| Dylan Corey
AMHERST – A new restaurant and catering business opened in the Mill District in North Amherst on May 31 with an idea that is as fresh as its ingredients.
Graze Craze, located at 83 Cowls Rd., is owned and managed by Jessica Lavallee. Graze Craze specializes in charcuterie boards of varying sizes with four main customizable options, and they also produce seasonal boards for special occasions. The signature board comes with a variety of meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and sweets, while more specific options include the vegetarian, keto and dessert board.
Everything is prepared that day and made in-house. Size options with start with their $8 Char-Cutie-Cup, perfect for a snack or child. Incremental options serve one to two people all the way up to its $140 board for catering 10 to 12 people. All boards, utensils and packaging that Graze Craze uses are environmentally sustainable materials.
“This concept is the only one that will be able to get it to you that day,” Lavallee said in an interview with Reminder Publishing. “Yes, people do it. Yes, it’s out there, but you’re pre-ordering at least a day if not a week in advance. We make all of our dips in-house and that’s something that really appealed to me. I wanted to get into a concept that was something I would thoroughly enjoy but wanted the support of a team that had already started something. It’s really like a family to be honest with you. I’m in communication with the founders of the company all the time and that’s something you can’t say about a lot of franchises.”
According to the website, the Grab & Graze option for one person is ready for pickup in 15 to 20 minutes. The Picnic Box all the way to the largest catering options are estimated to be ready for pickup in 30 to 35 minutes.
Lavallee said she has always been the person her friends and family turned to for hosting events, something Lavallee loves to do. Prior to the early 2000s, Lavallee spent time living in London and Scotland after growing up out West and going to college and graduate school in Boston. She said that similarly to the company’s founder, living in Europe helped trigger her love for tapas and charcuterie and made her want to bring it home to America. Despite having a general board, as well as vegetarian, keto, and a dessert option, Lavallee is proud to help customers customize boards by swapping certain items for more of another, Customers can also completely build a board from scratch.
“This is my second business, I own a property management company that does vacation rentals, but I’ve always wanted to do something with food,” Lavallee said. “I love entertaining, I absolutely love making appetizers, it’s my favorite food to make. I am a special [education] teacher at Northampton High School and I’ve been doing that for a really long time. Now my kids are getting older and I’m finding I have a little more time on my hands and started researching other food ideas and concepts that were out there. It was kind of just serendipitous, this just sort of fell into place.
“I’m a busy person and all of my friends are, the world is just a busy place,” she continued. “There are so many nights where I just said, ‘I don’t want to make anything.’ Or, ‘I want to have people over, but I don’t necessarily want to go through the trouble.’ If I feel that way and I love to entertain, I know a lot of other people do.”
Graze Craze’s convenience while utilizing fresh ingredients with options for everyone is the draw for customers. Lavallee cited multiple situations in which she was able to accommodate the needs of customers with various busy schedules, including fulfilling an order before they closed and leaving it in a duplex lobby at the Mill District for a customer driving home from New York City.
“We will be developing a local board and I will be working with the founder on developing how that will look, what the ingredients will be, that most likely change seasonally based on the availability of products,” Lavallee said. “We are really trying to make sure that if we can, we will use anything that we can in the New England area.”
Graze Craze also makes seasonal and occasion-themed boards for events like Mother’s Day and game day. Lavallee said their whole motto is to celebrate everything. From a mile hike with the family to graduating college, Amherst provided the perfect spot of residents and visitors that are regularly looking for healthy, quick catering options with family and friends.
“I’ve given back a lot to various non-profits. I worked in Holyoke at the art museum, I worked at Smith College’s Museum of Art, and I knew there was a need for this,” Lavallee said. “Catering at the colleges will only get involved at a certain amount of people. It was always hard to find vendors to do openings and public events and programming, so I knew the need was here 16 years ago. We’re constantly looking to change things up for the needs of people. But the beauty of our boards is really what it comes down to, they’re beautiful pieces. Yes, it’s the arrangement but it’s also the quality of the ingredients. You can see the presentation but then you taste the quality, and it blows you away.”