PITTSFIELD — It doesn't matter how the economy is faring; there always is an appetite for new dining options in downtown Pittsfield.

Restaurants come and go in the city, and a number went under because of COVID-19. But, three new restaurants have sprung up to take their places, all in spaces that were left vacant during last year’s pandemic.

They include the long-awaited reopening of the new restaurant in Hotel on North now known as Berkshire Palate, which began operations Wednesday.

The two other new restaurants, Flat Burger Society on McKay Street and RJ's Restaurant on First Street, opened in August and September, respectively.

Flat Burger Society is located in the space formerly occupied by Flavours of Malaysia, which closed at the end of last year. RJ’s is the latest venture to give it a go at the former Rainbow Restaurant, which has housed five other eateries since 2005. The most recent version of the Rainbow lasted seven years, before it also closed in 2020.

The good news in such a fickle business is that all three of the new eateries are operated by people who have extensive experience in the restaurant industry.

Berkshire Palate is run by Paul Brassard, who operates another restaurant of the same name in the 413 Bistro and Taproom in North Adams. Flat Burger Society’s owners, Austin Oliver and Joe Bowman, operate Thistle & Mirth in Pittsfield. Jose Reyes, who operates RJ’s with his cousin and business partner, David Reyes, owns three other restaurants located just outside Berkshire County and has been involved in the business for 26 years. David Reyes serves as RJ’s executive chef.

Berkshire Palate interior (copy)

At Hotel on North, the new restaurant Berkshire Palate hosted its soft opening Wednesday night. Berkshire Palate is run by Paul Brassard, who operated another restaurant of the same name in the 413 Bistro and Taproom in North Adams, before it rebranded. “This is basically a beautiful space, a signature space,” Brassard said. “It’s kind of a mix of old and new, which is something that I think our food does, too.”

A 'mix of old and new' in a signature space

A restaurant has been located at Hotel on North since the lodging establishment opened in 2015, but that space has been vacant since Dec. 27. That restaurant’s former operator, Main Street Hospitality of Stockbridge, also managed the hotel, but it no longer is involved in the operation of either venture.

Pittsfield's Licensing Board approved a liquor license for Brassard’s new venture in late July. But, Berkshire Palate didn’t receive the document from Boston until last week, which partly delayed the opening, according to Brassard. He has signed a five-year lease with hotel owners David and Laurie Tierney, with an option to extend.

The hotel’s dining area, constructed in 2006 for use by a high-end restaurant, was a major factor in Brassard’s decision to open an eatery in Pittsfield. The original Berkshire Palate run by Brassard was located in Williamstown, but it became 413 Bistro and Taproom when it reopened in North Adams this summer.

Map with Berkshire Palate noted

“This is basically a beautiful space, a signature space,” Brassard said. “It’s kind of a mix of old and new, which is something that I think our food does, too.”

The setting is so impressive that Brassard said the new Berkshire Palate is “going to be a little more upscale than in Williamstown. But, the staples will still be there.”

The new menu includes flatbreads, tapas, small plates and burgers, in addition to entrée items like steaks, pork chops and salmon. His son, Zach Brassard, is the new eatery's executive chef. 

The food items are culled from 20 local farms, to create “the general farm-to-table experience,” Brassard said.

“I guess you could call it modern American with a casual vibe; there’s not a broad definition to it,” he said, referring to the new Berkshire Palate's cuisine.

Red store front

Flat Burger Society is located in the former Flavours of Malaysia location on McKay Street. 

The new burger joint in town

Flat Burger Society, so-named after a style of hamburger the restaurant features, originally had hoped to open in June. Oliver said he and Bowman spent $15,000 to $20,000 in renovating the space.

“Mostly, we just had some encounters with construction and getting the place together,” Oliver said, referring to the delay in opening. “It kept snowballing, as it always does.”

Oliver and Bowman are in this for the long haul, having signed a 10-year lease. 

“Everything’s been very solid,” since Flat Burger Society opened, Oliver said. “Business has been picking up, especially since we’re getting all of our events in place.”

Like Berkshire Palate, Flat Burger Society includes food items from Berkshire suppliers.

“With the burgers that we use, we procure whole cows and butcher the cows ourselves,” Oliver said, adding that this process occurs off-site. "We take the beef fat and use it for tallow, and use it for the fries as well."

Map with Flat Burger Society noted

The two partners also are experimenting with different ingredients to create what Oliver calls “adult milkshakes,” different alcoholic beverages mixed with traditional milkshake staples.

“We played around with a bananas Foster milkshake with vanilla ice cream, bananas and golden rum, with a graham cracker cover, things like that,” he said. “We should have those [on the menu] very shortly.”

Flat Burger Society also is holding weekly jazz and trivia nights, and its recently booked its first comedy night.

“We really wanted to use the space that was there and really provide Pittsfield with something we thought was missing,” Oliver said, referring to the entertainment options. “We wanted to have a restaurant that has something a little more substantial.”

David and Jose Reyes (copy)

Under the ownership of Jose Reyes, right, along with his cousin and executive chef David Reyes, RJ’s Restaurant in Pittsfield is the latest venture to give it a go at the former Rainbow Restaurant, which has housed five other eateries since 2005.


Seasoned restaurant professionals

At RJ’s, Reyes believes his previous experience in the restaurant business will help him thrive in a place where others have struggled. The last person to operate the former Rainbow, John Economou, who reopened the eatery in 2013, after it had been closed for more than a year, and his wife, Luisa, still own the 131-year-old building, which is located across from The Common. The Rainbow was operated by the Sacchetti family of Pittsfield for 46 years, until 1978, but it had been sold twice at foreclosure auctions before the Economous bought it. 

Map with RJs noted

According to a sign placed in the window after the most recent closure, the Economous had been looking for someone to take over the business as a “turnkey operation,” meaning a new operator could take over the restaurant and run it in its current state. The Reyeses have a five-year lease with Economou, with an option for five more, according to Jose.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business a long time, and so has my cousin,” Jose said. The Reyeses originally are from Long Island off New York City. “He knows everything in the kitchen, and I know everything in the house.

“We are not the type of owners who are sitting and waiting,” Jose said. “If someone doesn’t show up for work, I can jump in behind the bar."

The menu features seafood, pasta, steaks and chops. The old Rainbow was noted for its homemade pizzas. Those items are not on the menu, but probably will be “once the restaurant settles” Jose said.

RJ's Restaurant bar

RJ’s Restaurant, located in the former Rainbow Restaurant on First Street, is one of multiple new restaurants that have opened in Pittsfield in recent weeks.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.