Witnessing how one man’s passion fuels others’ pleasures
When The Flats opened in the quiet Cape Cod town of Brewster, we were excited. At first glance, it seemed to offer high quality food, and had some interesting meal and drink options. It also seemed right for us, given that Brewster is nearby and doesn’t have the same summer crowds as, say, Hyannis; we’re also willing to pay a little extra for a dining experience that has quality built into every aspect of it, yet does so with a casual feel. But in all candor, we’d forgotten about them for a little while.
As The Flats started to build a fuller social media presence, we began running across them more. And they caught my eye when they had a creative donation as part of a the annual Figawi Ball charity event we’d attended, and that I unsuccessfully bid on. (In fairness, it was a rookie mistake. I should’ve waited until five minutes before the end of the silent auction and then outspent the prior bidder.) But our interactions after that event led me to take a closer look, and I learned a lot from what Mason Pryme, executive chef and owner, shared about his experience of opening this restaurant.
One of the things I really enjoy about Cape Cod is how many small businesses exist, and the closeness of the locals, who routinely give me ideas for places to check out. What I didn’t fully appreciate is what it’s like being someone on the receiving end who’s also just starting a new business. There are always going to be the random hiccups, events out of your control, and lessons learned. But that learning curve has to be quick, given that word-of-mouth will spread quickly among locals, and tourists are counting on you to help deliver a great vacation.
So, imagine running across a thread in a local Facebook group about your restaurant. I’d be instantly nervous as I pored over the feedback. Then, imagine finding so many positive comments. And with widely public forums like Open Table, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, your performance is under a microscope for all the world to see. When a new restaurant such as The Flats launches, there are people to hire and train, systems to implement and refine, menus to test and tweak, so it’s almost impossible to go off without a hitch. It seems intimidating. But as Chef Pryme noted, “cooking is a very rewarding career because food brings people together.” That perspective coupled with about three decades of experience, created a willingness to brave such challenges required to open The Flats.
With Chef Pryme’s emphasis on the excellent quality of both the ingredients and how those are put together and then delivered by staff, it’s easy to understand the excitement when customers respond. I hadn’t considered the added scrutiny that would come when another chef eats at your restaurant, but can appreciate how great to leave that person equally happy.
More poignantly, Mason discussed his and his wife’s parents coming in. It’s another example of the difference between small businesses and Corporate America: my parents never sat in one of my meetings, appreciating the flawless PowerPoint deck I’m walking a team through (which is fortunate for all of us). But to have your parents sitting in a full room buzzing with the excitement of happy customers, and seeing the very tangible culmination of your vision and dedicated execution of it, would be an emotional moment you’d carry with you, as would your parents.
As the second summer has now wound down, The Flats appears to be settling in well. Regardless of how good the food and drink is it’s still a business, with permits to obtain and maintain, HR functions that need to be smooth, and numbers to routinely crunch. But the staff has seemed genuinely happy and clearly well prepared, which is a subtle window into the business. The Flats will now stay open year round, aside of a brief timeout in January. Locals should file that nugget away! And with the shoulder season starting, they’ll rotate in some seasonal comfort food and a prix fixe weekday menu for the last three months of the year. In addition to availability for holiday parties, they’ll also build on last year’s New Year’s Eve event, with a four-course dinner, live music, and champagne toast. There aren’t many New Year’s Eve options on the Cape’s Route 6A, as we well know, so this could be a good option for anyone in the area.
I really appreciated the firsthand sharing that allowed me to see how someone can take a passion and turn it into a success. It gave me added perspective on how much goes into a flawless dining experience. Many small businesses on Cape Cod and in a lot of tourist towns hustle hard during the busy season, and then hustle in a different way when it quiets down. To get a fuller understanding of everything Chef Pryme, Co-Chef Tim Ames, and the team put into the restaurant leaves me with a fuller appreciation of the next meal I'll get there.
Enjoying a mix of small batch coffee, craft beer, and local history at a couple’s new business
It’s so logical, you instantly wonder why more people aren’t doing the same thing: a brewery and taproom that also roasts and serves its own coffee. Brilliant. And perfect.
