Two longtime members of Boston’s restaurant world are making moves to open a place of their own, taking over a familiar space in Cambridge. Husband-and-wife duo Conor Dennehy and Danielle Ayer have purchased the former T.W. Food (and briefly Self Portrait) space, and they’re prepared to put his experience as a chef and hers as a sommelier to work, opening a restaurant named for their infant daughter, Talulla.
Both have history with Tim and Bronwyn Wiechmann, the former owners of the 377 Walden St. space — Dennehy served as chef de cuisine at T.W. Food, while Ayer was briefly wine director there and opening general manager at sibling restaurant Bronwyn in Somerville’s Union Square.
After Self Portrait closed its doors in November — the short-lived sequel to the decade-old T.W. Food, which closed earlier in 2017 — the Wiechmanns approached Dennehy and Ayer with an offer to have them purchase the restaurant, and the couple was able to raise funds to complete the deal.
They’ve turned in all the licensing paperwork and will have a hearing with the city on January 24 to secure their operating license. Between six and eight weeks after that, they’ll have the opportunity to procure their full liquor license.
“That gives us a little bit of time,” Dennehy told Eater. “Ideally we’ll be able to get in in February.” At that point, they can organize the restaurant and potentially begin training staff in the middle of March, with a goal of opening sometime in April, depending on how the licensing process goes.
Those familiar with T.W. Food will recognize similarities in the food at Talulla, thanks to Dennehy’s tenure as chef de cuisine. But while Tim Wiechmann’s style was rooted in French cooking, Dennehy said the menu at Talulla will absorb his own background with not just French cooking but also techniques from Japan, Spain, and Italy.
“I like to incorporate that into the cooking as much as possible,” Dennehy said.
Talulla will be “more focused on our aesthetic, our service, and our food, 100 percent,” he added, “basically a combo of anything that we think is good and elegant and delicious and delicate.”
With a tasting menu and prix fixe format, Talulla will have everything from pasta and breads to pastries and ice cream made from scratch. Dennehy has producers and vendors in mind and will source anything and everything that’s new, fresh, and in-season for the ever-changing menu.
The tasting menu will feature seven courses, and there will be a prix fixe menu with five appetizers, five entrees, and a few desserts. They will reprint the menus daily to accommodate any ingredient changes, and while people will be able to order items a la carte, Dennehy said he’d love for people to come in and experience the whole menu, including “the warm service Danielle and her team will provide.” That said, there will also be world-class wines and a small classic cocktail program.
It’s a 12-table restaurant, so the staff at Talulla will be small in both the kitchen and front-of-house. Initially, Dennehy and Ayer plan to operate six days a week, saving Mondays for time to spend with each other and with their one-year-old daughter, the restaurant’s namesake.
“We want to be with her as much as possible,” Dennehy said. “Opening the restaurant is going to be challenging; we’re going to be spending a lot of time there.”
But, as the business gets off the ground, he said, they hope to find some more balance in their lives.
For now, as they prepare to make good on their longstanding dream of opening their own restaurant, they are running a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding for the final push.
“We’re in full-blown fundraising mode,” Dennehy said. “We wanted to set up this Kickstarter to raise whatever extra money we could. We almost have enough to get everything we need.”
That includes a little bit of cushioning that will allow them to stock the pantry, buy wine, and pay staff.
“Initially, we want people to reach out and help us out and be part of this experience,” he said.
“It’s truly going to be a reflection of who we are as a couple and who we are as a family,” Ayer said in a video on the Kickstarter page. “We’re very passionate about it and super excited, and we need all the support we can get, so we fully appreciate your time and your efforts and taking a look at what we’re doing.”
In the meantime, Dennehy and Ayer will keep running their catering and hospitality company, Belly to Bones, which provides all the fixings for small dinner parties and pop-ups at breweries and elsewhere. Ayer will also continune working as a wine captain at Menton.
Stay tuned for word on an official opening date as the couple secures licensing and funding, and take a look at the Kickstarter campaign, which will be running for the next 54 days.