By Rebecca Sheir
Of all the menu items at Roadside Store and Cafe — a cozy, one-room eatery on Route 23 in Monterey, Mass. — there’s one that manager Francie Leventhal is particularly proud of and intimidated by: the pancakes.
You can order the buttermilk or buckwheat flapjacks in three sizes: small, medium and large. And as Leventhal puts it, “The large is the size of a small pizza!” “They’re a pain to make and to flip,” she said with a laugh. “But they’ve been part of Roadside forever and they’re something that will be with us forever. We can never take them off the menu.”
The legendary pancakes are what earned it a nod from fashion designer Adam Lippes, a part-time Monterey resident, in a 2015 New York Times travel piece.
“It’s this little dive, which has great massive pancakes. It’s breakfast and lunch, really, but everyone knows everyone. I go there, I read my newspapers,” he said in the article, “Adam Lippes’s Guide to the Berkshires.”
(Before that, in 2004, Bon Appetit magazine named the cafe one of the best places to eat breakfast in the country.)
The pancakes also inspired Roadside’s slogan: “Harvesting Hope, One Pancake at a Time.”
The individuals finding “hope” are the cooks, servers and runners on Roadside’s staff, who help make up the approximately 40 individuals seeking treatment at Gould Farm.
The 700-acre working farm nestled in the Berkshire Hills has been offering psychiatric rehabilitation through nature, community, and good-old-fashioned work since 1913. And the bulk of this work connects to food. Executive Director Lisanne Finston explained: “The work of the land and the produce of the land result in community building and sustenance and healing. It’s using food as a tool for healing and empowerment.”
You can witness this “healing and empowerment” directly and indirectly at Roadside Store and Cafe. Guests at Gould Farm (“guest” is the term of choice as opposed to “patient”) rotate through numerous work groups during their stay, and you can literally taste the fruits of their labor at Roadside.
The Garden Team’s greens and tomatoes get carted to Roadside for salads; the team’s poblano peppers are ground down to make the cafe’s signature hot sauce. The Farm Team raises livestock for Roadside’s juicy burgers, spicy tacos, overstuffed burritos and brisket hash.
The Forests and Grounds Team taps Gould Farm’s trees for Roadside’s famous maple syrup – much of which ends up drizzled over those legendary pancakes.
According to a recent Yelp review: “They give each pancake a small reservoir of maple syrup that should suffice for an average human being; I poured on all of mine, then grabbed my wife’s and poured that on as well. All that covered only a quarter of my massive pancake, so that’s all I ate, and still became senselessly stuffed.”
More than kneading dough
The bagels, hamburger buns and pizza crust you’ll taste at Roadside are baked by the Harvest Barn Team. That team also makes the cafe’s yogurt, cheese and ice cream, using milk gathered by the Farm Team.
The Harvest Barn is the second of Gould Farm’s two public eateries. During the week, it’s a self-service honor system: step inside the rustic, airy red building on the Gould Farm campus and leave cash in exchange for breads, pastries, granola, cheese, pancake mix, maple syrup and other goodies. On weekends, be ready to line up at the register for additional pastries, lunch items, coffee and tea.
Nathan Yaple, who manages the Harvest Barn, said some of his team members have been inspired to pursue culinary careers after leaving Gould Farm. But he argues that working in the Harvest Barn isn’t just about measuring ingredients and kneading dough.
“The whole point of the work programs here at the farm is, basically, work therapy,” Yaple said. “How is this skill going to help you take care of yourself? How can you use this job skill as a technique for managing your symptoms, or becoming well and being in touch with the well self?”
Many guests at Gould Farm struggle with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and catastrophic depression. Yaple says these individuals experience “internal distractions: voices, or beliefs about themselves, that are really difficult to shake and sit with.”
And he believes the skills they learn at the Harvest Barn can be a powerful antidote.
“The techniques of pastry-making that involve using your body — like kneading dough or rolling a pie shell or shaping a bagel — gets people into their bodies and identifying what kind of motions they need to make,” Yaple explains. He says it’s “another way of focusing, or being in the moment, rather than in the worry or anxiety that keeps people separate from each other.”
