Former Cafe Reva owner will help Pittsfield bakery rise again
PITTSFIELD — Aura Whitman was the executive chef at the Seven Hills Inn in Lenox 25 years ago when a young entrepreneur named Richard Bourdon came to the back door, looking to sell her some of his homemade bread.
Fast-forward to January 2017: Whitman was moving her catering/takeout business out of Berkshire Organics on Dalton Division Road and, again, in walks Bourdon.
Now a nationally known bread-baker, Bourdon was looking at a mixer being sold by another tenant for his Berkshire Mountain Bakery operation based in Great Barrington.
He also was looking for someone to manage his bakery outlet store in Pittsfield. And a partnership was born.
"It was complete serendipity; there was no rhyme or reason to it. It just fell into my lap," Bourdon said. "I was seriously considering throwing in the towel (in Pittsfield). I didn't want to let the people in Pittsfield down, but I could no longer deal with staff issues. She was obviously the right person."
Indeed, Whitman had run Cafe Reva, a popular breakfast and lunch spot on Tyler Street that closed five years ago.
"He's so busy down at his bakery [in Great Barrington] that he needed someone who was vested and knows what they're doing to take the reins of the shop here," Whitman said of Bourdon.
Two months later, their partnership was born. And this summer, things have really started to take off: The bakery outlet on Elm Street has begun serving breakfast, and created a sit-down area in a storefront next door that formerly was occupied by Miracle Ear, expanding from 20 to 50 seats.
The bakery's entire staff has turned over since Whitman came on board, and many of the 10 current staffers formerly worked for her at Cafe Reva.
"That was kind of the agreement when we partnered," she said. "I would do this set of things that he needed to have done to get his business back on track here, and when I finished doing that, I realized there was something more that we could offer."
Whitman ran Cafe Reva for 11 years but was forced to close it in September 2013, when her landlord declined to bring the kitchen's range hood and fire suppression systems up to code.
The cafe was known for offering gourmet-caliber food in a casual, diner-style atmosphere. After it closed, Whitman worked briefly at Whitney's Farm Market & Country Gardens in Cheshire, formed a new business, naAtURAlly Catering + Takeout, which she still operates out of the bakery, and briefly ran the kitchen at Wahconah Country Club in Dalton.
"People have always asked me if I was going to open back up again for breakfast as a cafe, and it just seems right," Whitman said, referring to the new venture. "It turns out, we had a lot of the same customers, and I see a lot of the customers that I had at Berkshire Organics."
Whitman said she is using "about 75 percent" of Cafe Reva's former menu at Berkshire Mountain Bakery, which is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some of those items include French toast baked on fresh brioche bread in Great Barrington that comes with ham, bacon, sausage and egg; yogurt with seasonal fruit; a goat cheese omelet known as "Get a Goat"; and specialty items like huevos rancheros.
"People are really excited to see it back on the menu," Whitman said.
She also has brought in new items, such as a potato herb bread sandwich. All the ingredients are made fresh, and several are from local farms.
"When I designed the menu, a lot of it was to feature the bread," she said. "I always say that 'Richard is the bread, and I'm the stuffing.'"
Breakfast service doesn't begin until 8:30 a.m., much later than at other small Berkshires establishments.
"We could target the early morning crowd, but we chose not to, I guess," said Whitman, who said she needs to help get her daughters off to school. "It's not that I'm trying to lighten my load in my later years, but it kind of comes down to that. I'm here seven days a week."
Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-496-6224.
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