Wells Corner Store on Main Street in Charlemont was dark for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it was dark when John A. Wells started selling dry goods in the building in 1877. Today the new Wells Provisions is full of light, thanks to the hard work of its new owners and their friends and colleagues.
The walls are bright, the space is open, and the storefront window is large and welcoming. It has recently been restored by Greenfield Glass to look as it did in the 1930s.
Wesley Janssen grew up in Northfield but worked for many years in Louisiana, where she met her husband Levi and their chef, James “Sid” Cavallo. The Janssens were visiting family in our area last year when they noticed that the store was for sale.
They were then employed by a large restaurant company in New Orleans. Levi Janssen was a general manager, and his wife worked in marketing. The pandemic rendered their work more challenging.
“Our company laid off almost everybody. Our jobs changed drastically,” said Wesley Janssen in a recent interview. “We thought, ‘Maybe this is the time to do something very different.’ It was our opportunity to do our own thing.”
They purchased the building and started planning to bring a taste of New Orleans to Charlemont. When Wesley Janssen mentioned the upcoming move on Facebook, she received a call from Sid Cavallo, who grew up in Springfield.
“My wife and I had already decided that we were moving back here,” Cavallo chimed in. “I kind of jumped in with them.”
He had first worked with Levi Janssen in 1999 in New Orleans. Cavallo’s long history with the couple came in handy as the three began work on renovating the building and creating their new business, which is part restaurant, part ice-cream stand, part high-end coffee shop, and part food-and-liquor store.
“We’re a total team,” said Wesley Janssen.
In the past, each had had a designated role in a large organization. At Wells Provisions, she noted, “We are all the departments, everything from maintenance to HR.” Cavallo is officially the chef, but that didn’t stop him from helping to refinish the floors when the Janssens needed extra hands.
The night before they officially opened in mid-July, the three pulled an all-nighter getting the place ready. When I told them I couldn’t stay up that late any longer, they laughed. “Neither can we,” Cavallo informed me with a wry smile.
The three have been sustained by their families. The Janssens called their three young children “super troupers,” adding that it helps that the youngsters have an ice-cream window at their disposal.
They are also thrilled with the support they have received from the community. Northfield Creamie helped them set up their ice-cream area. “They gave us everything,” said Levi Janssen.
Nearby farmers offered to supply food for both the restaurant (which serves breakfast and lunch) and the market. People stopped in constantly when the Janssens were renovating the building to express good will and ask when they would open.
Now that Wells Provisions is up and running, it receives a lot of business from tourists. It also attracts repeat visits from locals. Levi Janssen said, “They come for coffee, and they come for lunch, and they come for ice cream.”
The menu reflects the New Orleanian flavors with which the three are familiar. Photographer Paul Franz and I visited on a Monday, the traditional day for cooking red beans in Louisiana. We were consequently served red beans and rice along with the barbecue shrimp recipe we watched Sid Cavallo prepare.
In addition to breakfast, lunch, and the ice cream, the shop sells natural wines, craft beers, frozen prepared foods, alcohol, bitters, and other gourmet odds and ends. It also offers catering.
Wells Provisions is currently open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday. I found the Janssens and Cavallo welcoming and fun. Wesley Janssen told me that they want Wells Provisions to be a “third place,” a term used in sociology to mark a gathering place that is neither home nor work.
“We really want this to be accessible to everybody in the community,” she said with a smile.
“Not what you would expect from a barbecue sauce, New Orleans barbecue sauce is a buttery, garlicky, delicious sauce that pairs beautifully with shrimp. At Wells Provisions we have our own riff on what has become the traditional NOLA Barbecue sauce,” said Wesley Janssen.
It seemed to me that Cavallo put more than 2 tablespoons of butter in the shrimp; I would call his measurement a large blob. This is the official version of the recipe, however.
for the sauce:
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup Crystal hot sauce (or Buffalo-style hot sauce)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
the juice of half a lemon
6 ounces beer, preferably an amber lager
1/2 cup heavy cream
for the shrimp:
1 tablespoon diced onion
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 pound wild caught Gulf shrimp, peeled
a pinch of pepper
First, make the sauce. Combine the Worcestershire, hot sauce, rosemary, pepper, and lemon juice in a heavy-bottom pot and bring them to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and reduce the liquid by half.
Add the beer and again reduce by half; then add the cream and reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and strain through a mesh strainer. Set the sauce aside while you prepare the shrimp. You will end up with about 1-1/2 cups. Leftover sauce may be refrigerated until you need it.
Move on to the shrimp. Over medium heat, sweat the onion pieces with a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of butter until they are translucent. Once they soften, add the garlic. Cook until it is fragrant, and then toss in the shrimp and the pepper.
When the shrimp is partially cooked, add 1/2 cup of the Barbecue Sauce and cook until the shrimp is cooked through (only a few minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the remaining butter in until it is fully incorporated.
Serve over grits, polenta, or mashed potatoes — or in a bowl with a side of French bread. Serves 2. This recipe may be doubled.
Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.