Local Hero Profile: The Wagon Wheel
By Aja Lippincott, Program Associate
Published in CISA’s August 2015 E-Newsletter – Sign Up Here!
Business is hopping mid-week at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Gill. It’s certainly hard to imagine that this local hot spot started as a simple food cart in Connecticut 11 years ago, when Carolann Zaccara took it over from a local pig farmer. She and her husband Jon Miller eventually moved the restaurant to where it stands today, at the site of an old convenience store.
Carolann grew up in the restaurant industry. Her parents owned restaurants in Connecticut, and Carolann went to culinary school and specialized in pastry arts. When Carolann moved to Massachusetts (along with her siblings, Maggie and Jim, owners of the successful Greenfield restaurants Magpie and Hope and Olive), she opened the Wagon Wheel. The restaurant is inspired by the old school drive in, serve-through-the-window style joints. At the time it was half the size, but eventually they were able to add a large dining room to accommodate growing interest in Wagon Wheel’s diverse menu.
Today the restaurant appears to double as a flea market treasure museum. Upon entering you can feast your eyes upon a unique collection of paint-by-numbers paintings, porcelain figurines, a giant rocket ship shaped gumball machine and various other knick-knacks and collectables. Carolann, a self-proclaimed flea market addict, has been collecting for years and proudly displays her treasures on every inch of wall space in the restaurant.
Carolann is a multi-tasker on the job. She cooks, preps food, designs the menu and manages alongside her son. Running a restaurant means a lack of free time and energy. You have to keep a close eye on food and energy costs, fees, taxes and equipment. But it’s the customers that keep her going. “We try to make it a place where everyone can find something to eat and be happy.” The menu is eclectic and changes with what’s available locally throughout the season. It’s the place to go to get your standard but especially delicious hamburger and fries or fish and chips. Or you can find something a bit more unique. The Mezze Platter is a local favorite, featuring hummus, tabbouleh, lentil salad, dolmas, feta, beets, zaatar bread and your choice of grilled chicken, falafel or gyro meat. And for dessert you can get Wagon Wheel’s very own homemade ice cream with fresh ingredients and in a variety of rotating flavors including Orange Creamsicle, Peanut Butter Explosion or Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet.
For Carolann, “local is a no brainer.” The ingredients she sources locally are simply a much better product than what she can buy from anywhere else. She likes helping her neighbors and keeping the money in the local economy. That’s why much of her produce comes from The Kitchen Garden and the Pioneer Valley Growers Association.
As far the future goes, Carolann’s goals are to keep the Wagon Wheel a family owned business and to continue making 90% of everything they serve from scratch. The restaurant is still recovering from a long bridge construction project, but things are looking up. Jon certainly has longer-term thoughts of opening a second location but for now they are comfortable increasing traffic where they are.
Stop by Wagon Wheel Restaurant off of Route 2 in Gill during Local Hero Restaurant Days on August 25th or 26th for a special menu featuring Fattoush, a middle eastern chopped salad, Veggie Tempura with spicy peach dipping sauce, Ratatouille Burger with natural grass-fed beef from Wheel-View Farm with herbed farmer’s cheese and fresh Clarkdale Farm Peach Ice Cream. You won’t regret having made the trip!