by Kristen Wilmer, CISA Program Assistant, in CISA’s August 2012 enewsletter

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Chris Ware and Alex Washut are driven.  Driven by their friendship – the pair have been friends since kindergarten – driven by a love for this community where they both grew up, and driven by a passion for cooking good, wholesome food.  Their motto is humble: “love all people and cook them tasty food.”

Three days before Chris and Alex first opened at Jakes in Northampton, the epic Halloween 2011 ice storm hit New England.  “We’d just received our first order of everything the day before the ice storm and we worked tirelessly to keep the food safe,” recounted Chris.  “We didn’t sleep for two days; we tried to nap in the freezing cold restaurant.  Then the power came back on and we started cooking again.  After three days of no sleep we went hard into service.”  Has the work eased since then?  Not much.  “We don’t expect sleep for the first couple years,” laughs Chris.  But somehow, in the restaurant industry, “you can always get it done.”

As seasoned restaurant workers, Chris and Alex never expected the work to be easy.  They had worked their way up from dishwasher to chef in kitchens in the Valley – both working at the Northampton Brewery –and on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York.  The intensity of the work – and the resulting camaraderie among workers – has been part of the attraction.  “You tend to build friendships really quickly,” says Chris.  “It’s a very different culture from say a nine to five – working every holiday and every weekend when the rest of the world has it off.  It attracts a certain breed of people.  I love the fast paced environment of it – I really do.”

Running Jakes has other rewards.  Chris enjoys interacting with customers on a daily basis.  “The community response has been wonderful – we have a lot of support,” he says.  He and Alex grew up in Florence, attending grade school together at Ryan Road School and going to boy scouts together.  Being from the area has added to the warmth of their reception as new owners of Jakes, says Chris.  “We have people coming up to us in the street so happy with what we’re doing.”

Chris and Alex have clear respect for the legacy of Jakes, which has been a fixture in Northampton for more than 25 years.  “Southern hospitality was what he lived by,” says Chris of the former owner.  The two have tried to build on that philosophy: “We want to keep the same feel with some new fare,” says Chris.  “What we’re shooting for is kind of a progressive comfort food, if you will.”  Part of that means starting with in-season, farm-fresh ingredients.  “We want to evolve the menu with the harvest – what’s in season is really important to us.”  The ultimate goal: “scratch cooking that tastes great and that’s invigorating.”

Take one of their signature dishes: hash of the day.  A traditional comfort food with added flare, they offer a new kind of hash every couple days, ranging from cilantro chicken and poblano hash to braised brisket hash to braised pork and sweet potato hash.  Alex and Chris believe in taking the time needed to prepare exceptionally good food.  Say you want to get an omellete, says Chris – “here you’ll get an oven roasted tomato with garlic that’s been slow roasted for three hours… and the onion’s going to be caramelized.  I feel fine food can still be simple, but it’s in the nuances of preparation.”

And it’s this nuance, Chris says, that “hopefully keeps you coming back – that’s the goal!”


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