Woodstar owners sell downtown Northampton cafe to Esselon; no changes planned

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 03-22-2023 5:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A seamless transition is underway at Woodstar Café as Esselon owner Mark Krause takes over from Woodstar founder Rebecca Robbins and her husband, Dmitri, according to both parties.

“We have been Esselon’s baker for 17 years, and they’ve been our coffee roaster for 17 years,” Rebecca Robbins said, describing Krause as “the perfect buyer at the perfect time.”

Krause said he doesn’t plan on changing recipes or anything, praising Woodstar for its “exceptional” baking.

“We buy essentially all of our baked goods — pastries, desserts and all our bread — from them,” he said.

All employees have retained their jobs under the ownership change, both Robbins and Krause said.

Robbins, of Williamsburg, said the sale came about because she wanted to take a step back from working 65 hours a week.

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“I always knew one day I would sell the business,” she said. “When you build up an asset, you want to one day realize the value of it.”

Though COVID took a toll, with thousands of eateries closing in Massachusetts alone during the extended shutdown, and restaurants nationwide now are struggling to find staff, she said the sale is not being made under duress.

“We came through it,” Robbins said of the pandemic. “Our customers remained incredibly loyal.”

The Masonic Street café has been a downtown fixture for 20 years, since Robbins started the business after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America.

She said she started out in the coffee business in 1994, at Rao’s in Amherst, where she worked for seven years, living frugally.

“I knew I wanted my own bakery,” she said. “I lived on bagels and hummus for nine years — they were free on the job!”

At the age of 28, she had saved enough to attract some investors. She “just knew” she’d found the place when she saw the vacant former firehouse, and Woodstar opened in July 2003.

Krause, of Hadley, similarly, has a lengthy tenure in the Hampshire County restaurant trade, having taken over ownership of Esselon in 2008. The Hadley café serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week and also operates a wholesale coffee business with several hundred customers, Krause said. Since it stopped serving dinner, Esselon has occasionally been rented for private parties such as birthdays and bridal showers, he said.

Krause, who acknowledged that it would be a challenge running Woodstar as well Rebecca and Dmitri Robbins have done, said he plans to split his time between the two cafes, while Robbins said she’s continuing to work at Woodstar.

“I don’t have any plans to leave,” she said. “I’m working 32 hours a week now instead of 65 — that’s the big difference.”

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.]]>