For much of 2013, Eater Boston ran a weekly series called On the House, featuring dispatches from Steve "Nookie" Postal on the trials, tribulations, joys, and frustrations as he opened his first restaurant, Commonwealth, in Kendall Square. Today, On the House returns. This time, we'll dive deep into the opening of Juliet in Somerville's Union Square. It's the first permanent location for the Bread & Salt Hospitality team, led by Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri. With construction now underway, Lewin will be sharing updates every other week, accompanied by illustrations and photos by Jazayeri, giving an inside look at what it takes to open a first restaurant.
"I can't explain it. It's what turns you to powder, being ground between what you can't do and what you must do. You just turn to dust." —James Salter, Light Years
I’ve never been so happy to see a man in a respirator mask. Demolition kicks up a lot of dust. Especially when drywall shatters. Or unexpected air ducts emerge, artifacts unearthed after decades sealed, unused, behind walls. Dust in this case, and demolition, means we are finally underway with the construction of our debut restaurant, Juliet. Before beginning this process I’d never have imagined the relief found in simply seeing something torn down and reduced to a pile of off-white powder to be swept to the side by a sweaty figure in a particle respirator.
In beginning this process, about fifteen months ago, I received copious warnings. Cautionary but generally encouraging input on how to pick a location, negotiate a lease, forecast revenues, plan for disasters. The basics. Nobody bothered to so much as mention anything about the period of time that happened about 14 months in, or a little less than one month before last Monday, when that first wall finally came down. The period of time when plans were set, money exchanged, contractors and subcontractors had earmarked pages in their scheduling books, and the permits submitted to the city for approval. And then, everything stops.
Forgive me. This period was mentioned. Cautions were offered to make sure this time — along with liberal allowances for any resulting delays — was budgeted for in the fundraising plan, for instance. Because if it wasn’t, well, we would run out of money before completing our project. The basics.
What wasn’t mentioned about this period was how to mentally prepare for the switch that flips in your brain when the exhaustive process of researching, planning, and coordinating is completed; the resulting work is filed with the city for approval. And then everything simply stops.
Fourteen months of intense continuing education in site selection, project management, building materials, regulatory requirements. A graduate level attempt at improving interpersonal communication and expectations management as a group of people struggles to convey their goals in a construction vocabulary even more foreign to myself than the vocabulary of a high-performing restaurant is to my enthusiastic contractor. A layman’s indoctrination into the sights and sounds of the life of the builder, the plumber, the electrician, the landlord, the city inspector. Not to mention a lifetime of dreaming.
All this comes to an abrupt halt one day. Intense daily effort, always mental and often physical; struggling to maintain forward movement in uncertain territory, but making it. Really making it. Regular progress as the vocabulary begins to make a little more sense, a timeline emerges, renderings look less like stick drawings and start to take on real life. The forward movement is won easier, if only in incremental measures, daily. Then comes the crash directly into the immovable wall of waiting. A waiting which in this case would prove to be easily measured in just days, but each of those days carrying the weight of weeks.
During this time there are a few phone calls to field. Clarifications of details, introductions requested. Research on topics such as take-out packaging and floor stain. Tasks all paling in comparison to the previous efforts instantly ended. Somehow even more than before we seem to run into friends on the street asking about our progress. Constant and merciless reminders of the waiting.
Then one day the required signatures are applied and notifications of approved permits are unceremoniously emailed among the team. In our case, this happens late on a Friday morning. The city inspectional services closes early Fridays, and this particular weekend is a long one, for Labor Day. The way I count them, that is four additional days of delay. But somehow now each day just feels like a day. The brutal pressure released with the expectant commencement of work. It’s only a matter of days now. No longer the full immovable stop of uncertainty. In its place the anticipation of imminent reprieve offered by the sight of concrete, drywall, and a bit of hardwood crumbling together into a pile of dust to be wiped away and leaving clean the slate; the foundation of a dream.
To build that dream, first we have to tear down a bit of what was in place before. We are excitedly working through that process now at Juliet, and I am looking forward to sharing some of that with you along the way. Being the first time, I really don’t know what to expect. Oh, we have a plan. Plans actually. A through nearly Z. Developed with the help of advisors and informed by years of personal experience. I don’t anticipate the plan, or any of the contingencies even, will work out just the way we’ve worked out on paper. In this column you can look forward to an inside look at what it takes to get from the day we punched the first hole in the drywall to the day we prop the door open and invite you for breakfast (and lunch, and dinner). Katrina and I are looking very much forward to having you at Juliet; but for now, I hope you’ll enjoy this story of how we get there.