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.
and master chefs Alex Washut and Chris Ware have taken basic breakfast
concepts to an entirely different level (like the astonishing selection
of hash dishes)
Jake's at the Mill waitress Paige Chiaretta brings out pork belly eggs
and bagels and lox.
Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo.
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
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.
Jake's in Northampton. Photo source: Jake's Northampton Facebook
"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
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 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
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...
Breakfast at Jake's. Photo source: Jake's Facebook fan page.
And fresh salads, soups and sandwiches for lunch...
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,"
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 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
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:
Pork and Roasted Sweet Potato
Ham with Mop Sauce
Flannel Hash”: Bacon, White Potatoes and Roasted Red Beets
Pork and Green Apple
and Sour Thai Pork
Sausage and Peppers
Beef with a Horseradish Cream
Pot Roast Hash
Chicken and Poblano
Fresh Pineapple and Canadian Bacon
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
Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Restaurant in Amherst
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
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
use community called The Mill
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.
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 Jake's in North Amherst.
President Cinda Jones gave Jake's a saw blade from the
original sawmill -- this artifact is prominently featured on a wall.
A closer look at
the saw blade featured on a wall at Jake's in North Amherst.
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
And, of course, all that glorious comfort food from Jake's in
Northampton can be enjoyed at the North Amherst location...
BLT (with avocado) from Jake's in North Amherst.
The Journey Leading to Their Destination
Chris and Alex
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,
Occasions Catering Company in 1997, learning a great deal about food
preparation and culinary creativity. Interestingly enough, Chris went
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
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
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
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
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
need for seeking celebrity cook status or raising their egos higher
than the hill towns of western Massachusetts. They are essentially
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."
17 King St., Northampton, MA. 01060 Tel. 413-584-9613.
68 Cowls Rd., North Amherst, MA 01002.
Web Site: http://www.jakesnorthampton.com
fan pages: https://www.facebook.com/JakesNorthampton/
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