I'm going to keep adding to this, but take a look at the progress on the bar! The wood came from Marc Poirier at LonglLeaf Lumber in Cambridge and it's milled right in Berwick. It's all reclaimed wood. Gorgeous. Wait til you see the Common Table.
A few visual updates to heighten the anticipation...
Awww! Look at those two! So cute. Partners in life...and now, in business. Would you work with your sweetheart or spouse every day and night? We have some great examples of restaurant couples on the Seacoast--Evan and Denise of Black Trumpet Bistro, Josh and Michelle from STREET, Mark and Clark from MCPerkins Cove and MCSpiedo...Well, when Ben and Jennifer wanted advice on how to work together as a couple, they went to a couple who've been working together in the restaurant biz for a long, long time--Rob Evans and Nancy Pugh. The former owners of Hugo's and then in 2005 Duckfat in Portland, Rob and Nancy were married after Hugo's opened, so they certainly knew that it was all working by then. Ben worked at Hugo's for a time so he and Jennifer asked Rob and Nancy what to expect and how they can best work together.
"When Rob asked me about the business he said, 'So, you're going into business with someone you're in a relationship with...it's awesome.'"
Rob told Ben that it's good to have two people moving in the same direction,with a common goal. He said it strengthens the business and gives perspective. You can grow together he told them and it is like being married. It can have its challenges.
Like Ben and Jennifer, Evan and Denise, Michelle and Josh, the women are in charge of the front of the house, the men the chefs (there's a topic right there). An ambitious chef and and ambitious business person, noted Rob, can be quite the combination. It's important, he said, to keep the communication open, to always talk, and be patient. Be kind to each other, he advised. There will be things that come up when opening a business and they don't always come at idea times, he said.
"He was very happy to hear I was opening a restaurant with Jen," Ben said. "He said it's cool to see couples opening businesses together because it's enriching. Just make sure there's time for other things."
What do you think? Have you or are you in business with your spouse or sweetheart? What advice would you give?
Planning the kitchen, making aprons, learning a POS, setting up payroll, hiring the people to pay...then there's deciding what bar stools to get (tall, no back so it's easy to get in and out), colors, cushions for the booths or not? What gets built next? Where to get the wood to make the bar? With so much to do, in such a short time, how the heck do you decide what to do next? Jen just looks at all the tasks and they figure out what they need to move forward with next and they check with the architect and contractor Louis Hamel---if he sees nothing in his realm they need to do, they just move on to what can be tackled next. When I visited, last Saturday, the decisions came quickly--maybe pillows on the benches (soft, colorful, and inexpensive. There's going to be a wall with a vertical garden, and on Sunday, family came over to help paint. That's how it all gets done, one task at a time.
Tid-Bit! Thistle Pig will be open for lunch and dinner five days a week and for brunch on Sundays. Interestingly, they'll be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday so folks in the industry can dine there on their Monday day off!
Yesterday I went on a fun field trip to South Berwick and got the Grand Tour of Thistle Pig, including the immense basement with so many of Ben's kitchen toys just waiting to be used in his in-progress kitchen. I'll do a full overview of the kitchen next week, including the funky cool ways they'll serve food like i little copper pots for dishes like Coq au Vin (if indeed that's on the menu--it's all still secret), and plenty of Le Creuset pans for whole roasted chickens and the like. I also learned about some fancy Sambonet spoons from Italy, which Ben has stashed away in that basement just waiting for their inaugural use in the kitchen.
I learned about the flow to the kitchen along with some innovative seating areas like little booths for waiting and for sipping drinks (Oh! Punch for Two served in a carafe and little cut class goblets from Ben's Grandmother--fun!--ok, off topic), and an area at the end of the bar with a booth that looks out to the street so you can lure your friends in while sipping and supping. But for now, a bit about color. I saw the walls getting primed for painting and on those surfaces will be Cornbread Yellow. the ceiling, made from material good for acoustics, is already painted a chocolate. The trim will be Coconut--it all sounds delicious! There will also be two parts of the restaurant--in both the bar and dining area which will be chalkboard for specials and such. And all around will be plenty of lovely wood to create a rustic and warm feel. Behind the bar, on the bar, on the common table, and even on the floors where the old black and white tiles will be replaced by wood laminate floors in a subdued rustic grey. All around there will be a brightness but a warmth as well. Jen said she, Ben, and designer Louis Hamel looked online for examples of what they liked in terms of look and feel and Louis came up with a Mood Book for designe and color. Even Pinterest was used for color and restaurant examples!
Jen went to Breezy Hill Farm today to make aprons with Betsey (Ben’s Mom) for the Front of the House staff. Jen found some comfortable khaki material at Joanne Fabrics which will really go with anything and be “homey”, too, creating that fun, comfortable feel they’re looking for in the restaurant overall. They measured, played server, and voila! The new aprons.
Oh, and if you or anyone you know wants to not just play server, but be one at Thistle Pig, they’re looking for Front of House and Back of House staff. Drop off resumes at 279 Main St. in South Berwick, Maine. They’ll be there today (Friday, April 4) between 2 and 4 pm, but just send Ben an email right here if you want to stop by another time and arrange a time to meet.
Lori Decato Metz, owner and designer at the local Idea Outfitters design company came up with this terrific logo for the new restaurant. Ben told me she came into the space weeks ago to get a feel for the place and a sense of who they are and what will be--she told him she could practically smell the food. That sense of who and what and where resulted in this innovative logo which is a bit of a rebus! I'll talk to Lori and find out more about her thinking behind this, but until then--sneak peek!
Rachel Forrest is the food writer and restaurant critic for The Portsmouth Herald, Seacoast Online and many other publications. She is the co-author of Maine Classics with James Beard Award winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier.