Last week, the highly anticipated Tavern Road from brothers Louis (BOH) and Michael (FOH) DiBiccari opened in Fort Point. Eater spoke with chef and co-owner Louis DiBiccari about those first few days and what's next for the restaurant, which is named for the studio of the brothers' uncle Adio, who was a sculptor in Boston. In March, the restaurant will be joined by the adjacent, largely takeout venture called TR Street Food. But that's not all that will go on in there. Here's what Louis had to say.
Overall, how has week one been? I don't want to jinx it. It's like not talking to your pitcher during a no-hitter. It's been crazy, in the best possible way. Our plan from day one was slow. Ease into things. Don't overextend yourself, don't get too ambitious, don't let your ego get the best of you. And I vowed that we wouldn't start late-night, I vowed that we would go a four item charcuterie list, no more, until we really got our legs under us. I vowed that we wouldn't get any whole animals in right away. We started late-night day one, we're up to a twelve-item charcuterie - we're doing a master board for like $25 - we got our first pig in on day five, not month two.
Why so fast? What I've found so far is that it's about hiring. If you surround yourself with really talented people, you can accelerate the process and you can maintain a really high quality product. You don't lose any integrity, it's just a matter of practicing and then having the right people around you. The kitchen staff is guys who were chefs at Sam's, Via Matta, Sel de la Terre, dante, Menton, and the list goes on and on.... Persephone. And they weren't cooks: they were sous chefs and chefs de cuisine, and they're all looking to open their own restaurant, and in the meantime, they're hanging their hat here. And it's a really creative group to work with. I just ran in the kitchen and they were experimenting with different things. And some of it makes it and some of it doesn't, but that's what it's all about. It's all practice and trial and error. It's like there's no names in there: it's the Patriots the first time they won the Super Bowl and they all ran out with no names on the backs of the jerseys. That's what this kitchen is operating like right now. It's great.
What's been the best part? The guests. The first night we were open Andy Cartin, who owns jm Curley, was standing outside, just waiting for the door to open, at 4:30PM. He came with his bottle of champagne and was like "congratulations." Later on that night we fed Jason Bond, Barry Maiden, Brandon Arms and Ken Oringer. Fucking opening night, dude! Could we have a week? Could we have a little time here? But they're all psyched, they all said they were coming back. I can usually tell when people are lying to me, and I'll run back to the kitchen and say "They said their meal was fine, let's figure out what was actually wrong with it." And when they're glowing I know they're not blowing something up my ass. I could tell it was genuine. And the space feels really nice. It's the kind of space that I could really picture myself walking into for the next 20 years, no problem. And never getting sick of it.
And what has been the worst part? Friends and family was one of the most difficult service periods of my life because the computer systems kept going down and we kept trying to pull it together by grabbing different tickets from different stations and just trying to piecemeal people's tickets together, and I knew it was a disaster, and it was a disaster. People were getting main courses before first courses, desserts weren't getting fired, we were missing food on tables all night long. It sucked. But, that's why you do it. That's why you practice. That's why we kept putting it off, like we're going to practice again tonight, we're going to practice again tonight... There was so much confusion, people were like "Are they open, are they not open?" And I was like, it isn't the kitchen, it isn't the staff, it was just trying to get those point of sale systems and everything that was working on the wifi network and try to have confidence in it, because if we started taking money while that was happening, we would have been in a lot of trouble.
So we got through that and we're feeling more confident in it now, but that was the most difficult part. You feel so helpless, because it's not something you can control. Luckily, if all of your other things are clicking, it's all going to come down to food and service anyway. It's all about hospitality and product, and those are things we feel confident that we'll do well.
What's been the biggest surprise? The service, actually. The kitchen had a chance to practice a lot before we got rolling, but the service came afterwards. There was construction, and we didn't even know what the dining room was going to look like set up until the first day of friends and family. That's when we started training. And from just sort of like engaging with friends that came in and reading comment cards and getting friendly with the neighbors and kind of taking the temperature of how the service was, and also seeing the number of non-errors that come into the kitchen, they're on-point. And I'm really pleased about that. I knew Michael had gotten a good training at Eastern Standard, but I didn't realize how good of a training he'd gotten at Eastern Standard.
Does it feel like it's been a week? No, not at all. I don't even know what today is. Every single day I'll turn to somebody and be like "is today Tuesday or Wednesday?" But I've been doing that for two months now. It never feels like it's the day it is. People ask how long was the construction, and I'm like six, nine months - I don't have any idea. I'd have to go get a calendar. I honestly have no idea when we started this thing anymore. It's been like one blur.
In what ways does it feel different to be in your own place? That's where it gets a little emotional, a little personal for me. For Michael and I, I think it's a very unique situation. Our parents walked through the door for friends and family, and our aunt and our cousins, and immediately it felt like what we've been striving for our whole lives, our whole professional careers: some place that our friends and family could migrate to and spend a lot of time in and be able to afford and be able to be regulars at and not be intimidated by. I spent time in different styles of restaurant, and I always wanted to build one that was where my friends and family could actually go all the time and feel at home and feel like it was approachable, and when I saw them there the first time, I thought "Yeah, they'll dig this."
They loved the food, they weren't scared of anything on the menu, they ate everything, and then you look at another table and there's all your chef friends. Colin [Lynch], Will [Gilson] and Jamie [Bissonnette] were all at one table for friends and family and I'm like this is exactly what I want to see when I look out in the dining room. All the people that I care about, that mean the most to me, that supported me for so much of my career, and my family. All being able to come in all the time. That feels like this is different. This is actually ours now. This is exactly what we've been trying to build for so long. We finally got out of our heads and into a space.
What lies ahead? We got to get TR Street Food open first before we do anything. Once TR Street Food opens we're going to have a really cool, chef-driven, fast-casual grab and go in here. Our idea is not to go dark in Street Food at night: the idea is to turn Street Food into a modern, younger more hip version of a private dining room. Like for example, you would never want to have a rehearsal dinner in there or a bar mitzvah, but in the Innovation District, some of these young, upstart companies could take that space with 10, 20, 30 employees taking that space after work and doing something in there and having some really cool, fun dinners. Once my mind gets wrapped around it, I know I'm going to come up with some really cool, fun stuff to do in there: parties to throw, animal dinners, cocktail classes, Wine Riots with the Second Glass crew. There's a view of the kitchen from that room too, so there's great energy. It's a really cool space, I think we're going to be able to do some fun stuff there night.
I think that we're going to call it The Studio at Night: quietly, we're not going to put any signs up. But Jeannie and I are just going to talk about it on social media as "the studio." We're going to try to build it kind of grassroots.