Five Food Businesses Joining Forces In Pittsfield Building

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Jazu Stine, James Burden, Aura Whitman and Kate Miller are all growing their individual businesses together under one roof.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Aura Whitman ran Reva Cafe for 11 years before new building codes forced her to either shut down or install a $30,000 exhaust system in the rented property.

She shut down.

Since September she has kept her options open, running a catering business on the side while she kept her eye out for another space.

Culinary Institute of America graduate Kate Miller jumped around baking desserts for a variety of Berkshire County restaurants before starting her own business three years ago — renting space in other restaurants while she baked wedding cakes, cookies and other good.

The demand for that business has grown and her current space won't cut it.

Jazu Stine and James Burden both have long culinary histories, heading kitchens in local restaurants and sourcing the best meat they could find. They have connections with local farms but they saw a gap — the average person didn't have that ability.

It is with a passion for organic, high-quality food that has brought these four together under one roof. In April, they will fill out the second half of the building currently housing Berkshire Organics on Dalton Division Road.

"[The landlord] was going to get another convenience store here," said Berkshire Organics owner Brian Gibbons, who asked for a chance to try something different.

Gibbons shot out a Facebook message in the fall asking for like-minded businesses to join him at the location. Burden, Stine, Miller and Whitman all saw it as the opportunity they were waiting for. Cricket Creek Farm  in Williamstown has also jumped on board and these niche businesses are working together to help each other.

The butchers, bakery and catering and takeout business are sharing half of the former Burgner's Farm building while Cricket Creek is opening a cheese counter in the Berkshire Organics space. A doorway will connect all five businesses.

"Running throughout all of the businesses is that we want to offer the best products we can," Burden said, adding that sharing space cuts down the overhead for small businesses.

Burden and Stine are opening Red Apple Butchers. With their knowledge of animal breeds and diets, they'll be purchasing livestock from local farms, ensuring animals have lived a good life before finding their way to them. They are handling every step of production in house and catering to customers.

They hope to support sustainability, use all parts of the animal and, with their culinary background, help the "foodies" find new meals.

"This area is so rich with farms but there are not many places to feature them," Stine said. "We're not doing anything new. In fact, we're doing something very, very old."

They knew there was a "gap in production" keeping local farm livestock from reaching local tables but hadn't had the opportunity to fill it before.

"There is a need in this area. Nobody is doing it and it needs to be done," Burden said.

Local farms currently need to send their meat to USDA-approved butchers out of town and the meat is frozen and sent back — so fresh meat is nearly impossible. Red Apple Butchers is bringing back the butcher shop of the 1950s, when every small town had its own butcher.

Half the former Burgner's Farm building will be a shared space for four small food businesses.

When a space opened with built-in foot traffic, and lower maintenance and lease costs, they jumped on it.

"It's something I had been thinking about a lot," Stine said. "This is an amazing opportunity to start a business without having to build it from the ground up."

Miller also believes that the businesses complement each other, making the shared space enticing. She previously didn't have a place to show off her creations and to grow her business, she needed it.

Miller is expanding Bake Me Pretty, which she start three years ago. The Dalton native returned to the Berkshires after graduating culinary school. Her own business grew out of baking for her family while she made desserts in local restaurants. She then started to get personal requests for such items as wedding cakes.

More and more, she was finding places to sell her decorated baked goods and when she saw Berkshire Organics had space, it fit.

"I've been selling my baked good for three years now and I needed to find a place to bake out of. I was looking for spaces on my own," she said.

For Miller, her own bake shop is like the "candy store" she always envisioned having. She has a passion for not only baking but also making the baked goods look pretty.

"The presentation is really important to me," she said.

With easy access to organic ingredients now, Miller is expanding her all organic offerings.

Whitman was last to join the group in the space after she found out what Gibbons wanted in December. The former Reva Cafe owner is opening Naturally (with the A-U-R-A capitalized) Catering and Take Out, offering meals for pick up out of the location and using it as a platform for her catering business.

"I've always been a supporter of local everything," Whitman says. "I thought I'd fit right in here because we all have the same beliefs and respect for food."

Whitman offers an array of meals made with as many organic local ingredients as she can get. She, too, is a CIA graduate who found her way to the Berkshires after a career in Europe. She opened Reva Cafe after years of working in local restaurants to get away from working nights while raising a child.

"September 9th was my last day of operation. I was really humbled by everyone's support," Whitman said, adding that she looked at other spaces to reopen but ultimately decided not to.

"After going fast and furious for 11 years, it was good to step back."

But having a dedicated space to catering and daily takeout — instead of a sit-down restaurant — seemed to fit exactly what she wanted.

"I love the fact that I am next to three other businesses," Whitman said. "I think it is a nice marriage. We'll all work well with each other."

The businesses are now renovating their space in time for an April opening. Each will have their own counter space and preparation space while customers need to make only one stop to find all of their specialty wants.

"Its a destination now," Burden said.

But this is more than that. This is small local businesses helping small local businesses. This is community.

Tags: food,   new business,   organic,   small business,   

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