LENOX -- Carving out a niche and a successful year-round business model in a seasonal resort town with nearly 50 restaurants can be a challenge.
In a high-risk category that sees 60 percent of new ventures fail within the first three years, according to the National Restaurant Association, long-time local restaurateur Laura Shack and her business partner, Zee Vassos are upbeat about their newest eatery, Kitchen on the Commons.
On Tuesday at Kitchen on the Commons, in the former Jonathan's Bistro space at the Lenox Commons development off Routes 7 and 20, they described the approach that has kept her Firefly (formerly Roseborough Grill) in business for 22 years in the town's hyper-competitive downtown dining scene.
Vassos, a West Stockbridge native, said he has been working with Shack at Firefly on and off for 20 years. They settled on Kitchen on the Commons as their new project because they saw a need for an affordable breakfast and lunch spot that would be open seven days, year-round, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"We're trying to appeal to a large audience with our menu and our concept, toeing the line between the classic American diner and a more upscale Berkshire cafe," Vassos said. "Having a bit of each element in this place blended just right."
Vassos said Kitchen on the Commons uses products from local and regional farmers and other food producers. Vegan, vegetarian, organic and gluten-free choices are available. A beer and wine license is in the works.
Breakfast is served all day. Offerings range from granola, slow-cooked oats and an egg-and-cheese sandwich to eggs, omelets, eggs benedict, bagels, French toast, Belgian waffles, griddle cakes, hashes, a tofu scramble, steak and eggs, and huevos rancheros from $3.50 to $14. House-made baked goods sell for $2.
The lunch menu is added at 11 a.m.
"We're not trying to be pretentious," Vassos said.
"We're trying to stay down to earth."
"We want to cater to local, year-round people, to make it affordable," Shack said.
Area workers and local police were picking up take-out orders on Tuesday, the official opening day, as customers streamed in for sit-down meals.
Shack and Vassos jumped at the chance when Jonathan's closed suddenly last December. They have spent the past four months totally reinventing the space, creating an open, airy, light-filled eatery that seats 49 diners inside and 20 more on the patio.
Their renovation of the kitchen and the dining space was self-financed, Shack and Vassos said. They declined to specify the cost, but credited a major assist by Lenox Commons and LD Builders owner David Ward and his staff.
Vassos will be chef at Kitchen full-time, while Shack, who comes in by 5 a.m. to do the baking, will segue to Firefly, a dinner-only establishment -- open seven days, year-round from 5 to 9 or 10 -- in mid-afternoon, where she'll spend four or five nights a week.
The new business employs 10 to 15 staffers, mostly full-time, and is likely to expand to about 20 in the summer.
The co-owners are counting on a steady flow of patrons from the nearly filled Lenox Commons retail, business, professional office and condo complex, as well as residential areas and, eventually, the two new hotels planned three miles to the north on both sides of the Lenox-Pittsfield line. Picnic lunches will be prepared for concert-goers and outdoor-recreation enthusiasts.
Shack is counting on the appeal of a "warm and welcoming place for locals with a friendly staff, so we can create a great following to support us."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.