Amherst restaurant Balance also offers meal-preparation service

  • Chris Boom Boom Towne, the chef of Balance Amherst, cuts Avocado for a Avocado Tomato salad. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris “Boom Boom” Towne, the chef and co-owner of Balance in Amherst, cooks Chicken Marsala last week. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At left, co-owners Amy Gallant, Richard Hogans, left, and Chris “Boom Boom” Towne, pose for a picture at Balance. Above, shepherd’s pie with a topping of sweet potatoes and Beca's sweet bites. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Boom Boom Towne, the chef of Balance Amherst, places grilled chicken on one of his salads. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sweet potato hash at Balance in Amherst. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/2/2016 3:28:26 PM

AMHERST – After her father died three years ago, Lydia Washington coped with the stress of losing a parent by turning to unhealthy eating habits and putting on weight.

A graduate student pursuing a degree in social justice at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the native of Jacksonville, Florida, eventually realized she needed to change her lifestyle, beginning with a training regimen at a Hadley fitness studio run by Richard Hogans.

To supplement her workouts by eating healthier, Washington since June has been ordering food from a new meal preparation business that Hogans opened just to friends and family in a Boltwood Walk storefront in June, and then to the public in early September.

So far, Washington said the food in her diet — including brussel sprouts, quinoa, pan-seared turkey cakes and Chicken Marsala — has helped her to shed 25 pounds, made her feel better and, even at $80 a week for 10 prepared meals, cut down on food expenses.

“Since I started the meal prep, I’ve saved a lot of money, and I have no more chest pains,” Washington said.

The meal preparation service is one element of a new downtown restaurant called Balance, where all dinners are made by head chef and co-owner Chris Towne.

Each week, Towne is making about 500 meals for 50 clients early in the day before the kitchen transitions to a conventional restaurant for lunch and supper, with a more limited menu from which people can order to dine in or take out.

Hogans said the enterprise is unusual for the region because places that make prepared meals, like Atkins Farms Country Market and the former Portabella Catering, do not also double as eat-in restaurants.

“In western Massachusetts, we’re on the front end of the curve,” Hogans said. “We saw the market being real viable for this.”

Three partners 

The dual concept of a meal preparation site and restaurant was developed by co-owners Hogans, Towne and Amy Gallant, who combine their expertise in fitness, cooking and business, respectively.

Hogans, who was a strength and conditioning coach for a dozen years, including four at UMass, now owns TRAIN Performance Training and Nutrition studio at 31 Campus Plaza Road. 

Hogans said he recognizes the growing demand from people who want expertise in making food. Clients he works with – ranging from athletes to people recovering from surgery or other challenges – often have inquired about how to supplement their workouts with an improved diet.

In addition to fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders who are looking for specific foods, there are people like Washington who want to eat better, but don’t have time to figure that out on their own.

“When you’re a professional, it’s tough to prep your own meals,” Hogans said.

Towne, who had just left his previous job as a chef at Europa restaurant in Ludlow, was a client of Hogans, and they began batting around concepts. “We came up with the idea of a meal-prep service,” Hogans said. 

Towne said he was sure he could cook all entrees to the satisfaction of customers. 

But even though they thought they had hit upon a unique idea, they weren't sure how to get a business plan off the ground, until Gallant, who has also been training at Hogans’ studio, was given the pitch, and Towne and Hogans did more tastings at her home.

Gallant brings business experience as manager of Hannoush Jewelers in Hadley and part-owner of Faces in Northampton.

Time-saver

Gallant said many people can benefit from Balance. “Meal-prep people are professionals who find it easier because it saves them time” to order the food, Gallant said. 

While Balance does not have a dietician on staff, Hogans said the meals are prepared to dietary guidelines and give people exact calorie counts. They have also come up with a formula for people who want to lose or gain weight, or those who want to maintain their weight, offering them choices of the proteins and carbohydrates they want in their meals. They also can be made to suit the needs of vegetarians and those who demand gluten-free food.

“It’s regular folks who just want to eat right,” Hogans said. “The nice thing about what we do is we give you a variety.”

Towne said customers are placing orders two times a week, and as soon as they are in hand he begins preparing the meals, with each meal guaranteed to stay fresh for up to five days.

The menu for those who come to the Balance restaurant, at 1 Boltwood Walk where White Hut was located before closing earlier this year, is more limited, primarily consisting of salads, burgers and wraps that can be made quickly for people who are on a break from work.

One specialty is the Boom Boom Wrap, which takes its name from Towne’s nickname. The wrap features ground beef sauteed with chicken, mushrooms, caramelized onions and fire-roasted peppers, topped with mozzarella and jalapeno aioli.

Several main entrees are also on the menu, including blackened chicken and broccoli Alfredo, penne gorgonzola and sesame peppercorn ahi tuna.

Towne said he hopes customers who see into the kitchen from the dining area observe the pleasure he takes in creating the dishes.  “We like to make the food fun to eat,” Towne said.

Balance will have its grand opening Oct. 21.

“We’re changing lives,” Hogans said. “That’s why we got into the business.”

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


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