Jake’s Restaurant sold, minor changes planned

Melissa Brunt, new proprietor of Jake's restaurant

NORTHAMPTON – Jake’s, the popular “no-frills dining” restaurant in the heart of downtown, and the building that houses it at 17 King St., were sold July 15 by longtime owner Daniel Workman to a Westhampton couple, Gary J. and Carol A. Perman. Records from the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds show that the Permans paid Workman’s No Frills, Inc. $480,000 for the property.

Jake’s new proprietor, Melissa Flynn Brunt, 28, of Easthampton, was in the restaurant last Sunday, greeting diners as well as relatives there to wish her well. Brunt said the Permans paid $637,000 for the business and building, and that she is leasing the space and the business, which she will run.

Workman, who has been the sole owner of Jake’s since December 1986, told Northampton Media he was “approached by some folks” interested in buying the restaurant and building.

“It just felt like it was right, a good time for me,” said Workman, adding that the deal “moved along pretty quick” from the discussion stage to the actual sale. He said the property and business were never listed with a real estate agent, and that he did not seek out other potential buyers.

Brunt, who grew up in Brimfield, Mass., had worked as a bartender first at Fitzwilly’s and then at the Toasted Owl, both on Main Street, for about five years. Although she did not disclose the financial arrangement she has with the Permans, she described the overall purchase price as fair. “I think it’s a pretty good deal for (in) Northampton,” she said.

Although she has never owned a business or run a restaurant, and never expressed an interest in buying the longtime city landmark, Brunt said she was talking to Workman a few months ago and “he asked me if I wanted to buy a restaurant.” Brunt, a frequent patron of Jake’s over a decade who knows some of the staff there, said she had a good feeling about the venture.
However it happened, Brunt said she didn’t have the money, but approached the Permans, whom she had known for some time, and they agreed to provide the investment capital. The Permans did not respond to a request for an interview.

Jake's restaurant at night. The new owner says she plans to open up late nights a few times a week.

According to state corporate records, the Permans are the sole managers of Strong Ave LLC. Hampshire County real estate records show their entity owns three other downtown property: a building at 17-25 Market St. (bought in 2006 for $975,000); a building at 15-17 Strong Ave. (bought in 2005 for $650,000); and a condominium unit, No. 30, at the Strong Block Condominiums (bought in 2007 for $260,000).

Brunt said she plans to keep the Jake’s name, to upgrade the lunch menu, to open late on a few late nights a week (Workman tried it for a few years) and to start accepting credit cards, but will delay tinkering with the breakfast menu for now. The restaurant does not serve dinner, but breakfast is available at all times.

As for the staff, Brunt said they will all remain (“Everyone here’s awesome.”) and vowed to keep the “kitchy, old-timey” look and feel of the place. While much of the stuff that lines the walls – like old coffee can and cola posters – will remain, Brunt said, Workman will keep many of the original drawings and paintings, which Brunt said she couldn’t afford to buy.

Workman said he is proud of the friendly atmosphere and local character he provided at Jake’s, but said that, despite its small size – about 1,200 square feet of restaurant space – the restaurant was a lot of work. “It’s a small place (and) it looks easy. But when you’re open seven days a week, it’s a lot of time and effort.”Workman pointed out that he has been in the restaurant business since about 1971, having worked in South Carolina, Nantucket and New York before buying Jake’s. He said this city’s large percentage of small businesses help make Northampton “a special place,” and that he tried to provide good food at a reasonable cost: “It was a concept we had, and we kind of stuck to it.”

Although he claims to have no immediate work plans and no irons in the fire, Workman began the interview by saying, “I’m not retiring. I’ve got some chicken left on the bone.” But he said it will be a few weeks before he knows what direction to go in, sticking with food service work of something else. After all, he said, “This is the first time I haven’t had a job since high school.”

One thing Workman said he is sure of — well, sort of— is that he does not want to be the sole proprietor of a business again, where he is the only one responsible for everything without middle managers to whom he can delegate tasks. Instead, he said, he’d prefer to be “the penultimate person,” the man behind the scenes.

On the other hand, he said, “I might just change my mind and probably will.”

Records of the city assessor show that the footprint for Jake’s is 39 feet by 30 feet, for a total of just under 1,200 square feet on the main floor. There is a smaller basement accessible from the first floor, and two offices above the restaurant with a separate street entrance. The building shares the north and east walls with the Calvin Theater, and was part of the original movie theater complex there. City records state the building was built around 1900. The deed states that the building was bought in 1920 by regional movie-theater owners Samuel and Nathan Goldstein, and later by GB Theaters Corp.

According to county records, Strong Ave LLC took out a $565,000 mortgage on the King Street property from Country Bank for Savings in Ware, an amount that is more than the sale price stated in the deed but less that the total sale price quoted by Brunt, which might have included the business, furnishings, equipment and good name. Also, county records show that the Permans signed an agreement with Brunt giving her the right of first refusal in case they have an offer to sell off the building or the “equipment.”

City records also show the building, its land and the restaurant are assessed at a total of $434,000. County records show that Workman bought the property and business in December 1986 from businessman and restaurateur John J. Smith for $305,000.

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