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North Adams Eatery Offering Up Home-Style Meals

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Renee and Mark Lapier of North Adams have opened a new breakfast and lunch restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Lapiers' new project took nine months from conception to launch — and all the hard work appears to be paying off.

That would be the birth of Big Shirl's Kitchen, a family-run diner created in the former J.T. Bus Lines office on Massachusetts Avenue. The restaurant had a soft opening last week, but not too soft considering the number of diners who descended on Big Shirl's for a taste of the Lapiers' home-cooked meals.

"We've served more than a 100 covers each day," said a tired Renee Lapier last Thursday. The diner opened bright and early Tuesday morning with little advance notice to give the new crew time to meld as a team. But word of mouth sent customers streaming in. "We were all over Facebook."

Named for Mark Lapier's mother ("For her big personality," said Renee), the couple have invested around $75,000 in transforming the single-story bus company offices into a homey, sparkling clean restaurant. The kitchen and handicapped-accessible bathroom had to be installed; the concrete floor has received a faux-linoleum epoxy finish and the wainscotted walls have been painted green. The space, which seats around 44, features country accents — a wallpaper border, old cast iron pans, an antiqued star.

The interior decoration and the name (essentially mom's kitchen) evokes the Lapiers' desire to offer tasty, affordable, home-cooked meals for lunch and breakfast. There's no processed lunch meat to be found at Big Shirl's, said Mark. "That's real turkey in the turkey sandwich."

"It's all home cooked. We roll out our own dough to bake our pies, use fresh eggs and fresh milk," said Renee. "All our meats are cooked off here.

"People don't do that anymore. That's why we know this will be a hit."

Big Shirl's
780 Mass. Ave.
Breakfast & Lunch
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 to 2;
Sundays, 6 to 1.

Takeouts available 413-664-2070; sign up with 7Lunches for daily specials
The project began last fall but most of the construction and renovation of the 1,000 square-foot space has been done over the last six months. The property was purchased last September by Mark Prechowski, owner of Berkshire Transmissions, who renovated the former bus barn for car repair at the far end of the lot. The Planning Board required a number of conditions be met for the property before either business could open. The Lapiers are leasing the restaurant building from Prechowski.

The couple already has a successful business, S&S Landscaping, which they've operated for 17 years. The exterior work around the diner was done by S&S. But the company is "pretty much self-operating" at this point, said Renee.

"We were looking to do something different with our lives," she said last week. The couple had looked at the former Tupelo Honey in Williamstown and another spot, but when the bus line building became available, it was the perfect match. The Lapiers can literally walk across the street to work.

Mark is a graduate of the culinary arts program at McCann Technical School and spent his earlier years working in a number of food service establishments in the area, including the former Jaeger Haus in Pownal, Vt.,  Murphy's Chowder House, the former 1896 House, Oak'n Spruce Resort and at Cariddi Catering.

The restaurant currently employs seven, mostly part time. David Rancourt has joined Mark Lapier in the kitchen and Renee Lapier operates the front of house with several part-time waitresses.

Breakfast items range from eggs any style to skillet omelets to breakfast sandwiches to various pancakes. For the brave of heart, there's an artery-busting "Garbage Plate" with six eggs, several meats, potatoes and vegetables all topped with cheese. There's banana pancakes as available for the less adventurous.

Lunch includes homemade soups, chili, salads, hot and cold sandwiches, hamburger specials and hot dogs. There's also a small kids' menu and fresh-baked desserts as available. The most expensive item on the menu is the Garbage Plate at $9.25.

"We want everyone to feel welcome and homey," said Renee. "Mark and I want to see our customers satisfied."

So far so good, if a conversation she overhead is any indication. "One customer was walking out while another was coming in and she turned to her and, 'fabulous food.'"
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North Adams Gets $600K Grant to Make Brayton Access Safer

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A nearly $600,000 state grant is going to make it safer for children to cross from Brayton Hill Apartments to Brayton School. 
 
The city was recently awarded $598,255 through the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School program to make infrastructure improvements at the entrance to the Northern Berkshire Family YMCA and install sidewalks in the area of the school. The City Council accepted the grant on Tuesday. 
 
"This grant is an incredible opportunity for the Brayton Elementary School neighborhood and will help support pedestrian and bike safety," said Barbara Malkas, superintendent of North Adams Public Schools. "The end result of the project will facilitate behaviors that promote health and wellness in a world that can be focused on our electronic devices. We're thrilled to be a recipient of this grant and the positive effects it will have on the children and families in our community."
 
The steep driveway into the parking lot of the YMCA, which is attached to the school, and a problematic crosswalk were a focus of the City Council earlier this year. No one is sure when the crosswalk was first painted but it's never been in compliance because it doesn't run between sidewalks but rather cuts across Brickyard Court between a dirt pathway through private land and the corner of the driveway. There is also a visibility factor because of the incline of both the road and the driveway.
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