NOLA in the Valley: Wells Provisions in Charlemont sources locally, serves Big Easy flavor

By LISA GOODRICH

For the Recorder

Published: 02-17-2023 3:18 PM

At first glance, Charlemont may seem an unlikely place to open a restaurant that features New Orleans cooking. When the pandemic offered a chance to try something new, Wesley Janssen and family saw the opportunity for a homecoming.

The Northfield native moved to New Orleans in her early 20s and worked for the Brennan’s family of restaurants – the same which launched the careers of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Janssen recounts, “The common thread with these great chefs starts with an unwavering commitment to using the best ingredients and making dishes that layer complementary flavors. They were all about regional American cuisine, using local ingredients, and adding Creole flavor. That’s the same approach we take in our restaurant.”

Wesley Janssen met her husband, Levi, while they both worked for the same restaurant group. Levi Janssen is a New Orleans native, and this is his first time living outside the Big Easy. Janssen explains that while visiting western Massachusetts, “We saw the commercial building for sale in Charlemont and jumped at the opportunity. With Berkshire East and all the outdoor activities that happen in and around Charlemont, it seemed like a good fit to add a specialty market and cafe.”

The couple explain the connection between food in western Massachusetts and food in New Orleans by sharing what they call their “golden thread approach” of using high quality products from small producers, while highlighting people who are doing things the small way. She continues, “We lean into New Orleans cooking in terms of flavor and technique because New Orleans has great food. It’s not about spice — it’s about depth of flavor — most of our food isn’t spicy at all.”

Janssen continues, “Although we use all those years of experience in Creole cooking, we’re not just a New Orleans restaurant. We’re a cafe that specializes in good food. We use local products as much as possible. Our traditional gumbo fits on our menu just as well as our winter solstice salad. One is very New Orleans, the other is very New England. And then we marry the two — like with our king cake, which is a staple NOLA dessert served during Carnival Season. We make ours topped with maple cream cheese frosting. You won’t find maple cream cheese on a standard king cake in Louisiana.”

Dishes favored by local customers and traveling visitors alike include Andouille Sausage Hash or Shrimp and Grits. Janssen explains, “Both start with exceptional quality products, including our own homemade and smoked andouille sausage with shiitake mushrooms and caramelized onions in the hash or wild-caught Gulf shrimp and organic stone-ground grits,” served in a comforting bowl.

Knowing the pandemic was a challenging time to open a food service business, the Janssens knew they wanted to be rooted in community. The team set up the restaurant as counter service to encourage the same feeling of hospitality and leisure, whether the patron lingers over a single coffee or sits down to a full meal.

Janssen continues, “We wanted it to be a third place, that is, a place you feel comfortable hanging out that’s not home and not work. We spent a lot of time and energy to get the feel right. We have lots of natural light, plants, layers of texture and worked with the amazing local Hired Hand Signs to create one-of-a-kind menus and signage. All those details lead to people saying, ‘This place feels so good’ when they enter.”

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Janssen explains the community piece naturally extends to sourcing. “We have the best local ingredients at our fingertips! We work with Marty’s Local for a lot of our sourcing. We use only local dairy from High Lawn Farm, we source our eggs through Cream of the Crop and also through Sweet Birch Herbals, who feed their birds with our compost. We use Winston’s Maple Syrup from Shelburne on our pancakes, in our Monte Cristo, and in our king cake.”

Janssen continues, “People love our collard melt throughout the summer and fall. We source the collards for that melt through Good Bunch Farm in Charlemont.”

The couple features a list of local products in both their restaurant and their market that draw from Franklin County and beyond. Local products available in their specialty grocery shop run deep, including ghee from Full Moon Ghee and Katalyst Kombucha from Greenfield. They get coffee from Barrington Coffee Roasters and No. 6 Depot in Berkshire County. She says, “It just makes sense to support our local community. You get better food at a competitive price and your dollars are going to local people.”

Any family move and new business is stressful, but Janssen is enthusiastic and upbeat about her family’s new home and business. The couple’s children are growing up alongside their business. Janssen shares, “They all love food and are adventurous eaters. They’re also our toughest culinary critics. They won’t hesitate to tell us if the gumbo is even slightly not as good as yesterday’s!”

The Janssens relish bringing people joy through food. “We’ve been received with open arms by our community. We have many locals who are regulars. In fact, if we don’t see them for a couple days we worry.” Janssen continues, “Levi and I have been in the hospitality business for many years, and people go out of their way to share how much they love Wells Provisions.”

Wesley Janssen concludes, “We love sharing our passion for great food and hospitality. Almost every day feels like we’re throwing a party for happy guests.”

Wells Provisions is located at 159 Main Street in Charlemont. See their website, www.wellsprovisions.com, for hours of operation. While the bottle shop has a license to sell alcohol, they are not licensed to serve inside the market and restaurant and patrons are not allowed to bring their own bottle per state laws. Two Airbnb units are available above the market.

Lisa Goodrich is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, (CISA). Look for more Local Hero restaurants in our three-county area in our online guide at buylocalfood.org/restaurants.

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