Saturday January 19, 2013

LENOX -- Jonathan’s Bistro, the popular dining spot established five years ago as an anchor for the revived Lenox Commons mixed-use development, has closed following the retirement of its chef-owner, Michele Van Allen.

Coming to the same space by mid-March will be a new breakfast and lunch spot, The Kitchen at the Commons, to be opened by Laura Shack and her business partner, Zee Vassos. Shack is a veteran downtown Lenox restaurateur who has run Firefly, formerly the Roseborough Grill, since 1991; it will remain open under her ownership for dinner seven nights year-round.

According to Lenox Commons developer David Ward, all available retail space at the complex has been leased, with a mix of shops, restaurants and professional services, including a law office, hair salon, barber shop, several medical providers, a pet shop, a dry-cleaner, a dance studio and a martial-arts studio. A tenant for a large professional office space at the back end of the site is still being sought, he said.

"There’s a market for reasonably priced breakfasts," said Ward. "We’re getting filled up here with employees and there’s not a lot of breakfast places."

Ward’s redesigned, 29-unit Lenox Woods condominium project, just above the Commons complex, is selling well at prices from $350,000 to $399,000, he said, with 19 built and 10 still under construction.

All but seven of the 29 units are sold, he said, citing the revival of the housing market, the proximity of Kennedy Park and the convenience of stores and dining spots just footsteps away.

Nearly 60 percent of the homeowners are local, said Sales Director David Buxton, ranging in age from 44 to 92, including area teachers, a school principal and nurses.

"Lenox, Kennedy Park and Tanglewood are huge attractions to the buyers," he said.

Ward’s contracting company, LD Builders, is applying to town boards to gain permits for a proposed expansion, Lenox Woods South, with 12 more units.

He also owns two other area condo projects, the still-expanding 96-unit Pines at Bousquet in Pittsfield, and the 20-unit Devon Meadow in Lee, with nine sold. Silver Maple Farm in Dalton has been purchased from Ward by its property-owners association.

Van Allen, of Kinderhook, N.Y., continued operating Jonathan’s Bistro following the death of her son and founder of the eatery, Jonathan, 24, in a one-car collision on Routes 7 & 20 in 2009. She declined requests for an interview. Jonathan’s To Go, in the food court at the Premium Outlets off Route 20 in Lee, also has closed.

The Kitchen at the Commons will be open seven days year-round, catering to locals, Shack said.

"We’ll use as many local products as possible," she said.

Vassos, her partner, is to be head chef. The establishment, serving breakfast all day as well as lunch and takeout, is likely to be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., she said. Dinner service on summer weekends is a possibility.

Shack acknowledged that operating two restaurants is "a challenge, but I’m a workaholic and ready for something new."

She said Ward approached her when the Jonathan’s Bistro space became available late last month -- "it’s a marriage made in heaven," Shack enthused.

"It should be a great venture, the Commons is growing, and there’s a great need for what we want to do, something affordable for locals and workers," she said. "We created a home for locals at Firefly, we’ll do the same thing here."

Prior to the anticipated mid-March opening, the space is being redesigned with a rustic approach, including booths, marble countertops and earthy, woodsy tones, Shack explained.

A 23-year resident and business owner who moved here from Manhattan, Shack had studied with the famed chef James Beard, who died in 1985.

She and her husband, Steven, live in Richmond; their daughter, Francesca ("Frankie"), 11, attends Richmond Consolidated School.

"I got Frankie’s permission before I decided to open a second restaurant," Shack acknowledged.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com or
(413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto