Alan Chartock: Successful ventures born of passion
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The older I get, the more I appreciate younger people who work hard and have something special to offer. I have written many times about Café Adam in Great Barrington, one of my favorite places to eat. Adam Zieminski, who with his terrific wife-partner, Sylvia, owns and operates the place, is an incredible chef. He is always on the lookout for the creative and mouth-watering concoctions that are drawing a lot of people into his establishment.
There are two ways to partake in Adam's fare -- the regular menu and the lunch menu on weekends, starting at 11:30.
For quite a while, Adam and Sylvia ran the café out of the space across the street from their present digs where Haven now sits. There just wasn't enough space so they decided to move. It cost them a fair amount of money but it was worth it. Now the place has a full bar where locals of a certain age congregate at the end of stressful days and a beautiful dining room. It is working to the point that when Adam and Sylvia take off for their almost-annual trip to her native Poland, people shrug their shoulders and say, "Now what do we do?"
Once an elite crowd finds a restaurant, there is inevitably a tendency by the proprietors to raise the prices. While Café Adam is not cheap, a similar restaurant in New York would cost a great deal more. I love the fact that the young proprietors started out with nothing and have now built their restaurant into a major operation. When young people complain that there are no jobs out there, I always advise them to follow their passion. It may be playing the fiddle in a bluegrass band or it may be opening a store that sells stuff that you really can't get anywhere else.
Mercantile, next to the Castle Street Café, is one such place. In this case, another beautiful twosome, Abby Webster and Andy Pruhenski, have teamed up to create a store that I really love. Abby and Andy are both natives. Andy was born and raised in Great Barrington and Abby is a New Marlborough girl. Her parents run Webster Landscaping. Says Abby, "Their business has inspired me all along to want to have my own business." According to Abby, Andy "has always had the entrepreneurial spirit."
Coming up with their business plan was crucial. They had to be flexible in what they carried and the space helped determine how much they could do. The building owners wanted a store that wouldn't compete with their businesses in the building. They wanted a retail operation that would spill over to other existing businesses. Michael Ballon, who owns and runs Castle Street Café, invented a drink using their unique coffee syrup told people where they could get it.
The store features lots of things that you seldom see anywhere else. It also is one of the few stores that men will love as much as women. It has beautiful ukuleles to make music making easy. It features a large collection of jars and bottles that have been made into drinking glasses with built in straws. It has wonderful Indian antique fabric made into Kantha quilts. It has unique and colorful men's bow ties. It has lots of good baby and children's stuff. Everything is fairly priced and the proprietors will spend lots of time with you. Most of all, it allows us to support a local business, something that we all want to do. You really can't walk out of the place without buying something and in the unlikely event that you do, you'll certainly be back.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.
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