Published: 2/27/2020 5:39:36 PM
TURNERS FALLS — Ashley Arthur was not a chef when she opened the Five Eyed Fox on Third Street in 2014.
She had been in the restaurant business since she was 14, and had done nearly every job. But the closest she had been to a chef, she said, was a “line cook at a burger joint.”
“It’s incredibly different,” Arthur said. “Being a chef, especially of this kind of restaurant, is very, very different.”
Arthur had originally envisioned the Five Eyed Fox as a bar that would also serve food. But the food proved to be more popular than she had expected, and the business had not been set up to function as a restaurant. The kitchen didn’t have necessary cooking equipment, like a gas stove. Everything was being done with electric equipment. And Arthur had not planned on spending money to upgrade it.
In the first five years, all of the Five Eyed Fox’s profits went to slowly building out the kitchen, Arthur said. But she couldn’t fully close the gap between the original vision and what the restaurant was growing into. She eventually shut down the Five Eyed Fox in May 2019, and her financial backers moved on to different projects. At the time, Arthur expressed uncertainty over the restaurant’s future.
Last week, the Five Eyed Fox quietly reopened, first with an invitations-only opening night, then with limited business hours. When asked what had gone on in the nearly nine months, Arthur coolly explained that she had taken out a business loan, renovated the kitchen, developed new recipes and restructured her business model to be sustainable as a restaurant.
“We haven’t changed, but I’m evolving the restaurant,” she said. “I’m trying to bring it to a new level. I want it to be better than ever for both the guests that come in our door, as well as the people that work here.”
The kitchen has been outfitted with a new oven, stove and fryer, all gas-powered. Arthur said this will make for faster cook times, and that a smoother organizational system overall will make for faster, more attentive service. She also said she expects the new equipment to have an influence as the menu continues to develop.
The Five Eyed Fox is technically New American style, Arthur said; recipes are influenced by Southern cooking, as well as by Italian and French techniques.
But really, the menu mostly reflects Arthur’s own tastes in food.
“I design for myself. I put things on the menu that I want to eat,” she said. “One of my favorite things about restaurants that I like to go to is looking at a menu and not knowing what to order because I want to eat everything. That’s what I want to provide here.”
Several of the new recipes already seem popular, she said. She mentioned a French-style gnocchi, with sauce that will change according to seasonal availability of ingredients; dumplings stuffed with chicken, parmesan cheese and peas; and a “Green Goddess” salad, with potatoes, green beans, fennel and house-made hummus.
“I am also being more cognizant of putting things on the menu that other people want to eat more than I would,” she said. “Obviously I want to be creative, but more than that, I am interested in people feeling nourished and full, and like they had a genuinely warm experience being in my restaurant.”
In the week since the Five Eyed Fox reopened, Arthur said that most guests — she calls them guests, not customers — have been people who were regulars before the restaurant closed last spring; and although there are new items on the menu, the most popular ones are things that were popular before.
Yet, she is still working on new recipes. She didn’t want to publicize too much of the menu, because she plans on it continuing to change.
“I am absolutely still learning. That is the most fun part of being a chef,” Arthur said. “It’s a constant learning process. That’s the beauty of it. That keeps it exciting.”
The Five Eyed Fox is now open Wednesdays through Sundays, starting at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends, and closing at 9 p.m. Arthur said she expects to add Tuesdays at some point in March.
Reach Max Marcus at [email protected] or 413-930-4231.