Jake’s, a Landmark Downtown Eatery, Reopens Its Doors
The New Owners Averted Disaster when a Freak October Snowstorm Knocked Out Power, Almost Ruining their $5,000 Opening Week Food Order
By DAVID REID
NORTHAMPTON – The long-awaited opening of Jake’s, the iconic downtown no-frills restaurant, got off to a stumble two weeks ago because of the massive October 29-30 snowstorm that knocked out power to the entire city.
The day before the snow started falling, and three days before their planned re-opening, chefs Alex Washut and Chris Ware – who had bought the defunct Jake’s in late July – received a $5,000 order of food, their first such shipment. After months of restoring and refurbishing the restaurant, they figured they’d be ready to start cooking and serving breakfasts and lunch on Monday.
On Saturday afternoon, the wet, heavy snow began falling. By late Saturday, power outages began to strike the region, and by Sunday morning the entire city was without electricity.
Luckily for Ware and Washut – boyhood friends and cooking companions since they attended kindergarten in Florence, now in their late 20s – their landlord, Gary Perman of Westhampton, came to the rescue with a generator. (See our story about Ware and Washut’s purchase of the business by clicking here.)
For two nights, the lads slept in the dark at the store, making sure their coolers and freezers had enough power to preserve the meats and vegetables, juices and greens they had ordered to kick off their first entrepreneurial effort.
Two days later than they had planned, but having survived the historic snowstorm without losing more than a few bags of salad greens, they opened Jake’s doors.
So far, the turnout among longtime regulars of Jake’s has been promising, and this past week there were times when all 67 chairs at the place were filled.
Sure, Ware said, there are plenty of things remaining on the “to do” list: finalizing the smaller, jazzed-up menu; replacing the waffle iron, which broke shortly before opening; picking up the custom-made front counter and display case; completing a new website; and launching an advertising campaign.
Re-Opening Draws New Customers and Old
But Jake’s is back.
And on Friday, Veterans Day, the place was packed. Regulars were seated at the counter, and there was a line of customers out the door waiting for a seat.
One couple, visiting from Ayer, had driven here in search of the Jake’s, having read about it in their local newspaper.
Among the menu additions are specialty coffees: latte, cappuccino and espresso. The hash of the day is a creative venture; Friday it featured roast pork, sweet potato and carrot. The omelets offer a variety of tasty ingredients. While the number of lunch sandwiches is limited — you won’t find the classic Jake’s turkey club, for example — there are delicious soups of the day, grits and salads.
Don’t expect to see any familiar faces among the wait staff. New waiters were hired from a Craigslist ad, Ware said. And there are clearly some things that need to be ironed out: while service was gracious and attentive during one visit, our eggs and toast arrived late and a bit on the cool side Friday morning, and we had to ask for ketchup and jam.
“We have some things to iron out,” said Ware. “But we had to open the doors.”
At least one of the owners can always be seen preparing orders in the kitchen. Alex says they swap off administrative and cooking tasks; Chris says they are working long hours and getting too little sleep.
The two chefs are at the restaurant from 5 a.m. until 9 or 10 p.m. daily. “It’s a tough business (but) we’re having fun with it,” said Ware.
They’ve replaced all the kitchen equipment except the griddle, they’ve deep-cleaned the place and restored the wood paneling, brought in new table cloths and glass tops, installed ceiling fans, shortened the counter and purchased an espresso machine. There’s little artwork on the walls, but it’s all still evolving.
Beer, Wine and Dinners
Alex says he and Chris are waiting for the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission’s final OK of a seasonal liquor license already approved by the city’s License Commission. As soon as they get the word, he said, they will begin serving beer and wine to customers (except between Jan. 15 and April 1, as the law provides).
And their plan to serve dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights will have to wait until the breakfasts and lunches get into a comfortable rhythm, Chris said.
“If we take on too much, we’re not going to (ensure) consistency and quality with every plate.”
It’s a seven-day-a-week job, and Washut and Ware know it will take a while to manage operations the way they want to. Give them some feedback, they’ll be glad to listen.
The restaurant’s long history dates back decades to city restaurateur John Smith, who sold the business to Northampton resident Daniel Workman in 1986, who in turn sold it to Perman last year. In July 2010, Melissa Flynn Brunt of Easthampton bought the business from Perman, but she threw in the towel this June and closed the doors. Forty-five days later, Ware and Washut purchased the business for an undisclosed amount.
For years, Kevin Kousch of Westfield told us, he’s been meeting his sister from Franklin County at Jake’s almost every weekend. For the past five months, they’ve had to find other breakfast spots.
“I’m glad it’s open again,” Kousch said Friday. “And the food was better today than ever.”
That’s the kind of feedback the two new owner-chefs like to hear.
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at email@example.com