It’s been a long road to Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen and Bakery which makes its home in Cooper’s Common in Agawam.
Described on their website as “a quaint, vintage café and dedicated gluten and allergy free bakery serving light breakfast options and a great lunch menu,” Auntie Cathie’s has a dedicated group of noshers, who have followed Cathie Cappa from her earliest days as an inventive culinary artist in Wales.
Becoming a chef - she has no formal training - was a natural road to follow for Cappa, whose mom was French Canadian and dad was Italian.
“There was always cooking and baking going on inside our home, and I learned early at 16 how to make staples like homemade stock and marinara sauce,” Cappa said.
At the age of 19, Cappa began her culinary career as a dishwasher in a restaurant where her friend was a chef. Over time she moved from the sink to the kitchen proper working as a night chef and continuing to hone her skills. For much of her 20s, Cappa found herself working in Boston at restaurants ranging from small catering companies to popular places like Rebecca’s on Charles Street, The Ocean Club in Cambridge and Joe’s American Bar and Grill on Newberry Street.
“I met some very interesting and talented chefs while working in the city,” she said about those who helped her to gain some of the most important skills a chef can possess.
Auntie Cathie’s came closer to becoming a reality after Cappa met her former husband and moved back to the area.
“We had a property in Wales, he wanted a farm and I wanted a bakery,” she said about both getting what they wanted.
In 2005, she got back into the kitchen and started Auntie Cathie’s Bakery and Roadside Stand where she would sell the farm’s fresh vegetables along with her home-baked goods and sandwiches.
“It was just like it says on our website. I had a card table set up at the side of the road along with a beach umbrella and a sandwich board sign, then one day the card table blew away,” she laughed.
But Cappa wasn’t going to let a little wind blow away her dreams. Her husband built a farm stand from which they sold vegetables from the farm, pies, baked goods and coffee. He later built a kitchen inside their barn and the business was moved indoors where it grew into a small bakery/cafe, complete with a woodburning stove, tables and chairs and a small menu using things they grew and raised on the farm.
In 2008, Cappa expanded her product line after delving into the world of gluten free baking.
“People were coming into the barn asking if we sold gluten-free products. We didn’t, so I read up on it and started messing with my own recipes for customers to try. Today I still have customers from Wales coming to the bakery in Agawam for my gluten-free baked goods,” Cappa said about her fresh-baked muffins, cookies, cupcakes, double layer cakes, in-season pies, and wedding and specialty cakes, which you can also order for any occasion or event.
Jump ahead a few years after things took a turn in her personal and professional life - Cappa left the farm behind and got a job baking allergy-free cakes at a Springfield restaurant before purchasing 3 Café in Springfield where she was owner and chef for 5 years - and Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen was reborn in West Springfield in 2013.
“I was there for five years and came to love the people of West Springfield. During that time I was approached twice by Cooper’s Common and I finally went to look at their space in 2016. I couldn’t stop thinking about the location with its old beams and rustic ceiling, it was just so quaint, but it didn’t have a hood, which I would need for grilling. But two years later I was ready to slow down. The restaurant business is a lot of hard work, and just after I opened in West Springfield I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy for two-and-a-half years. So, by 2018 I was ready to step back to a simpler menu like back on the farm and focus more on my baking,” Cappa said.
A typical example of the simpler kinds of inventive fare you now might find on Aunt Cathie’s menu include:
• Tater Tot Bowl with roasted red peppers, avocado, Fauxmaggio Vegan Cheese, carmelized onions and a creamy vegan yogurt sauce
• The Jaybone Special, named after her former landlord, a huge breakfast sandwich with two local eggs, a ton of bacon, melted cheddar, avocado and tomato on your choice of bread served with any side
• Grilled Meatloaf Sandwich using local, grass fed beef piled high with fresh lettuce, crispy bacon, cranberry mayo and melted cheddar cheese. It should come as no surprise that someone like Cappa, who prides herself on serving up a menu that is fresh and made-from-scratch (“I don’t use any mixes,” she said.) should turn to area farms whenever she can in season to support her efforts in the kitchen.
“Having had a farm I know how hard farmers work to produce a great product. It’s very important to me to support our local growers,” Cappa said.
Auntie Cathie also has an alter ego. Her name is Sofia the Food Truck, which she asks on her website, “What has four wheels and Auntie Cathie in it?”
“I bought the food truck while I was still in West Springfield and started to do a lot of catering, which I really enjoy doing. When I bought the truck, the owners had a little dog named Sofia. She loved the truck because when the owners came back from a job, she would go in and clean up the crumbs. When I went to pick up my new truck, she was inside. So, it seemed only fitting to name the truck after her,” Cappa said.
The catering side of Cappa’s business includesN hosting on-site parties at her Agawam location, including intimate receptions, bridal and baby showers, and farm-to-table dinners for up to 50 or so people, as well as offsite weddings, backyard graduations, birthday parties and corporate luncheons and food truck events of all sizes.
“Catering is a little different. Making an appetizing, beautiful looking platter is like making art, and I feel I’m good at that along with my baking,” Cappa said.
But don’t just take her word for it. Check out the Auntie Cathie’s website for a glimpse of her absolutely luscious-looking baked goods and artful food presentations that you almost don’t want to ruin by grabbing a bite from them.
And Cappa says she does it all as an “act of love.”
“I think in some weird way in my family while growing up I saw it as an expression of love for them to feed people. Today I feel the same way. There is nothing better to me than watching someone who appears to be in heaven while eating something you made for them. I think we’ve all experienced going out to eat, ordering something and when it arrives it looks great, tastes amazing, and reminds you of home. It’s just the coolest thing in the world to make food that people enjoy eating,” she said.
Auntie Cathie’s is located on 159 Main St. in Cooper’s Common in Agawam.
Hours are Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
For more information, call 413-788-0022 or visit auntiecathies.com