When I ran across an upcoming launch of a new brewery and coffee roaster launching in Marlborough, Massachusetts, it made so much sense from a business standpoint: the facilities are largely the same, so you’re only paying for the coffee-specific equipment and supplies, and some added staffing costs; it’s nicely efficient. Plus, the customers who appreciate you for one side of your business are probably going to check you out for the other side as well, or at least pass along word of mouth.
I’d been keeping my eye out for this place to open, and it seemed to go on forever, until I wondered if it actually would ever launch. In fact, I stumbled across it only by accident, based on other plans falling through and finding myself bored on a Saturday and fishing for something to do. It’s been a while since I’ve been as happy to have misfortune smile down on me.
As I read more about the new business, the backstory became more interesting and a genuinely nice story. The owners, JP and Melynda Gallagher, are trying to carve out lives for themselves. They’re not frat buddies who just want to drink for free, or some international brewing conglomerate bankrolling a a new subsidiary. They’re a couple who grew up in town. He home brewed but has tried to learn to do this at scale by attending the American Brewers Guild. She’s just as passionate about coffee, putting in time at the Coffee Lab International School of Coffee, passionate about her own niche rather than, for example, just doing the books for his business.
Their familiarity with their roots shows up heavily in the business. There are paintings of the town’s factories from her grandfather, Curtis Whitney, a WWII veteran and painter; Whit’s Way, one of the beers, has gotta be named after his grandfather; Downtown John Brown, another beer, is named for John Brown. His famed abolitionist raid on Harper’s Ferry in the run-up to the civil war took place in Virginia. But after an odd series of events, the town’s bell, referred to as “the second most important bell in America”, eventually ended up in downtown Marlborough. And the business itself is an ode to the town’s previously numerous shoe factories.
However, it took tremendous perseverance to ever open. The coffee roaster added more permitting, which was of particular concern to the town because of some prior challenges with a previous roaster that caused bad odors to hang over downtown. While the town was just looking out for its broader citizenry and business base, it still added more hurdles for a small business and new entrepreneurs trying to get something exciting started.
Despite being there on opening day, things were going surprisingly well. Lines weren’t bad, despite the place being largely filled late in the afternoon. With any new launch, there are stresses and unforeseen gaps to address. But we weren’t seeing any breakdown or problems. In fact, not only were the customers all smiling, but the owners were as well, as they flew around tending to everyone. So, too, were the staff, looking happy to be a part of an exciting moment.
The vibe of the place was casual and friendly, with some interesting accents. There were also parents there with kids, and adults from their 20’s to their 60’s, and some games available for patrons. The beers, too, were solid. The lineup will almost triple from the initial six offerings, but starts off with something for everyone, from a kolsch to an IPA to a brown ale to a coffee stout, and a couple more. Coffee options also start out limited, but include a refreshing cold brew and espresso, in addition to a couple of hot coffee options, and will grow in the future. My favorite was the New Pair of Brews stout with their coffee, which made it pleasantly difficult to tell whether I was having a beer or a cold brew. They don’t sell food, but you’re free to bring your own; a couple of snacks will be coming soon.
All in all, this place is great. It’s a feel-good story about a younger couple trying to make a go of things and chasing their dreams while supporting each other’s. It’s a fresh, one-of-a-kind option for morning or mid-day coffee, and a tasty after-work or weekend beer. So, if you find yourself in Massachusetts’ MetroWest region, walk in, check it out, and get off your feet for a couple of hours of casual fun.
Would've paid more attention in high school science class if they taught about distilling!
During a day trip out to the Berkshires in southwestern Massachusetts, we took a break from visiting antique shops and museums to visit the Berkshire Mountain Distillers (BMD). Having read that was rated as having the best craft gin in the country, it seemed worth checking out.
A few years back, they grew and consolidated their operations to their current location. Their store is large, casual, with a diverse set of offerings between their large lineup of spirits, bitters, swag, and some added items from local businesses. The display’s theme of rustic wood and whiskey barrels remind you that this is a distillery in the mountains.
