A Northampton cafe that served Tibetan cuisine for 12 years closed last weekend, and new owners — a couple of Boston restaurant industry alums — will take possession of the 159 Main St. space tomorrow. Lhasa Café’s owners, Thondup and Dolma Tsering, who live in Amherst, bid farewell to their restaurant and are handing the reins off to Jesse Hassinger and Aimee Francaes. The duo will launch Belly of the Beast there, a dining spot with a mission that involves mindful sourcing of seasonal ingredients and thorough, whole animal butchery.
“Everything that comes into the eatery is something that we want to utilize,” Francaes told Eater, acknowledging that it will be a challenge, but their “goal is to be a no-waste kitchen.”
“We are really devoted to working with what’s on hand locally and seasonally; that’s really our first and foremost passion for doing Belly of the Beast,” Hassinger said.
Francaes previously worked as the human resources director for Flour Bakery and Myers + Chang, and Hassinger is an alum of Coppa, Hungry Mother, State Park, and Somerville butchery M.F. Dulock.
While working at M.F. Dulock, Hassinger said, he got a good handle on dealing with all the leftover parts of animal butchery, learning what could be done with the cuts customers can’t normally get through a butcher.
“We’re looking at the whole animal and seeing what we can use, and then we’re putting that on the menu,” Hassinger said.
One of the ways they plan to make use of those unusual cuts is with scrapple, an item produced with meats that benefit from a long cooking time. The meats are chopped and mixed with a polenta-like ingredient and weighed down into a low pan and formed into a kind of meat loaf or brick. They plan to slice it thinly, as one would do with bacon, to make it extra crispy. “It’s just really beautiful and rich and has a really nice flavor,” Hassinger said.
This is a favorite of both Hassinger and Francaes, who grew up eating scrapple. “I just find it to be better than bacon,” Francaes said. As the head of front-of-house for Belly of the Beast, she said she hopes to lead people into exploring new foods.
“It’s going to be exciting,” she said. “We’re really happy about what we’re going to be bringing to the community.”
The restaurant will seat 40 to 42 people, and there will be a counter-service component to accommodate both eat-in and takeout, so Hassinger and Francaes are designing the menu with both in mind. The anticipated hours will be Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a heavy focus on lunch, a few breakfast options, and dinner items designed for takeout.
“We are really lucky to be taking over an already-existing restaurant,” Hassinger said. “We keep on counting our stars because we both feel like we couldn’t have met up with a better couple.” The Tserings, according to Hassinger, have had a strong foothold in the community, doing outreach and events.
“We’re very much of that same spirit. We really want to continue the ties with the community and, in our own way, bring everyone together. [We want] to have this as a nice space for them to gather.” Hassinger said. “I think that we’ll be able to definitely build on what [the Tserings] have begun.”
Hassinger and Francaes will be making a handful of changes, largely aesthetic, to the inside of the restaurant when they take over on April 1. One key change is bringing the fast-service hot line from the basement up to the main dining area so they can avoid running up and down stairs so often and can keep prep work downstairs.
Hassinger said they will work with the standard idea of a lunch menu: soups, sandwiches, and salads. “It works, so why change that?” he said. There will be a few different menu staples, but Belly of the Beast will not serve any off-season ingredients. For example, the BLT will stick around all year, but when tomatoes are out of season, they will turn to chutneys or pickled green tomatoes to round out the sandwich.
“We’ll take that one component and just really be able to rotate around the seasonality of everything,” Hassinger said. They will also source winter greens like kale and spinach from nearby farms to do salads year-round, and they will make ample use of winter root vegetables.
“We’ve spent the last month and a half going around to local farms, both animal farms and produce farms, visiting them, getting a sense for how they raise their animals, how they tend to their crops, really just trying to get a relationship with farms nearby,” Hassinger said.
“That part of it has been amazing,” said Francaes. “The transparency factor has really been eye-opening.” She said they have seen the great animal practices and crop innovations the farms are using, including efficient water use and making labor more ergonomically sustainable. These farm visits have added a layer to Francaes and Hassinger’s commitment to their mission for Belly of the Beast.
“We can tell our employees why we decided to go with this farm as opposed to that farm,” Hassinger said, which will allow the full team to be as transparent as possible with customers.
Belly of the Beast could open in June 2017. In the meantime, Hassinger and Francaes will be making sure their signs and logos are in order, choosing aprons, hiring staff, and tending to cosmetic changes here and there. They will also each display their own art on the walls of the restaurant.
“That’s gonna be another point of gluing our aesthetic all together,” Francaes said. Though everything is a little hectic right now, she said, she does see the vision coming together.
“Just being a part of this community, I’ve been moved to tears more often than I’d like to admit,” said Francaes. “Everyone here has been so incredibly warm and welcoming. We just want to give that back tenfold.”