CO-OWNER/DIRECTOR | BROADWAY RESTAURANT GROUP BOSTON
rowing up, I was wild. I didn’t listen very much and always wanted my way. I was totally spastic, constantly active, and never owned video games. I loved sports and being on a team. The only thing I focused on was being outside and being with my friends.
Typically, at that age, your priorities should be academics, athletics, and then your social life. Unfortunately, mine was the reverse. High school was tough academically.
I went on to do a post graduate year at Northfield Mount Hermon, which was probably the most beneficial nine months I’ve ever had academically. It was all thanks to my English teacher, Dona Inglehart. It was the first time in my life that I truly learned how to learn.
After NMH, I played a year of junior hockey. I had convinced myself that I would have a far more reaching and successful hockey career than I was actually physically capable of or focused on. After the season was over, my parents sat me down and pointed out that I’d have seven months off until I had to head to Elmira College to try and play college hockey. My parents explained to me that this was the only time in my adult life that I’d have seven months off.
So, with that advice in mind, I drove cross-country with a buddy of mine. We took the southern route, and I learned more about myself by the time we got to Maryland than I had in 20 years. I wasn’t all that well traveled and it was just super cool. We got to see the whole country, meet amazing people, and have an absolute wild ride.
We visited Arizona State University to see a few of our friends, and stayed there for 3-4 nights until my buddy flew home. I finished the drive to Hollywood to stay with a kid I’d grown up with, and that’s where I stayed for the next seven months. I got my first job out there in a bar at Barney’s Beanery. It changed my life. I was so incredibly fortunate to work at a place with such a supportive group of people. I was picking up trash, bussing, and doing delivery. I kinda did whatever they wanted me to do. I just showed up, they paid me, and laughed at my bad jokes.
Barney’s had a badass demographic. It was a cool, young, relevant Los Angeles bar. There was great food and an even better vibe. One night I remember looking around the room and thinking how everybody working there was making a bunch of money, smiling, having fun, and getting along.
It was the first time I could quantify the possibility of making a living throwing a party.
I realized that the only thing I was ever any good at was throwing house parties, and I knew I wanted to do that for a living. Ever since then, I’ve been doing something in a restaurant.
Once the summer was over, I headed to Elmira, a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. It’s an awesome place to go if you’re an athlete. I had a couple of realizations while I was there: one, I didn’t have a ton of interest in college hockey, and two, I wasn’t that good of an athlete.
Right before winter break, I remember thinking about where I was six months earlier, living in West Hollywood with four guys on air mattresses, just figuring it out and being super friggin’ independent. My experience in LA took me beyond what Elmira could offer and it was just the wrong fit afterwards.
Having stayed at ASU, I knew that it was a better fit. It was in the Southwest, had great weather, and great people. It was really a no-brainer. After having so much independence, a larger school made the most sense. The best thing for me was to be at a place where I could just be a number and figure things out on my own. So I transferred.
While at ASU, I worked in on-premise marketing for Anheuser-Busch, meaning we did all the on-premise activations for bars, nightclubs, and sports bars. It was super cool to be surrounded by people who were making a living in restaurants. I had the opportunity to manage a team of close to 20 people, who were all a lot older than me. I think I learned more in the first week of that management role than I had in the last few years of school.
After college, I learned that a close buddy of mine was investing in a bar in El Segundo. So I moved back out to the LA area, bartended at his joint, and kicked around a couple of day jobs for the next few years. Ultimately, I woke up after about two years and knew it was time to come home to Boston.
I decided to move home with no plan. I was 26. There was no plan.
When I got back to Boston, I reached out to an old friend, Lanie Donlan. She hooked me up with a job at Whiskey Priest and a second-floor apartment in her three-family home in South Boston.
“A lot of success is about timing and if you’re willing to dig in when the opportunity arises.”
I was nervous about whether Boston had enough to offer me, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The truth was, in all my years traveling and living independently, I had never experienced what it’s like to be apart of a neighborhood or understand its culture and how the social and restaurant scenes moved. It was as exciting for me to come back to Boston and learn all that as it was when I first moved to LA.
I was super happy bartending at The Whisky Priest. I even met my wife, Molly, working there; she was working as a server while in Nursing School. I loved that there was a great staff, an awesome ownership group, and management team to work for.
I think that when you have a goal to continue to grow in an industry, there’s a life cycle to everything that you do. My life cycle at Whisky Priest happened to be three summers. After that, Laney introduced me to Eric Aulenback, my now business partner, when Lincoln was about halfway through construction, in July 2012.
Eric and I had a really similar background. He grew up in Belmont, was an athlete, went to a small school, transferred to a big school, and did a post-grad year. I think we both saw a lot of ourselves in each other.
When I first met him, he showed me what Lincoln was doing on West Broadway in the heart of the neighborhood, and I saw that it was an amazing opportunity. Eric asked me to come manage the bar, and I thought, “Hell yeah.” I was just happy to be a part of it.
I think in this business, a lot of success is about timing and if you’re willing to dig in when the opportunity arises. Lincoln was a serious business right off the bat. We didn’t expect the incredibly humbling reception we received from the neighborhood over the past six years. The partnership and friendship between Michael Conlon, Eric, and I continued to grow through that.
Livin’ Out The Dream: Loco
We had a great opportunity to buy the space across the street from Lincoln. After spending so much time in the Southwest, I was super confused about why there wasn’t a place in Boston that just helped you relax. A place with good hip-hop, great Mexican food, a good vibe, and fun margaritas, you know? A place that was super warm and welcoming but also had a bit of an edge to it.
I’ll never forget it. Eric and I went down to Castle Island, a spot we go to when we really gotta talk. I’m sitting there and basically pitching my idea to him. After I was done, he asked one question, “What kind of music do you play?”
“Hip-hop,” I replied without hesitation.
“Well…If you already know what kind of music you’re going to play, we’re onto something”.
From there, Loco was born.
Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever do anything as confidently as we did Loco. I’d been so inundated with the concepts for so long that we had a lot of the answers right off the bat. We knew what our options were in most situations.
When I opened Loco, I was out of money. I think that’s kind of normal as a restaurant owner, but it was just the three of us (Mike, Eric, and I). The point is to take the shot. The rest will follow. Ever since my experience at Barney’s in LA, my goal has been to open my own restaurant. I had some money saved, I wasn’t living a lavish lifestyle, I was living in the basement of an apartment on E 5th Street with five guys, and rent was cheap.
I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go into a partnership with two guys I truly trusted and respected. I essentially had a board of advisors right off the bat, in a location that I’m super comfortable with. What the fuck else was I saving for?
Loco is what I was saving for.
I wasn’t saving to buy a house; I had no interest in a conventional path at all. I had worked a ton of hours and sacrificed a lot to have a little bit of a cushion to take that shot. On January 20th, 2015, we opened Loco on my 31st birthday and I was BROKE. Fortunately, people wanted tacos and oysters, so it’s all good. We keep grinding away and trying to keep it as full as possible.
Opening my first restaurant was absolutely terrifying. Every day comes with a totally different emotion. You go through, “I’m doing the right thing” to “What the fuck am I doing” on a daily basis.
During the construction process, we were a bit over budget and had to make a few changes to enhance the guest experience. Looking back, I can’t believe that was even a conversation. But at the time, when you have it all on the line and costs keep rising, your brain goes into survival mode. Every day was incredibly exciting, empowering, and terrifying at the same time—it was awesome.
Nothing’s guaranteed. I think that attitude’s served our teams well. We’ve been so humbled and fortunate to have the outpouring of support from the South Boston community. Everything that we’ve done in Southie has been based on opportunity. There wasn’t some grand plan to have a bunch of restaurants. The opportunities presented themselves and we continued to grow from there.
When you have an off night or an off week it’s easy to think, “Come on, what are we doing?” But it’s great to have those challenges, because it forces internal reflection. During those times, we have to look inside ourselves to find out how to be better and make sure more people want to be a part of this thing.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is from an old friend the day we opened Loco. He casually said, “Just don’t fuck up the easy stuff.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Smile, be nice, meet problems head-on.
If you’re having challenges in your restaurant that are going to affect the guest experience, deal with them. Make sure your team feels empowered to deal with problems themselves. Make sure you have the right music on and the right lighting. Make sure the staff is happy to come to work. That’s the easy stuff. If we do all that and we work really hard at it, the rest will take care of itself.
When Fat Baby opened, I was in the restaurant every single day. I recently took on a new role of Operations Director for all four restaurants in Broadway Restaurant Group (Loco, Lincoln, Capo, and Fat Baby). The most challenging thing for me was realizing that I couldn’t affect everything anymore. I had to instead empower my staff to have a plan and follow through. What’s been exciting for me to watch, even more than the growth of the restaurants has been the growth of people who have been with us for a long time. It makes me really happy to see.
Are there challenges? Hell yeah. We keep it light and we tackle them head on. We have the opportunity to throw a party every single day, and that’s awesome. We have such a unique and wonderful group of now 450 employees on the block between the four restaurants, it’s incredible.
I can honestly say I’ve never had a moment where I’ve thought, “This isn’t right. This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.” I love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like work. This is what our entire team loves.
I’m kinda torn on the concept that it’s impossible to operate a functioning and long-lasting restaurant. I think there’s some crazy stat that 90% of restaurants close in the first three years. But you know what? Most of those restaurants that closed probably shouldn’t have opened in the first place.
I think if you do your time, learn the industry, study what makes restaurants work, and be really diligent on picking the right locations, it can be the best business in the world. I think that too many people get discouraged by everyone thinking it’s hard.
Life’s too short to not take a risk because something might be challenging.
If you do it right, if it’s really well thought out, if you build an amazing team, it’s not work, it’s fun. There will always be long days and long weeks, but I’d rather do 16 hours in our restaurants than five hours in a cubicle.