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Lucky for Lenox: A True Haven

Rural Intelligence Food
Delicious food with a side of good will: Haven, as its name promises, is a stress-free zone.
On her website, Shelly Williams, owner of one-month-old Haven Cafe and Bakery in Lenox, cautions wannabe employees, “Must love food. Be interested in continuing education related to food and service. And be able to smile without effort.”

Rural Intelligence FoodIt’s that last that makes all the difference.  Not that anything else about Haven is wanting.  Spacious, airy and clean with an open kitchen, the place is stylish in an unforced way, and the food is the same.  The menu has exactly what you’re in the mood for at breakfast—that granola! ($5),  those house pancakes with cinnamon apples and creme fraiche ($8.95)!!—and lunch, only tastier and healthier than you imagined possible.  (We’ll leave the fabulous baked goods and desserts—a perfect chocolate cake, carrot cake with an amazing icing—out of this paean to clean living. Once that last local lettuce leaf is consumed, all bets are off.) 

But we’ve all eaten a lot of pleasing, nutritious food.  What we haven’t had a lot of, can never get enough of, are always starved for, in fact, is competent, cheerful service.  And I don’t mean, “Hi, I’m Simon. I’ll be your server tonight.” 

Here’s Haven: a friend orders the grilled veggie sandwich ($9.95), I get the curried chicken salad ($9.95), each with a side of local greens; our plan is to share. But the cashier/order-taker notices that it pains us to pass up the arugula and faro salad ($8.95).  She’s sympathizes (“It’s really good.”), then offers, “Why don’t you get a 1/2 order?”  Hey!  Why not!?  She scoops up a cupful—plenty for both of us to get the idea—and charges us $2.95.  Where I went to school, 1/2 of $8.95 is $4 something.  We’d have gladly paid it.  Haven goes that extra mile.

Nothing in owner Shelly Williams’ background, except maybe a knack for exceeding expectations, especially her own, would suggest that she’d end up a successful restaurateur.  [Note: While admittedly early in the game, the crowds at Haven, especially on weekends, suggest that Williams has a serious hit on her hands.]  A self-taught cook, she went pro only five years ago, and then by accident. “Someone asked me to make some lasagnas for a big dinner party she has every year,” Williams says. “When I went to speak to her, she said, ‘Oh, why don’t you just do the whole party.’  Fifty people the day after Christmas: I did beef tenderloin, scalloped potatoes, vegetarian lasagna.  Guests said it was the best catered food in the Berkshires and wanted my card, but, of course, I didn’t have one.  Soon after, I got a call from one of the guests asking me to do cocktails at his place for 100 people.  From then on, I had a business.  Every year I got busier and busier.”

And more and more confident.  A year or so ago, she started thinking about opening a take-out place.  “Then a friend said, ‘Shel, you really need to support that with some tables.’”  Suddenly, she was a prospective restaurateur, a dream that had been lurking in the back of her mind for twenty years, ever since she’d worked in the front of the house at a restaurant in Washington State. “It was the kind of place where people would come in 3 and 4 times a week,” she recalls. Using it as a model, she began looking for space.  “I met with the landlord [of Carol’s in Lenox].  She was willing to put some money into the building.  She let me decide everything.”
Apparently, all those decisions were spot on. Four weeks after opening, hungry hoards are lining up, waiting for tables.  Luckily, Shelly’s husband Randal Williams, a yoga instructor’s yoga instructor at Kripalu who takes charge of crowd control at the restaurant on weekends, has a genius for keeping the peckish preternaturally calm.  At this point, Haven, which has a full liquor license, serves only breakfast and lunch.  But Williams, whose talent for hiring shows in her manager Bridget Conry, feels sufficiently unfettered to begin mulling evening dining opportunities. “Reservations only, prix fixe, one seating, one menu, two long community tables, and you have to get on an e-mail list to be invited,” she muses. But that’s down the road, right? “Actually, I’m planning one right now, and I’m trying to fit in two for August.  I miss doing a higher end dinner party.”  Superhuman stamina seems to be another strategic asset Williams brings to the restaurant game. 

Haven Cafe & Bakery
8 Franklin Street, Lenox; 413.637.8948
Monday & Wednesday - Friday 7 - 5
Saturday 8 - 5
Sunday 8 - 2
Closed Tuesday

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 08/04/08 at 02:38 PM • Permalink