Renee Lapier opened her restaurant in 2009 as "Big Shirl's Kitchen," but last month, the North Adams Planning Board ap prov ed a signage change and the restaurant officially changed its name to Renee's Diner.
While the restaurant had spent a year being open for dinner, the decision was made this May to refocus as an exclusively breakfast and lunch establishment. And it was in July that Lapier brought on a new chef to cook breakfasts, Billy-John Gamache.
"It's fairly different," said Gamache. "I was mainly used to cooking for dinner. I was a dinner chef for 17 years, and then saw the opportunity to do breakfast and thought ‘I'm going to go down and see if I can't get the job.' And with my background, they said ‘yeah, you're hired.' It's something new, but I'm getting used to it."
Gamache has two decades of experience in restaurants that range from fine dining to BBQ pits, and while he has worked breakfast a few times, the vast majority of his previous time was focused on dinner.
"Most of that was up in the Mount Snow Valley up in Vermont," explained Gamache. "I'm a Vermonter, I grew up right in Readsboro. I'd been in the Mount Snow Valley my whole life, grew up there, found a job down here, got it, and said I'm going to head to North Adams. I moved down here this summer to be closer to work."
So far, Gamache is enjoying North Adams life.
"I like it," he said. "It's a little more upbeat -- it's pretty slow where I'm from. Up there it's the same skiers every year, the same summer people. I've got new clientele here; I love it."
Gamache has found his excitement from North Adams life in the fast-paced environment of the kitchen.
"I've done it forever ... it's a job you love to hate," said Gamache. "Certain parts you hate, certain parts you love. I love the rush of it. When we get slammed, and you're putting food out left and right, and there are still more people coming in and a line out the door, you know you're going to be busy for hours."
Gamache described the onslaught of customers with enthusiasm.
"The rush of that is really addicting," he said. "The rush of knowing I'm putting out good food for a lot of people, and more coming in ... it's a good feeling. There's a packed dining room, I look out the kitchen door and see everyone laughing, smiling, having fun ... that's the rush."
Of course, that isn't to say that the job is always pure fun. Even Gamache had to admit that receiving a recook order in the middle of the rush in the middle of a 12-hour shift can be a downer. But having learned to roll with the punches, Gamache has quickly fallen into a rhythm.
"I come in at 5:30, I turn everything on, start prepping, going through all my inventory to see what I have, what I need, and then just wait for the customers," he said.
"The menu is a team effort, we all sit down and discuss it, the boss and the managers, and everyone has their own little input. I changed a few recipes, and made them a lot better," Gamache said. "It's a small place, with a very limited staff here. I like that it's a team effort; I really couldn't do it without any of my co-workers. We put a lot of love into our food. And we all take a lot of pride in our work, consistently putting out good food."