Westerlind Pantry offers much missed grocery shopping experience
MILLERTON — Realizing residents needed a place to shop for food, Westerlind Pantry has been offering customers a small, but satisfying taste of what they’ve been missing: grocery shopping. The pantry officially opened its doors to the community with food offerings in September 2020.
Originally from the U.K. and currently a resident of Hillsdale, Westerlind Pantry owner Ollie Smith was first introduced to the space in the basement of 41 Main St., where the former Saperstein’s store stood for more than 70 years, while on the hunt for commercial space to open a business.
Before coming to Hillsdale, Smith was employed for a decade as the vice president of culinary at Pret A Manger in the U.K.
Though he originally wanted a space with more visibility and an on-site kitchen, Smith was anxious to open a store with some sentimental value. He acknowledged he worried how he could fulfill the needs of “absolutely everybody in town” before concluding that his business would simply be open to all. Smith said he wanted to make sure the pantry was dependable, that the quality of his products were excellent and consistent and that the food was memorable.
Following three weeks of renovations, Westerlind Pantry officially opened on Sept. 23, 2020.
After stepping through the front entrance of Westerlind upstairs on the main floor, customers can satisfy their curiosity about the food pantry by walking downstairs to the lower level. As soon as their feet reach the bottom step, their eyes will dance from the wall-to-wall shelves of pantry staples, snacking essentials, international delights, prepared meals, items for the home and more.
Smith said the pantry’s layout helps regulate the flow of customers, limited to no more than 10 people at a time to deal with COVID-19 guidelines. Customers are asked to sanitize their hands when they arrive, and they can use the baskets or trollies to store their purchases while shopping, both of which are cleaned regularly. Additionally, a plastic screen has been set up at the check-out area as a barrier between the customer and the cashier and contactless payment is an available option.
To offer a treat for those who miss shopping and a familiar sensation for those coming in from the city, Smith said, “I like the fact that we can surprise people by putting things on the shelf that they wouldn’t expect. It takes people on a bit of a journey, which I think food shopping used to be about.”
When Westerlind Pantry first opened for business, Smith said its only signage advertised for fresh bread. As luck would have it, the promise of fresh bread was enough to tempt customers to visit and has since become the pantry’s bestselling item, arriving fresh every day from a local baker.
Next on its list of bestsellers are the prepared foods. Varying from week to week, a third of its business comes from sales of its chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie, brisket ragu, macaroni and cheese, paella, smoked trout pate, soups, dips and so forth. While prepared foods are a developing industry in the U.K., Smith observed they haven’t taken off in the U.S., though they seem to align well with people’s needs during the pandemic.
Smith said about 90% of the pantry’s food is local, with fresh produce coming from Rock Steady Farm and Flowers and McEnroe Organic Farm in Millerton and Full Circus Farm in Pine Plains; coffee is from Irving Farm; and prepared foods come from Nicole Craft in Amenia. Stretching beyond the local area, other inventory features cheese from a Vermont supplier; spices from Boston, Mass.; tea from England; Kewpie mayo from Japan; Swedish linens and candy; French lollipops; and chocolate from the U.K. and Mexico
Westerlind Pantry’s hours are currently from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays through Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. In addition to Smith, the team includes Jordan Klein and Nana Sato, and together the trio has worked to bring their own food perspectives to the table.
“I always wanted to do something with food and 2020 seemed like the right time to do it,” Sato said.
Smith is currently in the process of getting his liquor license to sell beer and cider. This month, he plans to have the shop’s inventory uploaded online to the pantry’s website, www.westerlindpantry.com, so customers can order food online and pick up their orders at kiosks upstairs. For more information, call 445-600 3578.