What’s in a move one door down the street? For Josh Lewin, Katrina Jazayeri, and their team at Juliet, it’s a necessary step to sustain their award-winning restaurant, but more than that, the larger space will help Juliet become a fuller realization of Lewin and Jazayeri’s original intentions. And it’s a way to engage the community, once again, in a crowdfunding campaign that proves fan enthusiasm for this next step in Juliet’s evolution.
In 2015, Lewin and Jazayeri first turned to Kickstarter to help fund the opening of Juliet in a little nook of a space — once a cafe, and earlier, a shoe store — at 257 Washington St. in Somerville’s Union Square. They had already begun to make themselves known through their pop-up, Bread & Salt Hospitality, but they didn’t yet have the name recognition that owners of a permanent restaurant might. Still, they were able to earn over $40,000 through the campaign and opened the restaurant that became Eater Boston’s 2016 Restaurant of the Year and a mainstay on the Eater 38.
This time, they were able to exceed their goal of $100,000 in just four days. With two days left on the clock as of press time, they’re currently around $130,000.
In five years, Juliet has offered many different dining experiences: casual cafe fare, a la carte suppers, upscale prix fixe menus with distinct themes that rotate every few weeks or months, a virtual “restaurant without walls” offering pandemic-era meal kit pickups with Zoom components, and more. (There’s even a gift shop next door, plus a growing collection of publications and multimedia works by the Juliet team.)
The menu has never really clung specifically to one cuisine — it’s more “a collection of our favorite things,” says Lewin, although he says that hints of his and Jazayeri’s travels through France and Spain have always been in the background. Even more than a specific trip, it’s the idea of a postcard sent home, representing what you discover on your travels.
Juliet has always been an “experiment” in its current space, says Lewin, noting that he’s been serving “essentially a tasting menu in a shoe store, partially by accident and partially out of business necessity.” In such a small space, a no-show can put a huge dent in the bottom line, so early on, the Juliet team introduced ticketed (prepaid) dinners that they refer to as productions. “Charging people for tickets, we have to be delivering to certain expectations, so that’s where the menu productions came from.”
But in a space under 1000 square feet, these elaborate productions never felt sustainable. “This thing is going to have an expiration date,” Lewin recalls thinking. “The concept is going to have to change some day, or it’s going to have to move or close. There’s no way that this is a 20-year plan.”
The new space at 263 Washington St., two and a half times larger than the old space, will allow the team to continue to move forward — while also zeroing in on a more focused culinary approach, primarily inspired by Nice in the French Riviera, which captured the hearts of Lewin and Jazayeri during an offseason trip. While it’s always been in the background, Nice will be brought more to the forefront in the new space — think of the main dining room as a Niçoise-style bistro, influenced by “that part of France where it’s half France, half Italy,” says Lewin.
“If I were to describe the flavors, you’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the Juliet menu.’ But we’re going to give it front-and-center billing in a way we never had room to before because we were so focused on that rotating dinner. As that takes a backseat, this will take a front seat, and we think that’s important to the community because that means you can count on Juliet being something on any given night, something we’ve never been able to do.”
That’s not to say the dinner productions are going away; they’ll have their own special dining room in the back, for which Jazayeri will change the feel of the space to match the current theme, and there will be multimedia components involved.
263 Washington St. fell into the Juliet team’s laps, says Lewin. They were six months into opening their restaurant Peregrine on Beacon Hill when a developer called about the space right next to Juliet. It happened to be the former home of one of Juliet’s regulars, Jerry, who had since moved back to Ireland. “That was our first exodus of regulars,” says Lewin, noting that the transient nature of Boston led to the loss of other regulars over the years, students leaving the city and such. “People keep moving on us,” he says. “This time we’re moving to Jerry’s house.”
So why turn to Kickstarter a second time around? $100,000 certainly won’t build the whole restaurant, but it allows Juliet to at least partially avoid taking funding from more traditional sources, such as investors and bank loans, that would impact Juliet’s profit-sharing with its employees in the long run.
If all goes as planned, the new Juliet might debut around fall 2021. As for the original Juliet space, Lewin says that the team is hoping to keep it for a yet-to-be-determined purpose, ideally food service of some kind. Before it was Juliet, it was Sherman Cafe, and Lewin could see returning to its cafe roots. “We pushed it so far past its limit,” he says, “but to be able to return to something a little bit simpler here would be ideal for us.”
Juliet’s Kickstarter campaign has two days left. “Have you ever considered supporting a restaurant through the pandemic with the purchase of a gift card? This is really all we’re asking for right now,” says Lewin. Kickstarter contributors can get rewards such as prepaid lunches and dinners, culinary coaching, and more.