New era launched for local market and deli: Middlebury couple buying Sama's cafe
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Lifelong Middlebury-area residents Adam Shafer and Jennifer Stocker have spent the past few decades working for other folks.
Now they get a chance to work for themselves.
The husband-and-wife team on June 1 officially established “Shafer’s Market & Deli” at 54 College St., most recently the home of Sama’s Café. They will spend the coming weeks putting their own signature on the eatery and store, to include a more diverse menu and expanded hours.
“We’re very excited,” Stocker said late last week as she and her husband continued a brief apprenticeship with Sama’s owner Usamah Hayyat.
Shafer, 32, has been at home in a kitchen since he was a kid.
He would help out his grandfather Bill Shafer at the former Lemon Fair Diner (now known as simply “The Diner”) on Merchants Row during the 1980s. Adam also learned some pointers on pie making at the former Pizza Cellar, also once owned by Bill Shafer.
“I spent a lot of time, walking around with my mother, at both of those locations,” Shafer recalled.
It gave him an early taste of what would become his chosen profession, a career path that has taken him through several Middlebury-area businesses, including Two Brothers Tavern and Carol’s Hungry Mind Café. After a cooking stint at Bistro Sauce in Shelburne, he returned to familiar turf, taking a part-time cooking job with Middlebury College dining services. Shafer steadily moved up the ladder to a management position in retail food operations during what would become a seven-year stint within the college.
“I like all facets of it,” Shafer said of the food service industry. “My forte is (in the kitchen), but because of my experience at the college and throughout my life, I’m pretty comfortable with all of it — working with distributors and customers.”
Still, after years of working for others, Shafer wanted a chance to march to his own tune.
“I felt it was time to do something on my own,” he said.
The couple contacted a broker, who presented them with some ready-to-take-over business options.
One of them turned out to be 54 College St. — right in their own back yard. Shafer and Stocker had both been customers at the store, which in its previous incarnations had been known by such names as Lyon’s Place, the Blue Hen and Sama’s.
“It was the best location I could have hoped for, for sure,” Shafer said.
While Shafer has the cooking experience, Stocker’s success has gone to other people’s heads; she’s a hair stylist, and has been for the past 22 years. Stocker graduated from Middlebury Union High School in 1995 and enrolled in O’Brien’s hair styling school in South Burlington. She worked as a stylist in salons in Rutland and Burlington before scaling things back as the family grew. The couple currently has four young children (ages 18 months through 14 years), with a set of twins on the way. A very energetic Stocker still finds time to work a day a week at the Indulge Salon in Middlebury.
On Thursday, Shafer’s Market & Deli became the couple’s main business focus. They plan on getting some help in their growing army of children, a second generation of Shafers who will likely take their places behind the cash registers, creemee machine and flat-top griddle. Shafer and Stocker plan to carry a staff of 10 full- and part-time workers.
Hayyat opened Sama’s at the location back in 2006. He was pleased with the performance of his business through the years, but — like Shafer — had come to a point where he wanted to do something else. He and his wife, Marie, have a 9-year-old child. They want to take a breather before beginning their next adventure, so they elected to sell Sama’s and a second business, “Sweet Marie’s” restaurant at 1 Washington St. As reported by the Independent, Dave Laferriere-Hall, Dustin Simmons and Jennifer Sabourin will soon open a new restaurant, Coriander, in the Sweet Marie’s location.
“We were in year 11 of a 10-year plan,” Hayyat said, with a smile, about his decision to at least temporarily disengage from the Middlebury food scene.
He believes Shafer and Stocker, as well as the Coriander trio, will do a great job with their respective new ventures.
“They will write the next chapter,” Hayyat said, also expressing his gratitude to the many customers and employees that helped make his businesses a success over the years.
Shafer’s Market & Deli won’t represent a dramatic departure from Sama’s — at least not initially, according to Shafer. But the family will implement some changes, including:
• Longer hours. The business will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
“I think there are some locals who would like to see things open a little later,” Stocker said.
• Expanded specialty pizza offerings. Shafer and Stocker like the in-house pizza oven, and want to put it to greater use. Their new menu includes such pizza varieties as “Carolina Swine,” with BBQ sauce base, pulled pork, cheddar scallion and fried pickles; and “Spicy Bulgogi,” with spicy shaved steak, scallions, Kimchi and sesame seeds,
• Specialty sandwiches, using house-cured meats, such as pancetta and corned beef.
• A diverse breakfast menu, including omelets, eggs Benedict, breakfast sandwiches and pancakes.
• A kids’ menu.
• A 15 percent discount to all local EMTs, police and fire personnel, and free coffee to any uniformed, on-duty officer.
• Local delivery service for orders, in the near future.
The business will preserve and perhaps expand its retail section, offering soda, beer, candy, dairy and other basic items.
“We want it to become a community destination for young and old,” Shafer said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.