Trade has had an eventful first year, from having a front-row seat for Occupy Boston to landing on numerous "best of" lists in everything from STUFF Magazine to Bon Appetit and even earning a nomination for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant. Co-owner Eric Papachristos sat down with Eater to talk about the challenges and successes of the first year, from building out the raw space to choosing a name and beyond.
Does it feel like it's been a year? It doesn't. It feels like it's been less than two months.
How'd the idea first come about? Sean [Griffing, co-owner], Jody [Adams, chef/co-owner], and I were really just hanging out and enjoying good food, talking about our travels. We never set out consciously to open up a restaurant. We're three very different people, three very different backgrounds, and it started from friendship. Sean and I have known each other for sixteen years; we worked together as bartenders back in the day. And Sean was working for Jody for a number of years. We were just kind of hanging out and we said, you know what? Let's do something together. So it came about very organically.
How did the build-out go? It was really cool, actually. We were very involved in the process. Typically restaurants will have an architect and interior designer, but we bypassed the interior designer, and our architect really walked us through the process, guided us, and inspired us as well. We fell in love with the space. It was a very raw space, and it's still a bit raw. But when we came in here, there was absolutely nothing. No wall. You could see from one end all the way to the other end of the building. We wanted to keep it very true because there's some beautiful history here in the building, so the design was very simple. We purposely wanted it to be simple and elegant at the same time.
Where does the name come from? It's actually a little bit of everything. This building originally used to be involved in trade with Russia - quill pens, actually. And as we were talking about the neighborhood and what the name should be, we just kept going back to our concept board and the word 'trade' was coming up with our vendors, with our farmers, but also with the stockbrokers and the lawyers in the neighborhood. They're in the business of doing trade as well. The word just kept coming up, and we were like, you know what? Let's call it Trade.
How'd the opening go? We had three soft openings for friends and family, to kind of work out the kinks. Then when we opened up to the public, we purposely didn't want to make a huge announcement that we're opening. We sort of unlocked the door - if it happens, it happens. But it was like opening the floodgates. The first month was a great learning experience for everyone - the front of the house understanding the pace and the back of the house figuring out where things needed to happen. We really changed as we were going along, and it took the first month to kind of get into the groove. But the first day - and the first week, first month, first year - exceeded all of our expectations.
How have you felt about the reviews? The professional reviews, for the most part, were really good and on point. We are not a fine dining restaurant. We're very casual but with serious food, serious drink. We want people to be coming in here multiple times a week, and I think the professional reviews got that. But the amateur reviews, like on Yelp - we still sort of struggle with it. We have comment cards that we give out to every single guest, and we literally meet and talk about all of the comments, and we'll review it with our staff and figure out how we want to respond to these people. Feedback is very important; we don't just take the comment card and throw it away, or give ourselves a pat on the back, or say, this guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Everyone says something for a reason. The Yelp reviews have been a bit tough, partly because people might have had a different idea of what this space should have been or could have been or would have been. Having Jody's name involved has I think made some people think we'd be Rialto-style, which is fine dining and a little bit more quiet, but we're not.
Any bizarre or funny stories from the year? Occupy Boston was pretty cool. People were sort of worried - and asking us if we were worried - that Occupy Boston was across the street, and to be honest, it was actually a lot of fun. They never bothered us, and it was good to go across the street and see what they were doing and to be part of a bigger thing.
If you could go back to just before opening and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be? You know...I think there's nothing. I think we did it right. As stupid an answer as that is, I think we did it right. Sean, Jody, and I work really well together, because, I think, of our different backgrounds, and we're very methodical with everything that we do. With all of our decision-making processes, all three of us always agree. Or if someone doesn't agree, we'll explain why, and the third person is like, ok, that makes sense. If I could go back to day one, I think I would do everything exactly the same.
And I think what's really cool with us here - and part of the success of Trade - is our staff. I can't overemphasize how important it has been to us. In regards to our management staff, we've retained every single person that was here before we opened. I think that's created great structure, great leadership for all the support staff to know that we went through such a crazy time of opening - not knowing what's going on, how busy we'll be - and everyone has seen that the leadership held strong. If I could tell something to someone who is looking to open up a new restaurant, it's to really hire very diligently and trust the people that are going to be running the restaurant. Our managers - I cannot say enough good things about them. And I think that's really led to the success of Trade.