Congratulations on five years! How does it feel?
Rebecca Roth Gullo: Holy shit. It's been five years.
Do you remember day one?
RRG: No. Do you? [to Seth Yaffe]
Seth Yaffe: I remember the opening party that we had, but I don't specifically remember the first day that we were officially open to the public. I do remember the first week, though. It was just really exciting, and I think for us, it was especially memorable to open up something here in the South End. It was always our dream to bring something special to the place that we always felt was already so special. It just felt like we had made it. It was scary and terrifying too, of course, but I think our expectations and what we wanted from the restaurant were blown away by the support that we received and how much people have really made us feel a part of the neighborhood. It's been pretty awesome. The South End is just so great. It feels like a small town and very much a neighborhood.
RRG: It's very much a small town. You get to know everyone, and it's very neighborhood-centric.
SY: And to be a part of that is an extremely great feeling. We're both residents of the neighborhood, and it's great to just put down roots here and have a business here.
RRG: I do remember the opening party. We had an ice luge, and with that, we wanted to say that we weren't trying to take this all too seriously; we all just want everyone to have a good time. And that's what we've been trying to do all along. We take what we do seriously, but our consistent theme all along is that we just want everyone to have a good time. It's just so crazy that it's been five years. We opened really quietly and didn't even put up a sign or a website for a couple of months, all very intentionally because we wanted to give ourselves a chance. We still feel new, though.
It was exciting for me on Saturday because I went in and asked our staff if they knew anyone in the dining room. No one knew anyone, and it was just so fantastic because to me, that means we're still very new to a lot of people. We've always only been a word-of-mouth place; we've never paid for advertising. It's great that during the week we see our regulars, our neighbors and friends, and then on the weekend we become a special events place and a place that's new for people to visit.
What was the original vision of The Gallows?
RRG: We wanted to create a place that we actually wanted to go to. We wanted to build something that we thought the neighborhood needed. We didn't want anything stuffy or a place where you needed reservations. We just wanted people to walk in and have a good time. We didn't want people to have to really think about us too hard; just show up and have fun. And I think we've done that. We've had it all in our restaurant — marriages, break-ups, births, deaths, illnesses, everything from happy to heartbreaking. The coolest thing I think I've seen is how many people, and I think it's a high number, like maybe 30 couples, have met at The Gallows, get married, have kids, and then come back to see us. I love hearing about those couples, and that's what we wanted.
SY: It's been really cool to watch people sitting at our bar talking to the people on their left and the people on their right, and they potentially live right next door or even in the same building. Most people don't think of restaurants as being community buildings, but I think a great neighborhood restaurant is just that. Seeing the community get stronger and feeling like you're a part of that — even after five years it makes you remember how special this project is not only to you, but to everyone else who's been coming in and choosing to come in over the many other restaurants that are over here. It's inspiring for us and it keeps us engaged and excited. Five years seems like it's a blink of an eye, and also it sometimes feels like an eternity.
How has your menu changed over the five years?
RRG: We change the content of our menu all the time — every two months, sometimes even less than that — the layout of the menu and the terms that we use. If you go back to our first menu, which we did recently, actually, it says things like "appetizers," "entrees," and "burgers." But then we looked at it, and we thought, This isn't how any of us eat. We share everything at the table, and our menu now reflects that.
What's been your most popular dish?
RRG: We could never take the scotch egg of the menu. Why would we? It's delicious. We could never change the burger. It's been the exact same way since we started. The simple poutine has been the same too. Those are the three things that have always been around. Oh, and the stoner's delight never changes. What I love about that dessert is that people will call to get it for take-out, and it comes in a ramekin. And we'll just ask them to bring it back. And we trust them to bring it back, and they do. What's been funny to me is when people try something new and then tell us not to change it, and then we change it. New favorites can be made all the time, and that's what we challenge our staff to do.
We have a new chef now, Caleb Graber-Smith, and the challenge we have is how do we keep up with what we like to eat? Because that's really what this is, a reflection of what we like to eat, what our friends like to eat, and what the neighborhood is missing. We brought tacos to our menu a while back, and although we change them regularly, we could never take them off. We have a pulled pork corn muffin, and we made a change to it, and people went crazy — I mean full-on crazy — so we had to bring them back. We also get special requests, and if we have enough heads up, we like to make that happen.
SY: I think it's great that we can inspire some emotional connection with our dishes. Some people have their favorites. It's really fun to take things off the menu for a bit but then bring them back and see people get really excited about that. It's just fun to rotate things and shake things up a bit.
What are some specific standout moments for you both, either good or bad, over the past five years?
SY: I think Rebecca's wedding at The Gallows was a standout moment. It was one of the best nights and just amazing. Her family has always been the main driving family in the restaurant, and having everyone there under one roof to celebrate Rebecca meeting her husband at the restaurant — it was a really great day. We really strive to make our staff feel like they are a part of a family, and to have these types of family events under the roof where everyone's there is truly special.
You're one of your own marriage statistics?
RRG: [Laughs.] Yes, I am. Also, Seth met his now-future wife at The Gallows. They just got engaged.
Something else — I love that we have a special relationship with this one farmer, Jim, who used to be the head farmer at Allandale Farm. He then got up the courage to start his own farm, first in Massachusetts and now in Maine, and he came to us and said that he wanted to specifically grow food for us. I just thought that it was amazing that this is how the system works. He saw our passion and pride, and he wanted to work for us and be a part of it. We have our meat and cheese providers, etc., but when someone comes to you and says that they'd like to grow something specifically for you, it's an honor.
And we've been very supportive of him. We gave him financing for his farm, and we wrote letters on his behalf to the state of Maine, and we have this great relationship with him. We've also done a lot with food trucks. When Mei Mei started out, they had no experience working in a real kitchen. We talked about it and decided that we would open up our restaurant to food trucks. And we could pay it forward, the way we'd hope someone would do it for us. So we had these pop-up dinners that were super cool, and I remember those as being a real sense of camaraderie. At the time there was a lot of tension between food trucks and brick & mortars, and we just figured that the better others do, the better it is for all of us. It was so great, and we've become great friends with Mei Mei. We still help them and they help us.
There have been awful moments, too. We were robbed, like, the first month we were open. That was really scary. We've had some sicknesses that have affected our staff, and some have not turned out so great. Others have turned out well and people have gotten better, but those are real tough. Also, saying goodbye to people. We've had some really unbelievable staff, and sometimes we've had to say goodbye to them, and that's tough. In general, we look back as these five years and say "holy shit," but we cannot wait for what's next.
We know we have at least 10 years on our lease, so we're excited to have this conversation again in five years and then in another five years. But now, we're all about what we can do to enhance The Gallows and become even more a part of the community. We've started expanding a bit with Blackbird Doughnuts being a true extension of The Gallows, and Banyan, which will be open soon, has nothing to do with it. It's just been a wild ride, and the support that we've received has been really overwhelming. It's just us. There are no people behind us; we're the decision-makers, and we finance this, and we're the ones who work the hours.
SY: The Gallows has been so inspiring for us, and we're so excited about these other projects, but The Gallows is our "first-born child," and we are excited to see it through its adulthood over the next 10 years or so. It's just become such a great part of our lives, and it's going to be really cool to see where it all goes.
The Gallows. [Photo: Cal Bingham for Eater]