Stir Up Some Love: Helping restaurants regroup

  • Galaxy chef/owner Casey Douglass prepares a dish of pasta carbonara at his restaurant in Easthampton in October. Gazette file photo

  • Galaxy chef/owner Casey Douglass prepares a dish of pasta carbonara at his restaurant in Easthampton in October. Gazette file photo

Published: 12/5/2020 1:29:44 PM

Editor’s note: “Stir Up Some Love” is a new online series of episodes offering 15 cooking demonstrations by regional pros. Donations for each episode — or for the full season — will be split evenly between the restaurants and Treehouse Foundation, a nonprofit supporting a 60-home community in Easthampton for foster families. The full listing of episodes is available at stirupsomelove.com.

We asked Jesse Hassinger, a participant in the project and chef and owner of Northampton’s Belly of the Beast, to interview his fellow participants about making food, owning a restaurant and exercising social responsibility, especially at this time.

Casey Douglass is the owner and chef at Easthampton’s Galaxy. For his Treehouse Stir Up Some Love cooking demonstration he featured pasta carbonara.

Jesse Hassinger: Restaurants have a tradition of giving back to the community via fundraisers, why was it important to work with Treehouse in the midst of COVID?

Casey Douglass: I haven’t been able to do much beyond keeping the business open, so it was lucky when the Treehouse Foundation reached out to me. Hopefully it works out for them to be able to raise funds, but also awareness. I would do more fundraisers if it were under these terms.

JH: In the past few years, revelations about behind-the-scenes issues in restaurants have been exposed (improper work environments, a reliance on tipping to make up for below minimum wage pay, slim profit margins, to name a few). What would be a significant change that you would like to see in this industry?

CD: Wage theft and disproportion of value is a tough thing in general for all fields. Profit margin is certainly pretty small. One of my lead cooks is a tenant in my apartment, he pays undervalue for the apartment in exchange for wages. We play golf once a week; he used to date my daughter; we are a real family place. The employee retention rate is great, I have two employees at the front of the house that are original hires from six years ago, Dan has been with me for 12 years. It’s sad to see other scenarios where it’s such an easy career to fall into where people get taken advantage of.

JH: The majority of guests may not know about what it takes to run a food establishment. Is there anything that you would like to share about what we are facing, especially during COVID?

CD: One of the things that’s surprising is that takeout business has sort of evolved and that’s been one of the things that’s worked for us; a lot of our regulars aren’t from the area, people drive 20-25 minutes to come to the restaurant, so of course you’re not going to drive 25 minutes to get to-go food to bring back home. We didn’t start the outdoor dining until August, before that we just did to-go stuff. It’s been a shift and just the other week we opened for indoor dining, but it’s been pretty light sales-wise.

JH: How have you found your role as a restaurateur changing in the recent months (or years) in relationship to a greater call for equity and justice?

CD: I had a conversation with Amiee, the bearded lady, and she threw privilege in my face, and I said “Yeah, I’m a white man in America, I’m privileged, I have the opportunity to acquire all this debt. But you don’t see any other business owners with the gay flag and the transgender flag at the front of my restaurant, that I’ve had for years since the gay pride parade that my wife is a representative for Bay State and she drives my truck with the flags.”

We kept the flags outside of the restaurant, it’s my one effort to support that community and to show that I’m inclusive and it’s one of those things where I’m sorry if I offend somebody that they don’t come to my business, but I’m going to put those flags out there to show that I’m welcoming to the community, to the people who are around us.

Of course we have our Black Lives Matter poster outside the restaurant. It’s little things that we can do. We don’t protest in the marches and we don’t donate money, we just try to be inclusive and open. We’re a business, too, you want to wave the banner of it, but you also want to fly under the radar and be inclusive to as many customers as possible.

JH: The Valley is rife with great farms. How do you approach sourcing, and has that changed recently?

CD: My relationship with Mountain View Farm has stayed the same. Ben and Liz took over the farm…10 years ago? Something like that, and we’ve just had an open trade policy where I come to the farm and I take whatever I want and they come to the restaurant and they order whatever they want and nobody pays. It works out great for me, I cater my menu around what they have available. It’s one of the fortunate things about living in the valley is that I’m probably half way between the farm and the restaurant. It’s a nice “enjoy the valley” moment.




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