We found a decent-sized group sampling at the counter, along with other couples. We had signed up for a tour, and found that we were the only ones for that hour, so we headed out back with Michael to begin our personalized session.
Michael, one of the distillers, walked us through a progression of BMD’s spirits, from rum to vodka to gin to whiskey. He explained the science and terminology behind distilling. Since BMD also has an ever-evolving setoff infused gins, Michael discussed how they limit these to a single release and challenge themselves to constantly finding new options. Current examples include one with hibiscus, lime, and lavender; to one adding cubeb and allspice; to one aged over a year in whiskey barrels. The diversity of the ethereal gins allows any gin fan to find an unusual version for their own preference. Since these are routinely rotating, it further makes for a version to be savored and appreciated while it lasts.
Similarly, they use scotch barrels to diversify their rum and whiskey lineups as well. BMD’s bourbon also has several options using beer casks from craft brewers, to add an interesting twist on an already-high quality product.
After Michael had finished the tour, answering a number of our questions along the way about the science, the production process, and the growth of the business, we adjourned to the tasting room. This allowed us to consider which ethereal gin and which bourbon worked best for us. The woman helping us was as knowledgeable as Michael, and helpful in filling in some additional details; other than the rum that requires sugarcane from down south, they source all they can from local farmers and their own garden. We wound up choosing one of the ethereal gins along with their bourbon. Their regular bourbon was so deliciously smooth, with great vanilla, caramel, and rye notes, so we opted for it over their cask-flavored choices. Perhaps it was so great because it sources water from a protected granite spring that served as a health attraction to city dwellers a century ago. Or, maybe after a decade in business, they’ve perfected their craft. But we can honestly say that the combination of taste and cleanliness led to BMD’s bourbon passing a couple of other brands as our preferred bourbon. Coupled with their coffee bitters, we were walking out already looking forward to an Old Fashioned that night.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers is definitely a fun, interesting place to visit, and you’ll likely walk away with at least one souvenir. Some of their more standard products are available in larger liquor stores near us, so you may find an ability to re-stock, depending on what you’re looking for. Between the tour and sampling, our visit lasted about ninety minutes. So if you’re not local to that area, it may be best visited as part of a day filled with a few stops. However you choose to do it, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy your time there.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers
Hours: 12pm-5pm (Mondays close at 4pm, Saturdays open at 11am)
Tours: $10/person, plan for an hour
Happily chipping away at visiting the New England wineries
Sharpe Hill produces a number of wines, with a mix of whites and reds, as well as rose and dessert wine. There is also a mix of grapes, from more traditional Chardonnay and Riesling to less common St. Croix and Dornfelder. Offering some as blends allows for a more diverse lineup, and all grapes are estate except for what’s obtained in nearby Rhode Island.
The tastings can be done based on your choice of six wines, or you can try the entire suite of wines. The summaries of the wines helpfully lists how many awards each wine has garnered, as well as the food that pairs well. This very helpfully allows you to think about the wine in the context of broader meals that you might be creating.
Each wine was presented very knowledgeably, not just repeating the details on the write-ups, but with added information about the vineyard, grape, and winemaking process. Those conversations provided a deeper understanding of the wine and its unique production, and details on grapes with which we were less familiar were helpful in growing our knowledge.
Our favorites were the Ballet of Angels, an interesting white wine comprised of ten different grapes. It was light, but with a nice mix of citrus flavors that would be particularly delicious on a summer’s day, but was still great even in the dead of winter. While we also enjoyed the Cabernet Franc, a medium bodied wine more flavorful than many we’ve sampled in New England, our favorite red was the Red Syraph. We found this to be unusual and wonderful, building on the Cabernet Franc with Dornfelder and Gamay grapes for a complex wine. It was unlike most wines we’ve had, particularly for a New England red. While it would pair well with meats or Italian, it’s unique enough that we’d expect to savor it by itself.
