from the big windows, tables, a counter and hanging designer light bulbs.

Dining room at Jakes in North Ahmherst, Mass.
Dining room at Jake's in North Amherst.

W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones gave Jake's a saw blade from the original sawmill -- this artifact is prominently featured on a wall.

A sawblade from a former sawmill in North Amherst, Mass., is displayed at Jakes Restaurant in North Amherst, Mass.
A closer look at the saw blade featured on a wall at Jake's in North Amherst.

The waitresses rarely have a spare minute given the crowds but always find time to connect with the customers.

""I have a good plate of hash for you!" said one of the smiling waitresses to a customer.

"Here's your check when you're ready," said another waitress to a group of academics. "No rush at all."

"That's a really nice jacket you have," said the same waitress to a customer with, well, a really nice jacket.

The authenticity flows as much as the coffee and the overall vibe will leave no one with an experience as flat as a pancake. It almost seems like Jake's is a precursor of all the great things to come in The Mill District -- that is, lively, community-oriented and relevant to the growing needs of this area.

"The few hundred apartments, the retail space, sense of community -- that's what drew us here," said Alex. "We feel we are getting in at a ground level here. There is a definitely a North Amherst community and it is growing. We are also not too far from U/Mass Amherst (a mile-and-a-half)."

And, of course, all that glorious comfort food from Jake's in Northampton can be enjoyed at the North Amherst location...

BLT from Jakes in North Amherst, Mass.
BLT (with avocado) from Jake's in North Amherst.

The Journey Leading to Their Destination

Chris and Alex aren't exactly your short order cooks with shorter culinary vision. Although only in their mid-30s, they have paid those proverbial dues to make it in the food business. Chris and Alex both washed dishes at the Northampton Brewery in their mid-teens. Chris started working nights and weekends, locally, at Grand Occasions Catering Company in 1997, learning a great deal about food preparation and culinary creativity. Interestingly enough, Chris went on to major in biochemistry at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His real chemistry, however, was with cooking, showing an innate gift for the art and science of creating food. Chris did spend four summers at Martha's Vineyard, Mass. and one more season there with Alex before returning to his hometown to become a head chef at the Northampton Brewery.

Chris sparked Alex's interest in the restaurant industry, thus beginning a long journey from dishwasher to  cook to sous chef to co-restaurant owner.  Alex started gaining seasonal restaurant experience on the Vineyard before attending the Culinary Institute of America on Hyde Park, N.Y. He spent a rigorous 20-month program there -- including a real life classroom at the renowned Brigsten's restaurant in New Orleans, La. -- before graduating with an associates degree in the culinary arts. He then worked three years at State Road Restaurant on the Vineyard before heading to New York City, N.Y. to work at Riverpark restaurant where American cuisine and South American flavors highlighted the menu.

Inspired by Riverpark, Alex called Chris and they eventually bought Jake's. It took 100 days of renovations, staff interviews and hiring and purchasing food along with the unexpected setbacks of an ice storm and two-day power outage before opening on Nov. 2, 2011.

Since then, however, the 21st Century version of Jake's has truly taken off in both locations.

"We love what we do," said Alex. "The right career decision was made, I would say!"


Conclusion

Jakes in Northampton, Mass.
Jake's in Northampton. Photo source: Jake's Facebook Fan Page.


Breakfast and lunch places exist in virtually every town and city, but how many of them truly rise above standard fare? Most do not while some do manage to go beyond the norm. Jake's, on the other hand, doesn't seem content by being standard or even just going beyond the norm. Chris and Alex live and breathe their profession by constantly innovating, creating and producing foods that would probably end up on one of those "Best of Boston" lists if their restaurants were located closer to the city (plus, they have a full liquor license!). The everyday people of Amherst and the Pioneer Valley, however, place Jake's on its own "best" list as evidenced by the crowds. What's more, the creative vision doesn't translate to overcharging for meals -- something very common amongst some self-perceived elites who run those "gourmet" type restaurants.

Chris and Alex, on the other hand, humbly go about their jobs without a need for seeking celebrity cook status or raising their egos higher than the hill towns of western Massachusetts. They are essentially working-class kids who transitioned to adulthood with the same strong work ethic they displayed as Eagle Scouts in their youth.

"We've built our own rapport with each other growing up, with our love for food and with our customers at Jake's," said Alex. "We couldn't ask for anything more."


Jake's is located at:
17 King St., Northampton, MA. 01060 Tel. 413-584-9613.
68 Cowls Rd., North Amherst, MA 01002. Tel. 413-230-3717
Web Site:
http://www.jakesnorthampton.com

Facebook fan pages: https://www.facebook.com/JakesNorthampton/
https://www.facebook.com/JakesAmherst/


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