Local Hero Profile: Esselon Café

By Natasha Cnossen, CISA Local Hero Intern
Published in CISA’s August 2019 E-Newsletter – Sign Up Here!

Esselon Café, Hadley

Local is a central value of the Esselon Café on Russell Street in Hadley. The food is locally sourced, and the community is strong. Mark Krause has owned the café for the past 11 years, and originally bought it from a friend of his. Mark said that he was driven to become involved in this café by his love for food and coffee and has found his previous business experience to come in handy.

Esselon uses local ingredients, and in many cases, they come from hyper local sources. On the Hadley Common, a minute’s walk away from the restaurant, sits a farm just under an acre in size. Mark owns the farm and it supplies the café with produce, including squash, tomatoes, herbs, and greens, throughout the summer months. Mark said that when they have salad specials, as was the case on the day I was there, he will “go over and cut the heads of lettuce 15 minutes before service”. Talk about local! Mark and his team use organic practices and with its location right next door, Mark considers the products ‘plant to plate.’ Mark, Esselon’s Executive Chef, and many of the café’s employees spend time working on the farm. With the Esselon family spending time out in the field, the opportunity is ripe to create dishes that showcase the farm’s produce.

Having a farm specifically for the café is amazing, but the menu and volume of customers calls for more product than the not-quite-an-acre can supply. To supplement the café’s farm, Esselon uses produce and other products from farms just down the road in Hadley and neighboring towns, including Four Rex Farm, Next Barn Over Farm, and Plainville Farm. The café also buys its milk locally from Mapleline Farm.

I asked Mark why he’d chosen to source locally. “It just makes sense to support local agriculture,” Mark responded. “The products are fresher, and it makes less of an impact on the environment.” He also said that they go out to the farms so they can see directly what they are buying before purchasing it, and to perhaps even discover new products to use in Esselon’s dishes. Visiting the farms is also an amazing opportunity to interact with the farmers in-person to build positive and collaborative relationships. These relationships allow Esselon and the farmers to assist each other in successfully using the products produced, and to support each other’s businesses. And going out to the farms “is just fun!” Mark told me with a laugh.

The local food and strong sense of community create a wonderful ambiance for Esselon’s many menu options. The café is open Monday through Sunday for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner depending on the day. They offer a variety of delicious dishes from grilled chicken and pesto pizza, to blueberry pancakes, most made with local ingredients. Their street corn dish features corn from Four Rex farm in Hadley, and the risotto is made with mushrooms from Mycoterra Farm in South Deerfield. This enticing menu and venue brings in around 4,500 people per week, keeping the business and its local partners going strong. If this all wasn’t enough, Mark said that the café also does catering, including 10 weddings this year. Esselon also acts as a local packer and distributor for chai, loose teas, maple syrups, and of course their coffee. Esselon roasts their coffee in-house within view of the customers, and it’s available as a beverage in the café, or for sale as whole beans– which are Fair Trade and organic.

Community is important in the café’s day to day operations. Mark said they have many regulars, especially outside of the summer season. He mentioned that many of them bring in their laptops to spend time doing work outside of the office, and to enjoy the atmosphere. Esselon also supports the local community by donating items such as gift cards, coffee, and even sometimes the café space for events to local groups to use for fundraisers.

Towards the end of our conversation, Mark told me that despite the many challenges that come with running a café, he really enjoys the business, especially the community aspect. One of the events that had the most impact on Mark, was their 10-year anniversary where they handed out $10 gift cards to a many of their regulars. Mark said this gave him an opportunity to connect with customers he doesn’t always have the opportunity to speak with. These regulars told Mark that Esselon is a special place to them, somewhere they feel comfortable and welcomed.

As for the future, Mark said that they want to expand the variety of products they purchase from local farms and producers. This would consist of not only produce, but other products that are made in the area, including their most recent acquisition, the mushrooms from Mycoterra Farms. Esselon is a wonderful spot to stop and enjoy the local flavors and community, to see some coffee roasting in action, and to support local farms and businesses, so come on by.

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