Under the Table and Dreaming

Starting this week, I’m embarking on another string of themed posts. As you may have read (and if you didn’t, and want a laugh, you should) during the London Olympics I challenged myself to learn (or at least attempt) various olympic events. And this post marks the beginning of what I’m calling my “Foodie Fables,” except there won’t really be a moral to any of these posts, and the only animals involved will be those you eat, but I like alliteration too much to let details get in the way.

I think every foodie has daydreamed of opening their own restaurant or bar, but very few ever do. This week I was lucky enough to hang out with a couple as their dream came true: the opening of their first bar and grill. Warehouse, on Broad Street in the Financial District of Boston, officially opened a few days ago, but it was years in the making for Cliff Dever and his wife, Toni. But like most of the people I meet writing this blog, they followed their passion…away from secure corporate jobs, into the volatile restaurant world.

“Every guy wants to own a bar,” Cliff told me last weekend the afternoon after his first customers celebrated their soft opening. There had been about 150 people in the night before, many of them investors and friends. It had been two full years since they took their first steps towards opening Warehouse—the Dave Matthews Band fans named their place after one of the band’s songs—and as he looked around at his dream coming true, he told me he started to tear up. “Get your shit together,” Toni told him.

warehouse 3

Cliff and Toni had very different day jobs when they first hatched the idea of opening their own place. He was in biotech, she was at Morgan Stanley, but both moonlighted as bartenders.  In August of 2011 Bakey’s, the Financial District institution closed, and the space on the corner of Broad and Water Streets became available. The Devers quickly got investors lined up and secured the space. Cliff and his Dad started demolishing the interior to make way for Warehouse. Six months later, with the discovery that the building was old and in worse shape than initially thought, Warehouse found itself without a home.

Lucky for the couple, a larger space became available right across the street. They transferred their liquor license to 40 Broad Street and started planning for this new incarnation of Warehouse. In the Bakey’s location Warehouse was to come to life in an old school way, with exposed brick walls. But in the more modern space across the street, Warehouse would take on a more industrial look and feel.

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It was a raw space when they signed the lease, so in addition to being a bar owner, Cliff said he had to become an architect and engineer as well. The couple eased into two distinct roles: Toni had interior design ideas, and Cliff would do research and bring her ideas to life. They really had to start from scratch with HVAC systems, kitchen electrical work and the aesthetics. Warehouse has industrial concrete floors, stainless steel-looking walls, grey leather booths, a splash of bright green in the form of bar stools, a poured concrete bar and gorgeous polished nickel light fixtures from Restoration Hardware.

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An even bigger challenge than the décor was finding the right chef. Toni, a foodie, had created a menu that I can only describe as new twists on reliable sports bar fare. Her aim was to appeal to both the business lunch crowd, as well as the football-watching crowd. They just needed someone to bring their ideas to life…on a plate. Cliff said he interviewed 30 chefs before they met Nathaniel Durost an alum of Stephanie’s on Newbury. Nathaniel loved the menu Toni created and built recipes for selections that range from game-time apps, perfect for sharing (baked kale and artichoke dip), healthy and unique salads (grapefruit and arugula), new takes on comfort food (a grilled mac and cheese sandwich) to entrees that will make you look twice (Cajun gumbo with gator meat).

Warehouse also has a robust drink selection that includes a collection of cocktails (like the establishment itself, all named after Dave Matthews songs), plus beer and wine on tap  Yes, wine on tap. Eight to be exact. The wines are stored in steel barrels which allow them to remain peak freshness, plus it cuts down on waste, and is better for the environment.

Warehouse's beer...and wine on tap

Warehouse’s beer…and wine on tap

Toni hard at work last night

Toni hard at work last night

I visited Cliff and Toni again last night to see how the first few days had gone. From behind the bar, with a bustling happy hour crowd in front of her, Toni reported they had to stop letting people in on Saturday night, Warehouse was at capacity. Surveying the scene, Cliff said the last few days had been gratifying and humbling at the same time. When I asked him what the best parts of the last few days had been, he took a moment before responding. “Seeing people here enjoying what we brought to life,” he said. “And the smile on Toni’s face.”

Cliff and Toni, happy bar owners

Cliff and Toni, happy bar owners

While opening a restaurant is a little too complex for me to try myself, I did get a CliffsNotes version (literally from Cliff himself) of all the elements–big and small–that go into such a huge endeavour. And once again, I was able to get a front row seat to see and hear how someone followed their heart, and gut, to pursue what they are truly passionate about. Well look, maybe this Foodie Fable has a moral in it after all…

Thanks go out to Cliff and Toni Dever. Warehouse is now open for lunch and dinner at 40 Broad Street in Boston. Check it out!

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