Lhasa Café in Northampton to close after 12 years; space to become a sandwich shop

  • An example of Lhasa Cafe entrees, clockwise from left, are chicken with mixed vegetables, yak with bok choy and vegetable curry. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dolma Tsering, who is the chef and co-owner of Lhasa Cafe in Northampton, makes spring rolls, Monday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dolma Tsering, who is the chef and co-owner of Lhasa Cafe in Northampton, makes spring rolls, Monday. The restaurant will close on Saturday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

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    Frank Alllen, Katie Keach and Kaya Allen, 5, eat dinner at Lhasa Cafe in Northampton, Monday. Keach said, "It's one of our favorite restaurants." —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Thondup and Dolma Tsering, who are the co-owners of Lhasa Cafe in Northampton, stand beside their daughter, Tensin Dhekyong, Monday in the cafe's dining room. The cafe is closing and will be open for the last day on March 25. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lhasa Cafe, 159 Main Street, Northampton, Monday. The cafe is closing and will be open for the last day on March 25. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2017 11:45:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A city restaurant used as a platform to share the food and culture of Tibet for more than a decade will close Saturday.

Thondup and Dolma Tsering of Amherst, who have operated Lhasa Cafe at 159 Main St. since 2004, announced Monday that the restaurant will end its run, a decision prompted by their children completing college and a desire to be able to travel to visit family in India unencumbered by the commitment to the restaurant.

“It certainly has been a very exciting and rewarding experience for the past 12 years,” Thondup Tsering said in a phone interview Monday evening.

On April 1, owners of a new restaurant to be known as Belly of the Beast, a sandwich shop focusing on local produce and meat carved and cured in -house, will take over the space. Jesse Hassinger and Aimee Francaes hope to have their restaurant open in early June.

Tsering said he enjoyed operating Lhasa Cafe, showcasing Tibetan culture, meeting many wonderful people and making long-standing friendships with customers.

“They certainly have been extremely supportive and welcoming. Without their support, we wouldn’t have succeeded,” Tsering said.

But running a restaurant means trips to visit family in India have been limited, as someone always stays behind to ensure it is functioning.

Tsering said he expects to remain active in the food business as a caterer, participating in events like the Taste of Amherst, the Tibetan Festival in Goshen and Festival of the Hills in Conway.

While Lhasa Cafe closes permanently Saturday, the restaurant also won’t open on Tuesday, in favor of a staff appreciation event, Tsering said.

Hassinger, who will own and run Belly of the Beast with his wife, Francaes, described the concept as “kind of our baby.”

The idea has been percolating with the couple since 2009, when they moved to the Boston area and began working in restaurants.

“Belly of the Beast has been the focus of the last eight years of work,” Hassinger said.

The menu will feature many sandwiches and lunch items, using local and sustainable sources of both meat and produce. Already, Hassinger said he has been touring numerous farms to learn how animals are raised and how vegetables are grown.

Hassinger will butcher all the meat on site, as well as doing the curing of the bacons, hams and pastramis used in the sandwiches. Hassinger previously apprenticed at a butcher shop in Somerville.

But he anticipates just as much care going into the vegan and vegetarian options.

Hassinger arrived in Northampton in October 2015 where he is currently working at Tart Baking Co.

Franceas has remained in the eastern part of the state, working as the human resources director for Flour Bakery + Cafe, a string of pastry shops.

Both grew up in Syracuse, and Northampton was attractive as a more rural area with a city nestled among numerous farms and hills, as well as the freshness and dynamic feeling that the Five College community offers, Hassinger said.

Though Hassinger understands people will miss Lhasa Cafe’s presence, he is looking forward to customers giving his restaurant a chance.

“We hope to be a similar touchstone in the greater Northampton area,” Hassinger said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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