Ashfield Lake House reopening under new ownership, management

Ashfield resident Gretchen Gerstner, right, will run the Ashfield Lake House in partnership with Gary Bogoff, founder of Berkshire Brewing Co. in South Deerfield. Amanda Nash, a Northampton real estate investor,  left, is the new owner of the property.

Ashfield resident Gretchen Gerstner, right, will run the Ashfield Lake House in partnership with Gary Bogoff, founder of Berkshire Brewing Co. in South Deerfield. Amanda Nash, a Northampton real estate investor, left, is the new owner of the property. THE ASHFIELD NEWS/JANE KAUFMAN

Kristie Turner, a bartender at the Ashfield Lake House, photographs the lake.

Kristie Turner, a bartender at the Ashfield Lake House, photographs the lake. THE ASHFIELD NEWS/JANE KAUFMAN

By JANE KAUFMAN

The Ashfield News

Published: 07-05-2024 6:42 PM

ASHFIELD — Friday fish fries, burgers and Steel Rail extra pale ale from Berkshire Brewing Co. will soon be on tap under the Ashfield Lake House’s new ownership and management.

Ashfield resident Gretchen Gerstner, who owns Baked in Shelburne Falls, will run the town’s famous destination in partnership with Gary Bogoff, founder of Berkshire Brewing Co. in South Deerfield.

Amanda Nash, a Northampton real estate investor who owns multiple properties in Franklin County, is the new owner of the property, which she bought for $1.17 million on June 25.

She praised the work Andrea “Dre” Hynes and Christopher Rawlings put in during their nine years of ownership, including installing elaborate stonework and adding a deck and outdoor seating.

“I looked at it when Judith [Hamilton] sold it, when Dre and Chris bought it, and I couldn’t afford it at that time. Also, it was not in good shape,” Nash said. “Now it’s in beautiful shape. They really did a lot for the property.”

Hynes and Rawlings bought the Ashfield Lake House from Hamilton on May 15, 2015, for $280,000. The pandemic took a toll on the restaurant. On May 16, 2022, Hynes announced that the business was closing and was for sale. On June 1, 2022, it was listed for $1.1 million. The Lake House reopened months later, mostly on weekends, and closed for business a week prior to the recent sale.

The sale included the restaurant, equipment and contents, as well as three cottages that Hynes, Rawlings and others had purchased on Aug. 1, 2017, for $180,000 under the name Burning Sensation LLC. On May 16, 2023, the listing price for the restaurant dropped from $1.1 million to $998,000. The cottages were listed separately at $395,000.

Gerstner hopes to open the Lake House in mid-July, pending the liquor license transfer.

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“We have the menu,” she said. “We have the staff. We’re ready to go. We just need to get Gary in there and get his beer back.”

Gerstner was an Ashfield police officer for nine years. Each Tuesday during the pandemic she visited about 60 senior residents, delivering cookies at a time when many were isolated. They told her they craved a place to meet their friends.

“I love food,” Gerstner said. “I love all types of food, and I just want to feed people.”

At the Lake House, she’ll offer burgers made from Porter Family Farm beef, including a Cowboy Burger topped with onion rings, housemade barbecue sauce and served on an Amish knot roll made at Baked.

Her plan is to continue running Baked, which is open for breakfast and lunch. Baked will also make all breads, rolls and desserts for the Lake House, which doesn’t have bakery ovens. The Lake House will be open for lunch and dinner, offering comfort food, including salads, French onion soup and lasagna, as well as two vegan entrees.

Gerstner said she wasn’t originally considering buying a second restaurant, noting that at 58, her intention was to cut back at 60.

“I’m fine with Baked,” she said. “I don’t need to do anything else. But I feel that the Ashfield Lake House is very important to this town and I want to have the Lake House here for our town people.”

She is drawing staff for the Lake House partly from Baked, but also from “alumni” of the Lake House under Hamilton’s ownership.

The Lake House, then owned by Cheryl and Douglas Pease, was one of Bogoff’s first customers after he launched Berkshire Brewing Co. 30 years ago.

This is Berkshire Brewing’s first partnership with a restaurant of this kind. Bogoff, who is 70, said he was careful never to compete against restaurant customers. The industry has now changed, though, with many breweries opening kitchens.

“We feel this is a great opportunity to help Gretchen and give her something hopefully a little different than what you’re seeing,” he said. “We truly want to support all the industry, but we feel that there’s room for us to step up and present ourselves in a special fashion.”

As a spirits wholesaler, Berkshire Brewing will also serve other beers and spirits, including Amherst Brewing products, regionally sourced hard cider, mead and tequila, and spirits from Berkshire Mountain Distillers.

“I think this is Gretchen’s calling — to be the Ashfield Lake House,” Bogoff said. “I mean, she is Ashfield. ... She knows everybody and she’s been everything to everybody.”

Describing Gerstner as “a virtual workaholic,” he said, “she always has a smile on her face.”

Nash is a New York City native who now lives in a “tiny house” at Laurel Park in Northampton. She’s lived in Massachusetts since 1987. Prior to moving to Conway more than a decade ago, she lived in Gloucester, first running an arts colony at Rocky Neck, then as an on-site inn owner.

After selling the inn, she was the high bidder at auction for the house Walter Cudnohufsky owned when he started the Conway School of Landscape Design. As she and her then-partner worked on the house, they frequented the Lake House. It became one of her favorite places.

“We would go there and I’d go swimming and he’d go to the bar,” she said. “And then I’d come in and we’d have dinner, and we loved it.”

As an activist opposing a plan for a pipeline, she also befriended like-minded people in Ashfield, and said she loves the Double Edge Theatre. She also expressed admiration for Gerstner.

“I’m really excited about her,” she said. “I love her energy. She’s so determined to do the right thing for the community.”

Gerstner was born in Canandaigua, New York. As a child, she taught herself to decorate cakes and made money doing so. At 15, her first job was waitressing at Ponderosa, but she was drawn to baking and took a job at a mom-and-pop bakery. Later, she tried working in commercial kitchens, but missed the personal connection.

“You don’t get to see the people who eat your stuff,” she said. “You don’t get to watch people’s faces when you make something delicious.”

Her father bought a joint he named Hot Diggety Dog, where she worked for two summers.

At the age of 29, with her three sisters-in-law, she opened her first restaurant: Rose Corner, in Canandaigua. She later opened Gerstner’s Bakery, also in Canandaigua, but missed the restaurant component.

“So I closed it,” she said. “I sold my equipment. I said, ‘I’m never doing that again.’”

Then, after moving to Ashfield, she ran the bakery at Elmer’s Store when it was under Nan Parati’s ownership.

In 2016, she rented the former glassblowing studio that now houses Baked. It took 14 months to retool and open. Things are humming along now at Baked, where Gerstner employs 20 people, most of them single mothers or head-of-household mothers — like Gerstner, who divorced as she was raising her three children, who are now all adults.

Bogoff said he’s looking forward to having the Ashfield Lake House come full circle.

“Franklin County as a whole has made us feel so welcome over all these years, that we are truly looking forward to partnering with Gretchen and getting this thing rolling,” he said. “It’s always been a community hangout. Everybody’s welcome. And that’s the way it’s gonna be under Gretchen’s command.”