As cooler air summons the varied patinas of autumn, many find themselves gravitating back to the kitchen once again. Dormant ovens refresh themselves as roasted vegetables take the place of summer salads and ice cream confections are exchanged for savory, spiced desserts. These warm, unparalleled flavors serve as edible nostalgia - even a ritual - of fall in New England.
For Cathie Cappa, owner and operator of Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen, churning out honest-to-goodness dishes and delectables is a fortified family tradition; some of her earliest memories are food related. She grew up in the kitchen, watching her mom create homemade baked goods while her dad served as the family chef. Her grandfather, an accomplished chef, also served as inspiration for her culinary career. Self-taught with a load of industry experience garnered from fast-paced Boston restaurants, Cathie started her career as a dishwasher at the age of nineteen. When a prep cook didn’t show up for a shift, she was promoted to the line and was eventually promoted to night chef. At a time when the industry was dominated by men - with all her spunk - Cathie took the reins in her first kitchen managerial position.
Later, Cathie moved to Wales, Massachusetts, where she opened “Auntie Cathie’s Roadside Stand,” a notable stop by locals known for delicious baked goods and great conversation. Starting with just a card table and beach umbrella, her business grew quickly and she eventually overhauled a little red barn to accommodate her growing enterprise. Simultaneously, she delved into the world of gluten-free baking and later found a home in West Springfield, where Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen has been ever since.
On the “west side” Cathie sharpened her focus, creating a quaint cafe and bakery specializing in allergy-free desserts and baked goods, filling breakfasts and healthy lunches. Mismatched furniture, family heirlooms, and funky art make this space feel like home. The menu is transparent, turning to her neighbors for fresh food, Cathie sources much of her meat, produce and eggs from agricultural mainstays like Scantic Valley Farm, Red Fire Farm, and Blossoming Acres. The seasonality of her ingredients creates a fun and rotating menu that’s full of flavor; a clear impetus for her growing business. Moreover, her gluten and allergen-free baked goods and menu has become an oasis for those with food intolerance.
“We set ourselves apart by offering options for people with certain allergies,” says Cathie. “I love being able to feed people - whether it’s a child with a nut allergy or an adult with Celiacs - I feel more like I’m helping people. It’s not a job, I love what I do. It gets even more exciting when I can make food without any allergens.”
From wedding cakes to children’s birthdays and those just looking for a sweet fix, Auntie Cathie’s accommodates food restrictions and is no stranger to special requests. Known as “The Big 8,” major food allergens include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean. Cathie and her crew make all of their mixes in-house from certified gluten-free and organic flours. Each is purchased in bulk and then blended by hand to create dedicated blends for each bakery item. Meticulous mixes - using everything from rice to sorghum flour - are used to create sought-after items such as cupcakes, brownies, pancakes, and bread. Whether you’re prone to allergies or not, all of Cathie’s menu items are amazingly delicious and satisfying.
Cathie and her staff have created a remarkable, welcoming dining destination that’s beloved by all visitors alike. While the food is distinctive, Cathie’s beaming, positive disposition is simply irresistible; she’s a person you just want to be around. Talking through a smile - and signature red lipstick - her personality is authentic and fun. Down to earth, effervescent and diligent, you’ll see her all over Western Massachusetts and Northern Connecticut. She makes regular cooking-demo appearances on Mass Appeal on WWLP Channel 22, has a strong social media following and will be expanding - on and off the road - into Agawam.
Realizing a dream, Cathie will open the doors to her newest bakery in Cooper’s Commons on Main Street this month. Nestled in the front end of the complex, her bakery will be the newest addition to the historic destination that’s peppered with specialty shops and services. Reminiscent of her barn in Wales, the new bakery has wide wood floor planks, loads of natural lighting and distinctive, vintage features. Even though acquiring the property took several years of thought, Cathie is in love.
“It just screams bakery, coffee and cozy,” smiles Cathie as she explains her concept. “I never thought I would get to the point where I would grow out of West Springfield, but here I am. The new space allows for a dedicated bakery for catering, events and the future. It’s a reinvention of Auntie Cathie’s Roadside in Wales, offering popular items from the West Springfield location, along with bakery items.”
Additionally, parked outside is “Sophia,” a reimagined delivery vehicle that’s ready to hit the road with delectable lunch options and an array of sweet treats. Purchased in December 2016, Cathie rolled Sophia out for the first time at the end of August after spending nearly a year properly planning, constructing and licensing the truck. Systematic as much as she is optimistic, the truck and bakery represent what she hopes her future to be, a place centered in baking and connecting with a community that she loves.
“I love baking, it’s my passion. I cook and love food, but when I bake it’s magical for me. That’s part of the inspiration for the bakery in Agawam,” Cathie says.
While the truck has already hit the streets, the Agawam location is due for a soft open on October 31. In the meantime, you can find Cathie and Sophia at a number of local events such as Kanetoberfest, a Kane’s Krusade fundraiser, on October 7 from 12:00pm-5:00pm at the Morgan Road Pavilion (429 Morgan Road, West Springfield). A staunch believer in giving to others, she’ll also be baking “cleave cookies” this month, with all purchased sales going directly to the Cancer House of Hope. Additionally, as a toast to the new location, she’ll be offering tasty lunch and treat options from the parking lot of Cooper’s Commons on October 11, 11:00am - 3:00pm. Cathie is excited to take the experience further, looking forward to farmers’ markets, private events and community initiatives in the years to come.
The growth Cathie has experienced is inspiring, an accomplishment she credits to her staff (who she couldn’t do this without) and her remarkably devoted customers.
“I want to give a huge shout out to my customers and staff, who have kindly followed me as I float around from one place to another,” smiles Cathie. “I couldn’t have done it without all of their love and support. I am a ‘follow my heart’ person in such a bad way, so when the urge strikes me to reinvent and I see something I love, I just totally fall and go for it!”
Back in the bakery - between construction projects and booked events with Sophia - Cathie rolls up her sleeves and gathers a collection of organic gluten-free flours to create her wildly popular pumpkin whoopie pies. Using her grandfather’s sifter and assorted kitchen utensils, it’s easy to see that everything prepared in this kitchen has soul. For Cathie, it’s about keeping things simple, staying humble and being thankful.
“I have so much to be thankful for and enjoy my life so much; it goes by so fast,” says Cathie as she rubs the goosebumps from her arms. “Sure I have self-doubt and bad days, but I’m still here - I have a great business with wonderful people around me. I have to spread happiness and share food - it’s an act of love and I want everybody to be loved.”
Agawam: 159 Main Street at Cooper’s Commons
West Springfield: 217 Elm Street
(413) 788-0022 | auntiecathies.com