Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Local café The Works hosts retro vibe, quick and healthy foods

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(Sarah Gamard/ Daily Collegian)

(Sarah Gamard/ Daily Collegian)

Of all the coffee shops in Amherst Center, The Works Bakery Café may be the strangest.

This is mostly due to its interior design. The Works has an overall retro atmosphere, with plush cowhide booths and dim ceiling lights reminiscent of the psychedelic era. This anomalous setup is not the tacky taste of an ambitious-but-misguided decorator, but rather due to the fact that a lot of furniture is made of reclaimed, often locally harvested wood.

Manager Corey LeMoine, who has worked with the company for 12 years – but only at the Amherst location for one – called the owner a “fanatic” about having furniture from reusable material. The tables, seating and cabinetry, for example, according to a sign by the counter, are made from repurposed New England barn board by local craftspeople. Likewise, the bagel case and flooring is made from sustainably harvested bamboo. The chalkboard in the shop’s children’s play space came from local Northfield Mount Hermon School.

Less anomalous to coffee shop and Pioneer Valley culture, LeMoine also stressed the café’s “social commitment.” He said the café sources local products and tries to be involved in community efforts like the “Toys for Tots” toy drive, which he said was currently happening.

A large sign sits over the café patio that says, “eat well feel good.” This “feel good” philosophy is a pride of The Works franchise; for example, their meats are antibiotic and hormone-free, and their eggs are free-range from a farm in New Hampshire.

“Our whole driving force is trying to have sustainable, good food in a quick setting,” said LeMoine, who lives in New Hampshire and drives an hour and 15 minutes every day to work. Customers can order quickly, he said, knowing they are getting a good product made at a high community and environmental standard.

The shop, which sits on 48 North Pleasant Street across from Judie’s Restaurant over a martial arts studio and game store, is open every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

It is a great place to get work done with lots of seating. LeMoine recommends anytime daily excluding the lunch hour rush between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to study. The best quiet times, he said, are mornings and any time after 2:30 p.m.

The café’s music features classic coffee shop tunes: soothing alternative music that acts as background noise.

(Sarah Gamard/ Daily Collegian)

(Sarah Gamard/ Daily Collegian)

Internet access is free. LeMoine said, however, there will be a time limit on Wi-Fi in the future due to overcrowding of laptops during hectic hours.

The café regularly serves salads, breakfast foods, sandwiches and wraps. According to a sign inside, the café has a “buy one get one free” sandwich deal: Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., your second sandwich or wrap of equal or lesser value to your first is free.

LeMoine said paninis are a customer favorite, especially the “Super Chicken,” a melted chicken sandwich with roasted onions, tomatoes, and spinach. He also said college students yield a huge smoothie demand, unique to this location. The smoothies are made from real fruit, not just juice from a carton, LeMoine said.

Soups served rotate daily. The day I went included roasted vegetable, three bean chili, chipotle sweet potato and New England clam chowder.

Pastries and sweets that day included cookies (triple chocolate chunk, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin), scones (blueberry, cinnamon, and cranberry and orange), croissants (chocolate hazelnut or almond filling), Danishes (apple, raspberry or cheese), cinnamon rolls, brownies, and fudge bars. The café also serves homemade granola, loaves of bread, fresh fruit, juice, pickles and potato chips.

The Works has unlimited iced tea, and hot and iced coffee after an initial purchase, which is a rare find, since most cafés in Amherst Center, like Amherst Coffee, Starbucks, and Rao’s Café, have a price on refills.

The café is part of a chain of shops around the region. The Amherst location is the only one in Massachusetts; the other seven are in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

The most important point, as is for any café in a college town, is that The Works offers a quick and easy meal for frugal students in need of a quiet study area. The short walk to and from the bus stop, and the endless access to coffee and tea, makes the deal even sweeter. The only other place this available is the University of Massachusetts Dining Halls, which have a notoriously unsatisfactory brew. Also, UMass Dining only has three brews (two regular, one decaf), whereas The Works has six altogether, including hot, iced and decaf. Flavors include hazelnut, French roast and the house blend. And don’t forget, they also had iced and hot tea ready in a dispenser.

Especially during this time of year, in between Thanksgiving and winter break, UMass’ campus can become monotonous. Even a quick bus ride or chilly walk to the cafes in Amherst Center can do a world of good for one’s mental health, even if that time away from the dorm is still spent studying. The Works is a great place to have lunch with friends in the cowhide booths or study by yourself in one of the reused-wooden chairs. Do yourself an act of self-love and have a panini and hazelnut-flavored coffee on a weekday afternoon or even on a Sunday. You may even meet some fellow Five College students you would never meet otherwise (the café is frequented by many college students, along with the eccentric locals).

Enjoy the culture of the Pioneer Valley while you can. Before you know it, your college years will fly by. Even if you are stuck studying and preparing for the approaching final exams and projects, you can make the most of it by going to cafés like The Works.

Sarah Gamard can be reached at [email protected]

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