Mexican in Shelburne Falls? Olé!
Pacifico “Tony” Palumbo and Michael Collins stand inside the former North River Glass studio on Deerfield Street in Shelburne Falls, where they hope to open a new Mexican restaurant named Mi Vida Loca.
Pacifico "Tony"Palumbo and Michael Collins outside the former North River Glass studio on Deerfield Street in Shelburne Falls, where they hope to open a new Mexican restaurant named Mi Vida Loca.
SHELBURNE FALLS — If all goes as hoped, Michael Collins and Pacifico “Tony” Palumbo — former co-owners of a popular Colrain eatery — could be starting something folks have wanted for a long time: a restaurant next to the Glacial Potholes.
During their 20 years of running a restaurant at The Green Emporium, Collins and Palumbo received restaurant critics’ praises and features in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Yankee Magazine and Saveur Magazine, Bon Appetit, Self Magazine and in travel books.
Now they hope to repeat their success at a new restaurant, in the former North River Glass studio near the Young and Constantin Gallery.
But first, they are trying to raise money to convert the cavernous glass-blowing shop into a Mexican restaurant, with a wood-fired brick oven, fully accessible bathrooms, tables and outdoor seating areas.
The Green Emporium, located in an old church building, closed its doors on April 1, 2012, when the renovated building and furnishings were given to a Florida-based family member to resolve a bitter inheritance dispute in Probate Court. The building and its future have been in limbo ever since.
Palumbo said he and Collins had invested about $250,000 in the Colrain building during their years as restaurateurs and now the building needs roof repairs. They are still hoping someone will buy the building and re-open a restaurant in Colrain center.
“Even though we love Colrain — my heart will always be in Colrain — we have to move on,” said Palumbo.
“When we first got the Emporium, we wanted to leave Colrain with some sort of mark,” said Collins. “I wanted to leave Colrain better than it was. I think we added a lot to the community.”
The Green Emporium was originally bought in 1992 as a gallery to showcase artist Tony Palumbo’s neon sculpture , with a little cafe on the side, but people loved this little off-the-beaten-path restaurant within an old church building.
Collins and Palumbo first ran it as a formal restaurant, then changed it into “Mike and Tony’s Pizza at the Green Emporium,” a more casual eatery with pizza, lighter fare, a long wooden bar and live entertainment.
During those years, the restaurant also donated money for computers at Colrain Central School, for the Mary Lyon Educational Foundation, and held benefits for various groups, including the Dakin Animal Shelter.
“We have never asked anyone for a penny,” said Collins.
Losing the Emporium came about six months after Collins and Palumbo’s rural home was flooded with 3 feet of water from Tropical Storm Irene. They had used up their savings and even took out a reverse mortgage to clean up the damage and restore their home.
Mi Vida Loca
Last November Palumbo and Collins learned that glass artist Jeremy Simkus had moved out of the glass-blowing studio on Deerfield Avenue. The two men have long been friends with studio owner Kathy Young and knew her late husband, glass artist Christopher Constantin, who died in 2001.
“We had this opportunity, because we found out from Cathy the space was available,” said Collins. “There was a place that came first. It was right there. It (belonged to) a friend of ours. It felt like a little bit of magic to find it. There’s been an emptiness for us, since the restaurant closed.”
Collins and Palumbo had traveled to Mexico and South America in the past, and had thought of starting a restaurant based on Mexican cuisine. But when they went inside the old glass-blowing studio to look around, they found the name for their future restaurant.
“‘Mi Vida Loca’ was written on a plaster wall, in a graffiti style, and circled,” said Collins. “It’s Spanish for ‘My Crazy Life.’”
Palumbo said they Googled the phrase, which was part of the name of a Ricky Martin hit song, and found plenty of references on the Internet. But no “Mi Vida Loca restaurant,” so they claimed the domain name.
“Tony and I are crazy enough to start a new life,” said Collins.
But for now, they are hoping to raise enough money to make the needed investments for a new restaurant. The two have applied for a Franklin County Community Development Corp. small business loan to go toward what they estimate will be about $50,000 worth of start-up costs. These will include plumbing, electrical upgrades and carpentry for two bathrooms.
“I’m very excited for them to go in here,” said building and gallery owner Kathy Young. “I think it would be great to have a different kind of food in town, and I’m really hoping they get some help.”
Collins and Palumbo are planning a Kickstarter fundraising campaign on the Internet. Until then, anyone wishing to donate may send a check made out to: Mi Vida Loca, c/o Michael Collins or Pacifico Columbo, 2 Heath Road, Colrain, MA 01340.
For more information, call them at 413-624-3275.