It was impressive to see so many estate-grown offerings, and helpful to be served by such knowledgeable staff. With a quiet atmosphere and bucolic setting, Sharpe Hill was a delightful visit. This was a good winter alternative to skiing, given it was a rainy day. But in summer or during foliage season, with the beautiful surroundings, it would also be part of a wonderful day. Unless you’re fairly local, it’s probably best to incorporate this into a broader day trip, such as visiting the nearby Putnam Antiques District, and perhaps adding Taylor Brooke Farm’s wine tasting as well. The tasting room is only open Friday through Sunday, but as part of a (long) weekend, that won’t cause a problem for most people. Overall, this is definitely a local winery carving out a well-earned niche for itself.
Appreciating the local coffee and community
Coffee shops of all kinds have exploded nationwide, now estimated at over 50,000. A trade association estimated that almost half of all coffee was consumed outside the home, and over half of that was specialty coffee. The increase in people working from home, with more gourmet coffee being consumed by people under 30 years old than by other age groups, and with specialty drinkers averaging three cups per day now, and you have all the statistics that reinforce the business opportunity. However, that doesn’t work if you can’t develop and execute a business plan that appeals to customers.
Bolton Bean has joined this fray, as a family-run business nestled in the central Massachusetts town of Bolton, with a slew of apple orchards in the surrounding towns. Driving there from almost anywhere can be scenic and coupled with other pit stops along the way. Aside of apple picking and homemade ice cream, some ideas include lunch at Battle Road Brewing, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, intermittent activities at the Bolton Fairgrounds, and kayaking in Concord.
Bolton Bean sits in a newly renovated building, combining a new feeling with classic colonial style. It has a comfortable, fresh, and friendly feel. This is very much in keeping with the broader gourmet coffee movement.
We found the place happily packed when we entered on a rainy day. There were different zones, from leather seats to tables to pub seats lining the front windows, along with the expansive counter and an area with ready-to-go food and drinks. Despite the crowd size, the staff offered cheery smiles and kept the lines moving.
That trend about increasing coffee consumption and more people working from home means that these sorts of places become meaningful as interesting social hubs, part of the communities, or unique settings and producers of gourmet coffee. Bolton Bean certainly meets this need. The mix of couples, friends, and families, from high schoolers to senior citizens, created a diverse crowd. A woman played guitar and sang in the corner of the coffee shop, adding to the enjoyable ambiance.
Back to the foundation of Bolton Bean, they serve George Howell coffee, roasted locally in the nearby town of Acton. Whether drip, cappuccino, espresso, or however you wish to consume it, this small batch coffee will hit the spot. However, the selection of teas, chai, lemonade, iced tea, and smoothies round out their ability to meet the preferences of kids or others who seek to enjoy the vibe but with something aside of coffee.
The food creates further reason to linger: in addition to the baked goods and breakfast sandwiches to start your day, the lunch menu is nicely varied. We saw a variety of salads, such as creative kale or fall harvest options. A large array of paninis offered something for any palate (meatloaf with a jalapeno aioli is worth trying). Interestingly, you can also build your own poke bowl. These are traditional Hawaiian dishes served cold over brown and white rice and two examples include sweet chili chicken and raw Asian tuna along with other toppings such as sprouts, avocado, coconut, wasabi, pineapple, and more. Gluten free lunch options are appreciated, allowing those with dietary restrictions to still have choices.
The only critique is actually a compliment: it closes at 3:00 on Saturdays and isn’t open on Sundays. This precludes some afternoon or weekend opportunities to reinforce its community and social value, and, since I hadn’t looked ahead of time, is why it took a couple of attempts to visit.
That being said, the ambiance, gourmet coffee, quality food, and cheerful service are all reasons why Bolton Bean is establishing itself as a community hub. Those are all reasons for locals to frequent it, and others to visit when in the general area. As always, the disclaimer is that we aren’t getting paid or anything, so when saying that Bolton Bean will be worth your time and money, it’s solely because we very much felt that way from our own time there.
· Website: https://www.boltonbean.com/
· Free wifi
· Open Mon-Fri, 7:00-4:00, Sat 7:00-3:00
The Good Life...
can't exist alone. Places form the setting for your memories. People around us allow experiences to be shared, enriched, and leave us feeling connected and loved.