Healing through work therapy
Leventhal says the ante is upped for guests working at Roadside Store and Cafe – most of whom are nearing the end of their rehabilitation at Gould Farm, and will soon transition back to the outside world.
Leventhal says many of these individuals came to the farm struggling with “social anxiety” and “trouble communicating.” Now, they’re holding down the fort in a snug, 26-seat eatery where a typical summer day brings 160 people flocking over for breakfast and lunch!
“The other work teams are a little bit lower intensity than Roadside,” she said. “What Roadside is so good at is finding the strength of a particular guest and really nurturing them. So there is a confidence that’s built for people who have felt pretty bad about themselves prior to coming to the Farm.”
Leventhal recalls one particularly shy Roadside worker who was captivated by the espresso machine. Before long, he was whizzing around as a barista, casually chatting with Roadside’s regulars as he invented and handcrafted special espresso drinks for customer after customer.
“Being the espresso maker gave him a role and gave him confidence and that became his thing,” Leventhal says, before confessing: “After he left, our espresso counter’s level of quality went down a little!”
Just like at the Harvest Barn, a handful of Roadside guests have gone on to pursue careers in the culinary and restaurant world.
“It’s a different way of teaching when I know somebody really wants to do this afterward,” said Leventhal, who holds a certificate from New York City’s Natural Gourmet Institute. “I will be a little tougher on them, and also explain a little more to give them as much knowledge as [possible] before they try to do this somewhere else.”
But regardless of where guests plan on heading next, there’s one piece of advice Leventhal gives to all Roadside workers: “Make your mistakes here.”
She reminds them that “you have a safety net here,” so “try everything and fail here, in a structured place, so that you have a better sense of what you’re good at and what you want when you leave.”
Reaching their potential
Gould Farm employs four dozen full-time staffers, including psychiatrists, therapists, administrators, a registered nurse, a transitional counselor, and work-team leaders like Yaple and Leventhal.
“At the end of the day,” Leventhal said all of Gould Farm’s employees have the same “top priority: helping guests to re-find themselves and engage through work and be the best versions of themselves that they can be, and press them to reach whatever potential they have or to support them in whatever place they’re at.”
She added that the staff at Roadside Cafe shares the same priority, too.
“We want you to feel like you’re at home when you come in,” she said. “We know how you take your coffee, we know what kind of pancake you want. We like to know the little specifics of what each customer likes. It’s very warm and friendly: a small-town kind of thing where we want you to feel super comfortable.” Leventhal is pleased about how this warm approach to customer service has affected the way customers at Roadside approach one another.
“We don’t have Wi-Fi, and it’s highly common if you’re sitting at the counter you start talking to the person next you!” she says with a smile. “We’ve even had people combine tables who didn’t know each other!”
Ostensibly, these people are combining tables to continue a pleasant, randomly-struck-up conversation. But if they’re also teaming up to help each other polish off a half-eaten platter of syrup-drenched, pizza-sized pancakes, well, that wouldn’t be a surprise at all.•
A Taste of Gould Farm
Roadside Store and Cafe
275 Main Road (Route 23), Monterey, Mass. Hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Stop by on a Thursday morning and say hello to “The Coffee Club”: a group of a dozen or so local gentleman whose weekly coffee klatch has been gathering at Roadside for as long as anyone can remember.
Harvest Barn Bakery
Retail bakery and cafe: Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Self-service retail: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You’ll find everything from breads, pastries and granola to ice cream, cheese and milk at this retail space/bakery/cafe on the Gould Farm campus. It’s a self-service honor system during the week. On weekends, you can buy additional pastries, lunch items, coffee and tea at the cash register.
Rebecca Sheir is a veteran public radio reporter and host. She has been on “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” “Marketplace,” “Here and Now,” “The Splendid Table” and the Alaska Public Radio Network. She currently hosts/writes/produces“Circle Round,” WBUR’s storytelling podcast for kids and grown-ups.