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Updated: March 16, 2020

Food Love: Thanks to a Sturbridge chef, two entrepreneurs have a match made in farm-to-table heaven

PHOTO | MATT WRIGHT Lynn Cheney, owner of Maker to Main grocery store in downtown Worcester.

On Feb. 7, Worcester’s downtown grocery store, Maker to Main, opened as the brainchild of Lynn Cheney, who carved a name out for herself by hooking farm-to-table restaurants up with locally sourced food via her Sterling business Lettuce Be Local. Two weeks later, the Worcester License Commission considered an application from B.T.’s Smokehouse in Sturbridge for the BBQ joint to open a second location in Worcester.

The two seemingly unrelated events can both be traced to four people at a Boston comedy show 18 months ago.

“I didn’t even realize that it was a date, despite my mother telling me that’s exactly what it was. I just thought I was one of the guys,” Cheney said.

Cheney had been invited to the show by Brian Treitman, founder of B.T.’s, and his girlfriend, Carly Cowher. Coming along was Bill Nemeroff, Treitman’s best friend, who Cheney knew from their time working in the food industry but had never gotten to know all that well.

“I was sitting with Treitman one day and I said, ‘That’s the kind of girl I should be going for,” Nemeroff said.

Treitman, who knew Cheney from her delivering products to B.T.’s, decided to play matchmaker.

“I called my mom and was like ‘I think you were right; I think I went on a date,’” she said. “And I think I’ve gone on three more since then, and I didn’t realize it!”

Now, 18 months later, two food entrepreneurs who for years developed independent careers can lean on each other for expertise and support as they launch into their latest ventures.

Independent beginnings

Nemeroff and Cheney first met when they worked together at the Beechwood Hotel, where he was the executive chef at the Ceres Bistro and later the hotel’s director of food and beverage.

Shortly after Cheney lost her job there, a friend suggested she turn her passion into a business. Cheney had built relationships with local farmers for years, as she enjoyed their products and had a passion for sharing these products through her personal blog “Local Cheney.” Her friend suggested her insight could become a revenue stream.

“I told her she was insane,” said Cheney. “But she challenged me to identify the challenges in hospitality and how difficult it is for them to get local products. So, I approached a farmer ... and I said, ‘Would it be helpful if I brought your product for you to a restaurant?’”

The farmer tried to hand Cheney produce on the spot, which threw Cheney completely off guard. The farmer’s excitement at Cheney’s proposal to hand-deliver his products was not isolated, just as chefs, food and beverage coordinators, and business owners were excited to have local food delivered directly to their establishments.

“There was no forethought on how this was going to work,” said Cheney. “I learned ... people didn’t have the knowledge or the network that I had built.”

Cheney’s first delivery consisted of two cases of produce, and the rest is history. Her Lettuce be Local business would make her the go-to woman for delivering the area’s freshest ingredients to businesses all over Central Massachusetts.

Before Nemeroff first arrived in Cheney’s life at the Beechwood, he was a Virginia Beach native, who moved to Massachusetts at age 22 to manage a restaurant in Bernardston. He eventually landed in Sturbridge to own and operate the Cedar Street Grille.

Nemeroff would become a fixture in the local culinary scene, winning Worcester’s Best Chef competition in 2016 and 2017, when he was culinary director at The International in Bolton.

“The art of cooking, satisfying and entertaining people was instilled in me at very young age,” he said. “My mother wouldn’t even allow ketchup in the house … She said it was a cop out for a sauce.”

Sturbridge BBQ in Worcester

Nemeroff first met Trietman while running Cedar Street Grille.

“We became fast and close friends,” said Treitman. “I lived nearby Cedar Street and would frequently stop in on my way home. I would sit under the TV in his tiny little kitchen while they finished service, and Bill would make me a bowl of pasta. We would just talk.”

The two chefs always dreamed about teaming up, but that would take years.

“B.T.’s was in its infancy, it wasn’t big enough to need Bill yet,” said Treitman.

“The timing just wasn’t right. I was busy still chasing the dragon, as they say,” Nemeroff said.

Fast forward almost a decade, Nemeroff had boomeranged from Sturbridge to Worcester and back, and his friendship with Treitman had grown.

Nemeroff agreed to help run B.T.’s Smokehouse under the agreement they would do something challenging in the near future, like open a new restaurant.

“Bill and I have similar philosophies,” said Treitman. “We have similar cooking styles, and we cook for the same reasons, as a way to make people happy.”

This led Nemeroff and Treitman to form a new business partnership, with plans to open B.T.'s Fried Chicken and BBQ at the corner of Park Avenue and Chandler Street in Worcester.

The Worcester restaurant, slated to open in April, will be complementary to the Sturbridge location, offering every-day fried chicken, which is only available once per month in Sturbridge.

Back when these plans were still in their infancy was when Nemeroff told Treitman his professional life was flourishing but he wanted someone in his life.That was when Treitman reached out to Cheney about going to a show from comedian Jay Larson.

“It’s a small industry,” said Cheney. “[Bill and I] worked together a few times, so I knew who he was.”

Fresh produce on Main Street

At the time of the comedy show, Cheney was running the one-woman operation Lettuce be Local.

“I got where I am today through a lot of passion, hard work, and a ton of crazy,” said Cheney.

Cheney’s new store, which had its soft opening Feb. 7 but will have a grand opening on March 17, still is a wholesale operation, but it has enabled her robust network of 150+ farmers and producers to reach the consumer directly.

Shopping locally sourced produce, at the consumer level, is limited to specific seasons, said Heidi Cooper, a longtime friend of Cheney’s and one of two Maker to Main employees. The store gives consumers an option to shop local, fresh produce, whenever they want.

“It’s incredible. People have been coming into the store and clapping, and they’re not even my family members,” said Cheney.

Despite her busy schedule, Cheney’s superpower is the art of being present and thoughtful no matter how full her schedule, Cooper said.

“She is without a doubt the best boss I’ve ever had,” said Cooper. “As hectic as her life is, there is never a day that goes by that she doesn’t make me feel appreciated. Her spirit of gratitude is amazing.”

Even as Cheney and Nemeroff are busy managing their growing careers, both have made time for each other, exhibiting strong empathy and support towards the other’s venture.

“Bill is a big part of her success,” said Cooper. “He is a wonderful partner; I can tell by the way that they communicate that he is a sounding board for her.”

Nemeroff makes her take time to decompress and practice self-care, Cooper said, and he lets her take off her boss hat.

“He’s brilliant,” Cheney said. “The support and insight he has provided has been incredible.”

As for Cheney’s impact on B.T.’s Fried Chicken and BBQ and Nemeroff’s career, he said he greatly respects Cheney’s business sense and attention to detail.

“She’s a go-getter,” Nemeroff said. “And who doesn’t appreciate an independent woman?”

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March 27, 2020

Congratulations Lynn! Well deserved! Looking forward to stopping by.

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