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East by Northeast's Blayne Daley on the Boston Restaurant Industry and More

This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite hard-to-get tables.
[Photo: Blayne Daley/Katie Chudy]

Blayne Daley has worked in the restaurant industry since she was 15. Currently, she is the general manager at East by Northeast, a position she has held for more than four years. Here she chats with Eater about her past at Dick's Last Resort, future happenings at East by Northeast, and more.

How did you end up here at East by Northeast?
I have a fun story about that. Before I worked here, I was at the infamous Dick's Last Resort. There were a lot of other people there from around the city that are currently in the restaurant industry. They get really slow in the winter, so I was looking for a part-time job and applied at Hungry Mother. I was told about another job that was available as one of their cooks was opening up a noodle house. She passed my resume along, and I met Phil [Tang, chef/owner of East by Northeast], and the rest, as they say, is history. I started out as lead server here. Once Phil and I got to know each other better, I was made general manager, and I quit Dick's Last Resort to work here full-time. That was four-and-a-half years ago.

Let's back up a bit. How did you get into the industry here in Boston?
I did my undergrad at BU, and, like most people from out of town, ended up at Dick's with some friends who thought it would be fun to go there where they'd be mean to us. My college roommate had a birthday party, and we went there and I fell in love with it. It was totally my personality. They never hire, because once you get to work there, it's great hours and really great pay, so no one ever left. It was really hard to get a job there.

So I graduated from college and was looking for a 9-to-5 job while I was still waiting tables. I worked at P.F. Chang's, Whiskey's on Boylston, and I help open Redline, which is now Park in Harvard Square. I worked at the Redline for a little over a year before I saw that Dick's was hiring, and I applied. I had to go through two interviews, and it was quite the process. Once I got hired, it was really arduous training, which is really interesting for a restaurant of that nature. They just make you a really good server, and I'm happy for that now — I think I am a good server now because I worked there.

The high volume that they do and you have to do so much stuff, along with the schtick, and you really have to multitask. It's funny because people always say that you can take the girl out of Dick's but, can't really finish that sentence because it's vulgar and inappropriate, but it's true, and that's why I'm so sassy here. So that's how I got to East by Northeast and I'm just so happy I did. As much as I love Hungry Mother, this is just where I belong.

As a general manager, what does that encompass?
This is so not a normal restaurant, in my opinion. There are only eight of us who work here. I'm in charge of the front of the house stuff, like hiring, etc., and Phil is in charge of the back of the house. I do all of the beer and wine ordering, and I try to, with Phil's help, keep the cocktail menu exciting, and that's fun for us. We like to do seasonal things and find out what's new. We're not really mixologists, and we just go with what tastes good. Besides that, I just work every day.

We go on vacation every August for a week just to take a break, and then we decided to shake up the restaurant in that time. So we changed everything. It's a completely different color; we gave it a brighter and lighter feel. It's what Phil likes to refer to as French country with Asian decor, which I think is exactly how it turned out — very French country and New England-y with a farmhouse kind of feel and with an Asian feel to it too. It's perfect because he's French-trained, we're in New England, and, well, it's an Asian restaurant. I had a great time trying to find all of this stuff. I went to estate sales and Craigslist and Ikea. We went everywhere, and we did it in a week. We're also getting new aprons soon. It's exciting.

Any stories of celebrities coming that you can share?
We've had a fair amount of local celebrities. We had Stephanie Cmar come in for the first time in a very long time, and she came in with one of my favorite regulars — it was nice to see that they knew each other. That was fun. We had Grant Achatz in here; he came in totally under the radar on a Sunday. Really nice guy. He tweeted about us, which made me very happy because I also do our social media. We also get a lot of local chefs that come in here. I'm really excited for Matt Jennings to come to town. I stalk him on Instagram, and I can't wait for his restaurant to open.

When you have a day off, what restaurants do you like to go to?
My favorite restaurants are Sarma and Cafe Sushi. I love The Gallows, and I don't make it there nearly enough. I want to get to brunch there. I love a good sandwich, so I've lately been on the hunt for that. I went to Moody's recently and loved it. Alden & Harlow and State Park are great, too. Really anyone with a late-night menu is good by me.

You aren't a traditional Asian restaurant. Do you find that people come in here expecting General Gao's?
It happens all the time. People also seem to get a little worried when they don't see Asian people here, which I find funny. You can tell when it's happening; they'll look around and question each other. At this point, four-and-a-half years in, I think I'm Asian by proxy. We are just really lucky — we get a lot of great people that come in here, and I think we still fly under the radar. We always ask if people have been here before, just because it's small plates and we want to explain how it works and half the people that come in are new to the restaurant. Most people say that they've heard of us but haven't made it over because we're just on the outskirts of Inman, but Keith [Pooler, of Bergamot] is opening up a place right across the street [BISq], and people are coming into Inman more.

But as much as there are a lot of new people who come in, we have a lot of regulars. We have this one couple who has come in every single weekend for the past four years, and they sit right at the bar. They text me and call me and let me know when they're coming in. I love them; they've become my adoptive grandparents. I go out with them once a month, and we try out new places. We just went to Giulia; they're just the best.

We also get Pulitzer prize-winning author Junot Diaz in here with his girlfriend, who is also a famous writer. He's been in here regularly over the past four years. We find that being in Cambridge, we get a lot of intellectually famous people. That's what's nice, though — if you come in regularly, you become our friends. I'm very lucky because a lot of friends that I have today started as people who came into the restaurant.

What do you like most about your job?
Hm, I don't know. I really like so much about my job — I really do. I like that it's different every day and different all the time. I also like that I've never worked for such a talented person before. You can work in a million restaurants and never work for anyone talented, and I just feel like Phil's doing some really amazing things. I also really like the industry, especially in Boston, we all know each other.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the industry in Boston?
People in the restaurant industry work killer hours. I'm lucky because we close here early, but when I worked at Dick's, I'd work until 3 a.m. and then turn around the next day and work a double that started at 10 a.m. I've worked in the industry since I was 15, so I must like something about it. Everyone is just so creative and cool and nice and just so laid back because we all know what hard work we do.

I'm sure that's something that CPAs don't have. You don't usually see another CPA saying, "Hey man, how was work today?" but you see that with service people. And you can tell who they are and pick them out. We had someone in here the other day, and I asked him what restaurant he worked for, and he asked me how I knew. You just know. We drink well, we eat well, and we pay well. We're just awesome guests at other restaurants, because if we're not, it gets around.

Anything fun coming up at East by Northeast?
Yes, Phil is going to do a Asian street food night. We do these special nights once a month, and he's going to do Taiwanese street food, I believe. It will be some time in September on a Thursday. He's also thinking about doing more pop-ups here that are not East by Northeast food at all, maybe coming up with some ideas for a second restaurant and testing out the food on people. We're also going to be hosting some friends here for pop-ups, which will be fun. In the next couple of months, we're just going to be focusing on next steps. Phil's just way too talented to not do more. We're looking forward to the winter; it's always our busiest season.
· All coverage of East by Northeast on Eater [~EBOS~]

The Gallows

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State Park

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