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Branding Is Tough, and Grease Traps Are Nightmares

Plus, Nookie’s not listening to your pinball pleading

Nookie’s in construction mode
Nookie’s in construction mode
Steve Postal

Welcome back to On the House, a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to open a restaurant — or several. In 2013, Steve “Nookie” Postal shared weekly glimpses into his experience opening Commonwealth in Cambridge, and now he’s back as he works to open two cafes (Revival) and a beer hall (Mothership), all while keeping Commonwealth up and running. Keep an eye out for new installments of On the House on alternate Fridays.

Ugh...writer’s block, maybe, or procrastination. Maybe I’m too busy. Maybe this is too much. It might be; time will tell. This is hard. There are parts that are fun. I’ve said this before: I do love what I do, I truly do. The hospitality business — I love it. I love going to work every day. I don’t know what else I’m qualified to do. I can’t even imagine having to sit in a cube; I think I would go crazy.

Doesn’t matter. Here we are, doing it again.

It’s a lot this time: lots of emails, architects, designers, lawyers, and lawyers, and lawyers. Why? It’s annoying. I don’t like lawyers. I mean, I like my lawyer, because, well, I guess he watches out for me, and he takes amazing pictures of birds and butterflies.

But it’s too much. I just wish it were simpler. Sign here: It says “Don’t be a douchebag.” And then the landlord signs it and also agrees to not be a douchebag, and everything is great. Clearly not reality, but that would be great, wouldn’t it?

Do you ever feel like you can’t get anything done, like you have too much that you can’t even fathom starting? That’s how I feel. I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything. But things are getting done. Licenses are being applied for. We are starting the branding process. That’s a doozy. We met with three designers, all great. Picked AXC Studio. They are friends with my consigliere, Johanna (director of finance and planning is her official title, I believe). She kinda runs all the money, and she is awesome. Anyway, it’s her friend, and they have done some work for Commonwealth in the past.

But branding: It’s hard. I mean, I can’t draw. I’m bad. If I drew a dog, you would be like, what the fuck is that? But I have a clear vision of what Revival is. It’s warm, inviting, energetic, and comfortable, your quintessential neighborhood cafe 2.0. But how do you make that into a logo?

We got a questionnaire that was helpful. What are brands you like? What are brands you dislike? Do you prefer color or not? Script? Typewriter print? The list goes on. It’s a process, and I’m pumped to see how it comes out.

So where are we really at? We are in full-on construction mode. Pictures show the story; we are looking at Alewife here:

Holes for grease traps
Holes for grease traps
Steve Postal

Huge holes were being dug by this wicked cool bulldozer/digger/construction thing. It was remote-controlled on this dude’s belt. I wanted to ask to use it, but I was too scared; it was, like, the biggest remote control car I ever saw. That dude looked happy driving it — he knew he was boss.

Anyway, the huge holes are for the grease traps. My feeling on grease traps is that they should be like referees. I’m happy we have them; I just wish we never saw them or heard from them. There are always problems in restaurants. Always. All of them. Every single restaurant ever invented. And when you have problems with a grease trap, those are not good problems to have. Your AC goes out? Okay, I’m sorry it’s hot. Your grease trap leaks a bunch of less-than-stellar-looking goo through a garage ceiling into an open brand new BMW? Yeah, that wasn’t super great.

And when they back up, and they do, well, that really sucks too. I remember being in the back corner under the dishwasher in the tightest corner ever invented with a grease trap at Oleana...that was a fun time.

Better make sure those fucking grease traps work, I yell to no one, because they are already trying...but seriously, don’t fuck this up.

A beer hall crawl in a limo
A beer hall crawl in a limo
Steve Postal

So what else? Went on a beer hall crawl around Boston in a limo with glowing lights and a driver — that was pretty cool. Some of these places are really in the middle of fucking nowhere.

I really liked Idle Hands. Beautiful from the outside. Lamplighter. Gorgeous. I always admired that space. Down the Road is for sure down the road, but it has kind of a cool, funky vibe. I’m trying to get inspiration for Mothership.

Everyone keeps asking, what the fuck are you doing anyway? Let me spell it out. In Alewife, opening a cafe called Revival — gorgeous, huge open kitchen, windows wrapping the whole thing, patio. And adjacent to the space is Mothership; that one is more a work in progress. Probably 16 beers on tap, maybe less, maybe more. Games — shuffleboard for sure. Worrying that Skee-Ball might be too loud. Thinking Pop-A-Shot. Still, despite the vicious attacks, there will be no pinball. If you like pinball, Down the Road has an impressive display. But there will be no pinball at Mothership, final answer.

Televisions. A great food program. We aren’t talking next-level cuisine here; food is going to be solid, not groundbreaking. Sausages, pretzels. I think we need a smoker. Now I’m stressing out: We totally need a smoker. Maybe an Ole Hickory. Liza, we need a smoker. Yes, officially stressed. We need a smoker for sure.

Mothership planning
Mothership planning
Steve Postal

And Davis Square — another Revival there. I almost forgot about Davis. How the hell am I going to do this, and how could I forget about Davis? I have been there every other day with a giant flamethrower, trying to keep the pipes from freezing.

There are, like, a million other things. I’ll tell you what: I’m glad I’m only writing this every other week. I did manage to get to my sons’ winter concert; that was pretty awesome. They both did an amazing job. Eli fainted off the back ledge once, so watching them is always a little nerve-wracking. Oh, oh, oh, there he goes. He’s going down. Oh, nope, just an itch, he’s fine. I’m sure I’ll get over it someday.

But there’s a lot to do. There was an auction this week that I missed. Gonna have to start going to visit my friend Senior over at E.F. Smith & Son. That’s always one of my favorite parts, but it’s a lot. When I opened Commonwealth, I didn’t have a job at that point, so it was all I did, but now I have a lot more going on, and it’s challenging trying to balance my time. Commonwealth, Crema, Revival Alewife, Revival Davis, Mothership, my family, my friends (ha, if I have any left)’s a lot. It stresses me out. Sometimes I don’t sleep so well. Sometimes I sleep pretty well.

Still a ways to go; I need to slow down a little. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the finish line is nowhere close. Just one foot in front of the other. A few zig-zags, but hopefully moving forward. Toward what? No idea, but we are on our way.


, Cambridge, MA

Crema Cafe

27 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138 (617) 876-2700 Visit Website

Revival (Davis Square)

197 Elm St., Somerville, MA 02144

Commonwealth (Cambridge)

11 Broad Canal Way, Cambridge, MA 02142 (617) 945-7030 Visit Website

Revival (Alewife)

125 Cambridgepark Dr., Cambridge, MA 02140 Visit Website