This week, Will Gilson announced that his long-anticipated restaurant, formerly called Bridgestreet, would henceforth be known as Puritan & Co. It’s in Inman Square. It will (finally!) open in October. There will be oysters and quahogs. People are excited, because he is Will Gilson, and he’s beloved and talented and part of the cool clique of media-savvy, madcap Boston chefs that includes Storyville’s Louis DiBiccari and Coppa’s Jamie Bissonnette. We wanted to know what kinds of emotions rankle a popular chef’s soul on the brink of launching a solo endeavor. Less time for fun pop-ups. No more cozy familiarity at his old neighborhood haunt, Garden at the Cellar. Gilson is now a man alone. How does it feel?
"Two emotions spike for me: one is sort of going through the highs and lows of hope and no hope," he tells Grub Street. "We bought this restaurant space back in January. We’ve gone zero to sixty back to zero three times. Every time you think everything is sorted out, another hurdle pops up. You miss a filing deadline, then you find something inside the space that now you have to fix. Money that would have been allocated to equipment or furniture or antiques is now going to, like, plumbing or wiring," he says.
Plus, the long lead time has presented a few staffing challenges: "The other thing for me is just trying to keep staff who want to work for us and the deadline gets pushed back and making sure they have a job, someplace they can be," the loyal Gilson says, to make sure "everyone opening up the restaurant is excited and firing on all cylinders. It’s OK if the owner is broke, it’s different. But their longevity is a paycheck."
Then there’s brushing up on the nuts and bolts of actually working in a kitchen again. "I haven’t been on a line in like a year. Do I still have it?" he laughs. He spent time at his parents’ Groton restaurant, the Herb Lyceum, to refine his technique. He’s also spent time "hanging out by the kitchen at Toro."
Gilson also plans a trip to New York City, at restaurants he’d prefer not to name, where he’ll take notes. "I want to pop in there. You’re not going to steal ideas; you’re just going to see someone’s process and just kind of see what the code of conduct is. To see how somebody drinks their Kool-Aid."
As for the Gilson Kool-Aid, well, the staff needs to drink it first. "We want a tasty batch of Kool-Aid that everyone wants to drink. One of the things is being able to take the educational approach to training your staff, not just being like, ‘Hey, make sure you push the fish!’ It’s about having a long pre-meal talking about where food is going, why we do what we do. informing my staff about the farms that we use and why we do it, so we can say that to the customer." The face of the restaurant will be general manager Chris Yordy, who’s worked at Temple Bar and Craigie on Main.
Last but not least, how does Gilson feel about the roiling restaurant versus food truck debate, spurred in large part by the Phantom Gourmet, who thinks the trucks should be confined to Boston Common? "It has been blown out of proportion. If a restaurant is really having trouble because a truck is there for three hours a day or whatever the city is allowing … if you can’t make it, and you have a bar, and you have alcohol, you gotta rethink things."
Gilson’s Puritan & Co. will launch in October at 1164 Cambridge St.