The Black Sheep Deli returns with expanded menu, head chef

  • A sign left on the window by Rob Watson after closing his restaurant The Lone Wolf in Amherst. Watson is returning to be head chef at The Black Sheep, which is reopening in downtown Amherst after the pandemic shuttered the eatery for seven months. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rob Watson, left, who is now working at The Black Sheep, is pictured this week in the restaurant with owner Nick Seamon. The restaurant reopened Wednesday after being closed for seven months due to the pandemic. A grand reopening is scheduled for Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rob Watson returns to The Black Sheep, where he will be head chef. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Seamon, the owner of The Black Sheep in Amherst, stocks shelves in preparation for the eatery’s reopening on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rob Watson, left, and Nick Seamon, head chef and owner, respectively, at The Black Sheep talk about menu items as they prepared to reopen this week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Seamon, the owner of The Black Sheep in Amherst, hangs awards he had received on the walls of the restaurant. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Black Sheep has reopened in downtown Amherst after being closed for seven months due to the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2021 4:11:33 PM

AMHERST — Black Sheep Deli’s reopening this week will bring back familiar aspects of the restaurant to longtime customers, including a variety of sandwiches on fresh-baked bread and a selection of pastries, along with an expanded homage to labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.

In resuming operations at the 79 Main St. location after a nearly seven-month layoff prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, owner Nick Seamon said he is introducing new product lines to an expanded grocery market, while reimagining the cafe’s menu under new head chef Rob Watson, who returns to his roots after running his own restaurant, The Lone Wolf, for the past 17 years.

“He’s a master chef and he’s coming here to be head chef,” Seamon said, noting that Watson helped him open his own breakfast joint, Nick’s, before venturing out on his own. “He’ll put a new stamp on recipes.”

“This is the easiest thing to do since Nick and I have been friends for 30 years,” Watson said.

Seamon said that though Black Sheep has been a mainstay of the downtown Amherst dining scene for 35 years, getting the restaurant back in business has not been easy. He shut it down on Dec. 27, recognizing that he couldn’t make a go of it without the regular customers feeling safe to do so.

Still, his goal is to restore the Black Sheep people remember from pre-COVID-19 times and have even more baked goods, adding bialys, brioches and popovers, and having shelves with grocery items such as pasta and sauces.

“It’s all about really serving the community the way we did,” Seamon said.

In coolers that were purchased with a $98,000 Food Security Infrastructure Grant will be smoked fish and meats, dairy and cheese, entrees to go, seasonal soups and stews, jambalaya and Creole-style gumbos. “All products just to make lives easier,” Seamon said.

The grant also helped purchase a refrigerated van to make deliveries and a new bread oven.

Besides offering more items to customers, the cafe will begin what will be known as weekend popup breakfasts prepared by Watson that will likely have a selection of some of favorites from the Lone Wolf’s menu.

For Watson, the professional kitchen allows him to also reboot the catering of Lone Wolf, where he is already serving weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events again, while making deli salads, soups and entrees, and playing around with lamb and vegan dishes, for Black Sheep.

During the layoff from overseeing the business, Seamon said he spent more time at the Black Sheep Farm in Leverett, where many of the products used in the menu have been grown, and will bring even more produce from there and other local farms. He also did a lot of canning and bottling of various products on the shelves, such as the Asian pickled radishes, pickled jalapenos, and “Hurt You Twice” hot sauce.

Black Sheep reopens with limited hours from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, but Seamon hopes to eventually again be open seven days a week. That will depend on staffing, as he has 12 employees, down from the 26 before COVID.

“We’ll build from there,” Seamon said.

Longtime performers the Gypsy Wranglers will play from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the grand opening Saturday, and will then be there each Sunday afterward.

The shutdown also prompted Seamon to sand the floors and paint all the walls. “It will look nice and will feel good,” Seamon said. He has added new photos from 1973 and 1974 when he lived in a boycott house and worked with Cesar Chavez on farmworkers rights, and there’s also a poster from 1990 when Chavez came to Amherst. The walls also include awards from the Valley Advocate and a citations from the state Legislature.

After more than a year in which the University of Massachusetts couldn’t have department lunches, and caterers couldn’t go onto the Amherst College campus due to its bubble, Seamon is seeking normality.

“One thing we’re really hoping for is, with UMass opening, our delivery business on campus will be back to normal,” Seamon said.

But he anticipates other challenges, such as the increasing cost of goods and extreme drought in the western United States.

Seamon said that as COVID-19 fades, the days when Sen. Elizabeth Warren could hold a campaign kickoff event at Black Sheep, as she did in 2012, might return.

Black Sheep, he said, should be a place for people to gather in a downtown, rather than patronize restaurants on the Hadley strip.

“We want this to be a meeting place and an alternative to Route 9,” Seamon said.

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