Valley Bounty: Paul and Elizabeth’s
As Nate Sustick of Paul and Elizabeth’s restaurant in Northampton explains, having strong relationships with their customers and the local farms and businesses that supply them with food has been key to keeping things running amid the change.
Paul and Elizabeth’s has occupied their corner of Thorne’s Marketplace in the center of town since 1978 when Sustick’s parents, the titular Paul and Elizabeth, founded it. The restaurant “is a lot of different things to different people,” Sustick says. “It’s a home away from home. It’s a place to catch up with old friends, get work done, have a celebratory dinner, or just enjoy a normal day.”
Both parents remain involved but it’s largely Sustick’s show now, serving as general manager of the 25-employee business while working in the kitchen. “Owning a restaurant, you just kind of do everything,” he says. “I basically grew up here, and that’s been my training. It’s the type of business where you continually learn and adjust.”
The restaurant is known for its vegetarian and pescatarian dishes, grounded in Japanese-inspired macrobiotic cuisine that Paul and Elizabeth Sustick trained in but adapted to local ingredients and tastes. Tempura and stir-fry dishes sit beside New England fish and chips.
A firm label for their style of cooking eludes Sustick. “It’s not comfort food per se,” he offers, “but it’s food that makes you feel nourished. We’ve kept our roots, but it’s also evolved a lot over the last 43 years.”
Much of the quality and variety of their food is owed to using local ingredients. “My parents have been very supportive of local agriculture since the beginning, and it’s amazing how lucky we are to live somewhere that has such diversity of local food,” Sustick says.
“Right now we’re using as many autumn crops as we can,” he says. “A lot of winter squash, pumpkins, potatoes and greens — and we continually use local miso and maple syrup.”
Paul and Elizabeth’s buys food from some local distributors who combine foods from many local producers and deliver it to the restaurant all together. Marty’s Local supplies a lot of their produce that way and BerkShore seafood delivers seafood daily from the coast.
Meanwhile, a handful of local farms deliver to the restaurant directly. Sustick says this process has become much easier for him with more and more farms offering easy online ordering.
As the pandemic-induced global supply chain crisis wreaks havoc on their ability to get ingredients and other supplies, Paul and Elizabeth’s ties with these local suppliers have taken on even greater value.
“It’s harder than I’ve ever seen it to get things we need,” Sustick says. “This is a different level. Talking with my friend Nate Clifford from Cornucopia Natural Wellness Market here in Northampton — we deal with some of the same supply companies — it seems like the big grocery stores and chains are getting what they ordered, because they’re getting whole pallets. But we’re buying much less, and sometimes we just won’t get shipments delivered.”
When working with local farms and businesses to source their food, the relationships are more human scale, the benefits more mutual, and the restaurant’s needs don’t fall through the cracks. Shorter supply chains mean fewer points from farm to plate where things can go wrong, creating less waste and offering more resilience and reliability.
The evolving supply crisis is one example of change becoming the new constant for many local restaurants. Throughout the flux, some changes are cementing themselves as lasting ways of doing business.
“We’re doing more online to-go orders than we’ve ever done before,” Sustick says. “That’s basically how we survived that first year of the pandemic, and now it’s become a permanent thing. Given our relatively small kitchen, we’re working out how to cook for that and indoor dining too, which is tricky sometimes.”
Despite all this turbulence and their own staffing shortages, Paul and Elizabeth’s is still making it work, and customers are appreciative.
“I think a lot more people understand how hard working in the service industry is,” Sustick says. “They tip on to-go orders and show their gratitude in other ways. I know there’s lots of stories otherwise, but in my experience, customers have been really patient and kind the last few years.”
As local restaurants and food businesses stare down another pandemic winter, “that support is so important,” Sustick says. “I know that’s cliché, but it’s true.”
Paul and Elizabeth’s is open for dine-in and takeout from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. All staff and patrons are asked to mask, per city order and Thorne’s Marketplace rules. Interested diners can learn more about the restaurant and other local eateries serving up the Valley’s bounty at buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).