Leverett Village Co-op expands to offer weekly candlelit dinners

Manager says ‘there’s no end’ to store’s possibilities

  • Hendrix Berry, left, and Anna Edge enjoy a meal as part of the Wednesday night dinner series at the Leverett Village Co-op. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Leverett Village Co-op is now offering candlelit dinners on Wednesday evenings as part of an overall effort to grow the market into a “grocerant.” Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Berkshire Brewing Company Founder Gary Bogoff pours beer tastings as part of the Wednesday night dinner series at the Leverett Village Co-op. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Belinda Lyons-Zucker, left, talks with Donna Gates during the Wednesday night dinner series at the Leverett Village Co-op. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Adam Smith, from left, Sarah Patton and Sue Patton converse during the Wednesday night dinner series at the Leverett Village Co-op. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Lou Graham of Leverett plays guitar during the Wednesday night dinner series at the Leverett Village Co-op. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Guest chef Rachelle Crocker, of Honey ‘N Schmaltz catering, prepares lamb chops during the Wednesday night dinner series at the Leverett Village Co-op. Staff Photo/Dan Little

For the Recorder
Published: 4/9/2019 2:09:08 PM

Something’s cooking at the Leverett Village Co-op.

Now that the co-op, which sells groceries and baked goods as well as beer and wine, has started serving candlelit dinners several times a month, the sky’s the limit, say key players in the effort to grow the Moores Corner market into a “grocerant.”

“The vision for the co-op is for us to be a full-service grocery with local meats, local vegetables and cheeses, all the wonderful things you would expect, and also to grow this restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner options,” said Ann Walsh, who became the store’s manager last July.

The co-op, which sells to members and non-members alike, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, has been a gathering place for coffee and home-baked pastries. It also serves simple lunches in a cozy dining area.

But since November, the Wednesday night dinners, served with lights turned down, candles lit, linen tablecloths and soft guitar music playing in the background, have served up something completely different: gourmet meals prepared by guest chefs.

“If you live in Shutesbury,” said Stephen Smulski, who in fact does, and was one of about 15 diners at a recent Wednesday evening meal, “everything is at least 20 minutes away. Here, you run into friends. In fact, every time, we’ve known lots of people here.”

The fixed-price menu has featured grapefruit salad, Moroccan feta-stuffed flatbread with lamb tagine, and maple and five-spice roast pork loin, as well as a tuna tartare bowl with cubed tuna, ginger and chili aioli served with purple cabbage, lime, avocado and wilted spinach.

Dessert is an extra. Reservations are recommended.

“I love that it’s a little local place with rotating chefs,” said Kara Kritis of Northampton, who sat with friends while Lou Graham of Leverett played guitar.

Jeff Lacy of Shutesbury, one of several repeat diners at the meal, added, “I like that it’s a place to dine up in the hills. It’s nice not to have to drive down to Amherst to get a nice dinner.”

With about half a dozen tables, there are two seatings — at 5:30 and 7 p.m. — for an intimate dinner prepared by chefs like Michaelangelo Wescott of Shelburne Falls’ Gypsy Apple Bistro, Paul Hathaway of the former Chez Albert in Amherst and Rachelle Crocker of Honey ’N Schmaltz catering. Berkshire Brewing Company’s Gary Bogoff has offered beer samples.

“Rachelle grew up next door, and had originally talked to the co-op about using the kitchen,” said Walsh, who has three decades of experience in special events coordination and retail food marketing, including managing a farm store and working for Whole Foods. “After I arrived, we talked, and that evolved into a conversation about doing special dinners.”

“I’ve lived in Shutesbury for 22 years and I’ve always loved the co-op,” Walsh continued. “When the community has a place to gather and be literally nourished, these events are a way to bring people together and celebrate.”

But the Wednesday dinners, which will continue April 24, are only part of the plan, explained Susan Linton, president of the co-op board.

“We want to re-do the whole store as a ‘grocerant,’ to become a destination for people in Amherst and all around,” said Linton, who worked as a strategic marketing consultant in New York before retiring to Leverett.

With prepared foods representing the fastest growing section in grocery stores nationally and with many markets turning to in-store eating, she said, “We thought since there are very few restaurants here, we’d try more fine dining at least one night a week and see how it went. We discovered it’s incredibly popular, and people use it as a community gathering place.

“And the food is delicious,” Linton added, “with a farm-to-table concept using wonderful ingredients from around here, and a real sense of community. And people are surprised because they come in and it’s candlelit, with tablecloths and soft music in the background.”

The idea for serving meals at the co-op wasn’t based on a particular model, Linton said, but grew out of a recognition — based on statistics from the co-op’s own market plan and research — that the store could heat up its business.

‘“Grocerants’ has become a new concept nationally,” she said. “The grocery business is a stagnant business, and there isn’t another grocery within five miles of here. Within that five miles, $9 million is being spent, yet the co-op is capturing only $600,000 of it because nobody knows about us and what we’re doing.”

What they’re doing in the “Cafe Rattle and Schnooze” dining area in addition to the dinners is hosting frequent pop-up events like Sunday morning breakfasts, a “girls night out” chocolate and wine pairing, and beer samplings from local breweries to accompany the Friday night pizza take-out that’s been ongoing for years.

For families who want a more affordable meal, the co-op is planning to launch an Italian night on Thursdays. A pop-up outdoor burger event is also planned for April 17.

A big piece of the plan is a renovation that would expand seating in the dining area from 18 to 40, so there wouldn’t need to be back-to-back servings.

In the co-op’s yard, Walsh imagines serving meals, maybe with a tent, maybe served on long picnic tables, family-style. There will possibly be badminton matches, music nights or movies shown outdoors.

“There’s no end to what we can do here,” she said. “This is a little gem in the woods. We want it to be a little destination place and try to meet all kinds of needs.”

For reservations to the Wednesday dinners, stop by the co-op at 180 Rattlesnake Gutter Road or call 413-367-9794.

Recently retired, Richie Davis was a writer and editor for more than 40 years at the Greenfield Recorder. His website is richiedavis.net.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy