The mill in downtown Cheney grinds local wheat into flour, but residents can’t stop in to buy a bag for baking.
“You can smell it in the air when they’re milling,” Mary Robinson said.
Robinson and her family recently opened a restaurant that’s returning the focus to local food and nourishing the local economy through partnerships with local producers. The Mason Jar bake shop and bistro opened last week at the corner of F and First streets.
The Mason Jar is focused on bringing locally produced, seasonal food and drinks to Cheney’s downtown. The owners—Robinson and her children Douglas LaBar and Danielle LaBar—say they each had individual goals that fit together to start the restaurant.
Douglas LaBar is the food philosopher. After working in the food service industry for years and studying the slow food movement and farming in France, LaBar wanted to put his passion into practice by offering locally sourced, healthy food in his hometown.
LaBar used his restaurant experience to plan the look of the space, highlighting its age—100 years this year—and adding unique touches like handmade mason jar chandeliers and mix-and-match chairs.
Danielle LaBar had the vision, her mother said. She had always talked about a family business and used her experience in business and finance to create a plan for the restaurant.
Mary Robinson, formerly a part time paraeducator in the Cheney School District, was intrigued by the idea of working for herself. A lifelong baker, she was also intrigued by the prospect of baking cakes, pies and breads for a living.
“Just get me back in the kitchen and leave me there,” she said with a laugh.
They enlisted help from Robinson’s husband and three younger sons—it truly is a family business—along with four other employees to run the place. They serve espresso drinks, tea, desserts, sandwiches, soups and a wide variety of baked goods.
The building, owned by AAA Laboratory’s Cheryl Blake, was not set up for a restaurant when their lease started in July.
Robinson said they basically gutted the space and started over, retaining and highlighting features like a tin ceiling and exposed brick walls.
“The building was perfect for what we were envisioning,” she said.
There’s a brand new baking kitchen, refrigerators and prep areas behind the counter. On the other side, customers can sit at a booth or table to have food and drinks. The Mason Jar will offer breakfast items like pastry and quiche, lunch items featuring paninis and soups and desserts. Drinks include espresso, tea, beer and wine.
As much as possible, everything on the menu is grown or produced locally, Douglas LaBar said. The baking flour comes from Colfax, the honey comes from the West Plains, the fruit comes from a farm on Sherman Road. Spokane’s Roast House created The Mason Jar blend, combining fair trade beans from Brazil, Mexico and Ethiopia. Fruits and vegetables will be canned for use in the winter months.
The focus on high-quality ingredients doesn’t mean prices aren’t affordable, though.
“We don’t want to get into that, ‘It’s organic so it has to cost a lot.’ We want people to be able to eat well. It doesn’t have to be a chore,” he said.
The name The Mason Jar sums up the owners’ goals, LaBar said.
“Canning takes so much time, and once you’re done it’s like, Yes. I did that,” he said. “Mason jars allow you to preserve in that season what you need. It’s simple and elegant.”
It’s taken this family a lot of work to make their dream a reality, and now that it’s here, they plan to savor it.
The Mason Jar, 101 F St., is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information call 359-8052 or visit themasonjar101.com.
Becky Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.