Saaaaam!, by Kelsey Flynn

I remember when 235 Main Street, Northampton was home to Bonducci's Cafe. If I scrunch up my eyes tight enough, I can still picture the exposed brick walls, battered wooden booths, and coffee mugs. Then Bonducci's was out and Bart's Homemade Ice Cream was in. Though if you peeked up under the awnings when they were unfurled, you could still see the name “Bonducci's” etched into the top pane of window glass. Looking back, I can still picture the exposed brick walls, battered wooden booths, and all those paintings of cows. The transition from one to the other was smooth. In fact, I think it's safe to say many of the regulars who sat out front sipping their coffee barely noticed the switch in proprietors. The place was still locally owned and still served coffee.

But Bart's Homemade eventually shuttered its doors on Main Street and moved to points east and north and a Quiznos franchise came to town. This change was more jarring. Though owned by a local couple out of Chicopee, the place had a decidedly chain restaurant feel about it with the bright colors and specifically placed poster art of giant toasted sandwiches. After a brief foray with “hot and toasty,” Northampton now eagerly awaits the opening of Sam's, the new pizza shop ready to move into the location.

While I eagerly awaited the arrival of Sam Harbey, the owner of Sam's, I watched the passers-by cup their hands against the storefront's glass to get a look inside. When told it was going to be a pizza shop, the responses were, “Great!” or “Can't wait.” One woman in particular, Angela Gerhard, lives in downtown Northampton and is a bartender in town. “It'll be nice to get a quick bite. Northampton doesn't have enough of those places, especially late at night. I'm always looking for something when I get off work but it's after 2a.m,” said Gerhard.

Harbey arrived with a clipping of lilac in hand. “Here, smell that,” he said offering it to me as he unlocked the front door. “It's the one of the last two on my tree at home.” Home for Harbey is Springfield, where he started his restaurant career almost 20 years ago, first with Sam's Sports Bar and Grill on Main Street, then with Mezza Notte on Worthington Street. He sold the former and closed the latter and is now keen on opening Sam's.

“I called it Sam's because I want people to know there's a person behind it. I want people to come in and ask for me,” he said. We were sitting in the early afternoon sun at one of the low tables next to the window. There is no sign of Quiznos anywhere with the green and red stripes painted over in warm earth tones and solid chunky finished wood tables lined up against the wall. “I wanted to return to the original layout of how Bart's and Bonducci's was set up with the high ceilings and the nice open flow of the space. I want people to feel comfortable and hang out,” Harbey said.

I asked him what inspired him to concentrate solely on pizza. “It was an idea I had when I owned the sports bar. I thought it was ver y creative. I wanted to see how far I could take pizza.”

From the sound of the menu, Harbey takes it pretty far, almost into the realm of “Excuse me?” He has the standard toppings like pepperoni or mushrooms. And then he moves into the interesting toppings with chicken parmesan pizza and lasagna pizza. But then he breaks right into unique toppings with pizzas covered in peanut butter and jelly, chicken marsala,
Caesar salad, or steak and cheese. He says once he's been open for a few weeks he'll start offering his breakfast pizzas. When he saw the look on my face he said, “Oh, sure! The bacon, egg, and cheese pizza. Sausage and egg. We do those, too.”

Standard on the menu will also be salads and sandwiches, coffee and desserts, plus local and regional beer and wine.

While we sat and talked, a couple of motorcyclists pulled into the parking spots in front of the shop. We both started recalling how many bikers we used to see in front of 235 Main Street back in the Bonducci's and Bart's days. “Oh, I hope the bikers return,” Harbey remarked. “I hope they come back and spend some money.” Just remember to ask for Sam.