Easthampton’s Coco and the Cellar Bar closes after 10 years

  • Unmi Abkin, who is the head chef and co-owner of Coco and the Cellar Bar in Easthampton, serves a ginger cake with candied kumquats on Feb. 17, 2016. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Roger Taylor, owner of Coco and The Cellar Bar, holds buttermilk fried chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and jalapeno coleslaw on Feb. 12, 2015. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Coco on Main Street in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Coco and The Cellar Bar on Main Street in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 8/15/2021 7:14:41 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Main Street is losing a nationally renowned restaurant that for a decade has drawn diners to the city from across the region.

In a statement posted online, the owners of Easthampton’s Coco and The Cellar Bar announced “with profound regret” that they would be closing down “effective immediately.”

“It has been a truly difficult 18 months since the pandemic started and this is the best decision for our family,” the statement read. “Thank you for helping make Coco such a special place.”

Opened by chef Unmi Abkin and her husband, Roger Taylor, in 2011, the restaurant was best known for its buttermilk fried chicken and commitment to locally sourced food. Abkin was named a semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation’s competition for best chef in the Northeast five times.

The circumstances behind the sudden closure were not immediately clear, with only the restaurant’s short statement present on its website. Phone calls and an email to the restaurant went unanswered Sunday and Monday, and efforts to reach restaurant staffers also were unsuccessful. The restaurant’s Facebook page has since been deleted.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said that she respects the owners’ decision to close the restaurant despite its success.

“I think like many businesses and people reevaluating what they want in life … there’s an internal reckoning,” she said, noting that some people now place increased value on spending more time with their families or other life changes.

Abkin moved to the Pioneer Valley from San Francisco in the mid-’90s, opening her first local restaurant — Cha Cha Cha — in Northampton in 1995. It was at her second restaurant, Unmi, where she met Taylor, who was the restaurant’s sous chef. Taylor’s family ran the kitchen of the former North Star Seafood Bar, a nightclub and restaurant across from Forbes Library, when he was growing up. The two wrote a cookbook, “Curry & Kimchi,” together in 2019.

Reactions to the unexpected news flooded social media over the weekend. At-large City Councilor Owen Zaret said the restaurant provided “fantastic food and libations.”

“Many thanks to the amazing staff,” Zaret wrote. “The people who worked there upstairs and downstairs were always incredibly welcoming and full of light. The pandemic has made life very very difficult across the spectrum of our lives. I am saddened to see it claim this gem from our city.”

The restaurant’s absence will leave a “dent,” LaChapelle said, “but I do believe the void will be filled … It’s only one business of many that drew people to Easthampton.”

Easthampton’s business community appears to have weathered the pandemic relatively well: While Flywheel Arts Collective left its space at the old Town Hall and Manchester Hardware shuttered for various reasons, the city avoided widespread closures, and several new businesses have opened or expanded downtown. Some businesses have expressed concerns that foot traffic has been slower than usual this summer — usually the busiest season — but overall, “I think we’re slightly improving,” LaChapelle said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com. Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.
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