Brass Buckle restaurant closing Feb. 1

  • The Brass Buckle, which will close Feb. 1. recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Saturday, January 06, 2018

GREENFIELD — The owners of the Brass Buckle say the restaurant has had its best year yet, but when it came time to renew their lease at 204 Main St., JD Hairston and Anika Balaconis had to do some self-reflection.

The two had been contemplating selling the restaurant for more than a year. In September 2016, they put the business on the market in hopes of pursuing a new challenge, but changed their minds the following January after receiving an overwhelming response from the community.

Now, a year later, Hairston and Balaconis have announced that the Brass Buckle will open and close its doors for the last time on Feb. 1.

“We have a clearer head about it this time; we were so wrapped up in some of the emotion last year and we really wanted to do right by us, but we felt really super obligated to the community, and in the end, that’s what had us turned around last time,” Hairston said. “We just couldn’t bear to say ‘bye’ to everyone, and we gave it the good ol’ college try.”

The couple, which has owned the restaurant since 2012, felt drawn to do something else, and Hairston said they had to listen to their gut. The Brass Buckle serves southern and Tex-Mex comfort food with an emphasis on local ingredients, and has been a popular breakfast and lunch spot in Greenfield for the past six years.

“We were in our 20s when we opened this place and we just went full in, we jumped right in and didn’t consider anything else,” Hairston said. “Maybe we’re just at a point where we want to consider other things. I don’t know what those are.”

“We’ll find out,” Balaconis added. “I think we were just focused on being awesome.”

Despite the weight of the decision, Hairston and Balaconis don’t want the change to be a negative one. Hairston said it’s a strange feeling to want to undo so much of what he’s built over the past six years, but said the restaurant’s staff has been understanding. On Friday, a customer stopped by to congratulate Hairston and give him a high-five.

“We’re all sad, but we’re also excited to see what else we can do. Anika and I are just kind of going into a freefall and seeing what kind of possibilities come our way,” he said. “We’re also trying to be very supportive of our staff and hope that they find something that does something well for them.”

Brass Buckle employee Aaron Delgado, a civil engineering student at Greenfield Community College, first came to the restaurant as a customer and was hired a year and a half ago. He said he’s sad to see the business leave, but hopes the change will push him toward new ventures.

“It’s a great place, I’ve definitely practiced a lot with my social skills with the customers here because I never really had that skill set and I got whipped into shape — not literally — but I noticed a big improvement on work ethic and communication working here,” he said.

The business itself is no longer for sale, and Hairston said he’s unsure of what will occupy the restaurant’s space at the corner of Main and Chapman streets. He and Balaconis spent years building a unique restaurant that can’t be replicated.

“That also means there was no way for us to do the stereotypical walk away thing, we couldn’t put anyone in our place,” he said.

But the co-owners are giving the community a little piece of the Brass Buckle to take home. On Friday, Hairston sat on a stool at the restaurant’s counter, flipping through a large red binder of recipes, jotting down notes for a zine he’s planning to make. The zine will be full of recipes for some of the Brass Buckles’ beloved dishes, which customers can learn to make themselves.

Since announcing the restaurant’s closing on Facebook, Hairston said the community’s response has been very supportive. The post on the Brass Buckle’s Facebook page has received more than 80 comments — many wishing the owners well and expressing sadness at their decision to close.

Hairston said he couldn’t be more thankful for the support they’ve received in Greenfield.

“There’s no words to describe what it’s going to feel like to walk away from such a beautiful thing,” he said, adding, “Thanks, Greenfield, for letting us be so weird, because if I didn’t spend the past years being as weird as I got to be, I don’t know where I’d be. Greenfield lifted us up into a really cool place where we all felt possibly even cooler than we are, because everyone was so nice and accepting and welcoming.”

Beginning next month, Hairston and Balaconis plan to travel and relax, and hope to begin holding food-related pop-ups. Hairston said they’d like to stay in the area, but don’t know where their ventures will take them.

“It’s super emotional and we want to show that we’re super thankful, there’s no sob story, there’s no sadness other than this beautiful thing going away, but we’ve loved doing this and we want to leave with a big smiley face so everybody only remembers the Brass Buckle for positive stuff,” he said. “Our priority is to close out this month with no sign of giving up or slowing down or doing less good — we’re just going to knock it out of the park, hopefully.”