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North Adams Cafe Adds SoCo Ice Cream to Offerings
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:51PM / Monday, August 07, 2017
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Peter Wheeler and Isabella Massari are ready to take orders at the new walk-up window at Empire Cafe.


The cafe offers about a dozen or so SoCo flavors and sorbets. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Empire Cafe has recently expanded its offerings to include SoCo Creamery, complete with a new walk-up window for service. 
 
Peter Wheeler opened the cafe in April inside Berkshire Emporium, replacing Oh, Crepe! but retaining many of its customers and its signature offering. The eatery added paninis, Pierce Brothers Coffee Roasters, and now selections from the South County ice cream maker. 
 
"It's been great, but as a business person, you always want more," Wheeler said, referring to the dairy additions. "Mass MoCA definitely helps, we see a lot of visitors in here, but we also see a lot of local people and that's what's important. ... 
 
"They're going to be the people who are going to be keeping me in business during the winter."
 
The cafe is named for the old Empire Theater (changed to Paramount in the 1920s) that used to be in the Main Street building. The movie house's lobby was next door, where The Hub is now. The menu reflects that movie theme with crepes like the "Fat Elvis" and the "Berrymore" and paninis like the "Emmy" and the "Critic."
 
The crepes and equipment are a holdover from the previous business but Wheeler said adding the paninis was a good decision because they've been outselling the crepes. 
 
"The Director (roast beef and horseradish) was in the lead for the longest time but I'm thinking the Marilyn (turkey and pepperjack) has caught up," he said. "Both are selling well."
 
Repeat business is important to keep the small cafe sustainable, Wheeler said, adding he stresses to his six or seven part-time staff the need to keep customers happy. 
 
"It was really nice to welcome a lot of Oh, Crepe's faithful clientele," he said. "One woman in particular is on 76 crepes ... she's a carryover."
 
The cafe also offers breakfast sandwiches for around $4 and free coffee refills when dining in. Offering Pierce Bros., especially its Fogbusters coffee, has been a boon, Wheeler said. "I think that has helped us a lot ... nobody else in the area carries it." 
 
Wheeler's had to put a lot of effort and money into rehabbing the space to fit his restaurant needs. The biggest visual change is the removal of the raised platform in the west side window to accommodate the dairy bar. The floor is now level with the rest of the cafe and the large middle pane has been replaced with a counter and walk-up window. 
 
Outside, a picnic table has temporarily joined the cafe tables on the sidewalk for patrons.
 
Empire Cafe offers about a dozen flavors of SoCo ice cream and sorbet. 
 
"It was a good decision to bring in SoCo and were in talks about making this an official SoCo dip shop," said Wheeler. "Sales of ice cream have been really good. ... We're expanding the ice cream menu quite a bit in a period of time, adding shakes."
 
He's also hoping to add soft-serve ice cream but that has been delayed after he found out too late that the newly upgraded electrical system still couldn't accommodate the machine he bought. Until that gets working, the shakes will be made with SoCo. 
 
The Great Barrington-based creamery is known for its high-quality, all-natural handcrafted ice cream and flavors. And that's reflected in its premium price. Wheeler hopes the addition of soft-serve will offer customers a better range of price points. 
 
The cafe's regular hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the ice cream window staying open late during the summer evenings. 
 
Wheeler most recently worked as a police officer before opening the cafe, seeing it as an opportunity. But it's an opportunity that also means investment in labor, time and profits. 
 
"I don't know if I've ever worked this hard in all my life," he laughed. "I think the majority of people think people who own businesses have got everything going for them ... Everything is poured into the business and very little back in the pocket."
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