About a year ago (maybe, closer to 2) we got a new website; with the new site my blog got lost in the shuffle for a while. Well it’s back and I’m going to start with a post that Steve Kurland our business partner and the general manager in Kendall Square produced for EVOO’s 20th anniversary. At the time we had been periodically writing a spotlight about different employees. Steve would ask them a bunch of questions and I would write an intro with a few anecdotes about the employee and through in a few photos. For EVOO’s anniversary post Steve wanted to Spotlight Colleen and I.
I’m pretty sure that this post did go out on social media, so it may be old news to some of you. But I do think it should be in a blog since there is so much of our and EVOO’s history in it.
Spotlight on Colleen and Peter McCarthy, by Steve Kurland
I first met Colleen and Peter when I lived in Union Square. EVOO was just opening in its original location on Beacon Street in Somerville and I loved the place. The food was locally-sourced, unique, and of course delicious. It was the atmosphere though, that first attracted me. I could feel the love and care in EVOO. The staff truly cared, and everyone did their best to make EVOO successful. As a guest, EVOO was warm,welcoming, and customers quickly became regulars.
I soon became friendly with Peter and Colleen, so when I looked to get out of the corporate restaurant world, I asked if they knew of any opportunities at independent restaurants. Luckily, this was just as Za, in Arlington, was getting ready to open. so timing was perfect. It has been 14 years. and I am genuinely happy I found such great partners.
Colleen is one of the kindest people I know. She truly cares about all the people she comes in touch with at the restaurants. Long-time guests are friends, and Colleen goes to great lengths to take care of employees who need her help.
I admire Peter’s high standards and drive, but mostly appreciate his passion. He puts his imprint on the restaurant every day–through his concern for people, and for our environment. He has taught so much to so many, and has worked on sustainability long before it became the popular thing to do.
You are a proud and capable CPA. How were you drawn into the restaurant business?
Pete dragged me in… For years, Pete aspired to open his own restaurant. I knew he would someday open a restaurant but honestly didn’t think about how it would impact my career. At the time I was working for Parent, McLaughlin & Nangle, CPAs, and really enjoyed my job.
We opened EVOO in June 1998, and for the first two years I worked both jobs. I would work at PM&N during the day, and then head to the restaurant most nights. It was pretty exhausting (especially during tax season), but hey, I was only 29 and we didn’t have kids yet, so it’s what I did.
A few years in, the front of the house manager told us that she was moving on, so Pete and I talked it over, and I made the decision to leave public accounting and work at EVOO full-time. It wasn’t an easy decision, but a decision I’m glad I made. Of course, we weren’t sure about how we would be working together, but figured we’d give it a shot. It’s been great. As long he understands that I’m always right things will go smoothly!
As EVOO comes up to its 20th Anniversary, how is it different than you thought it would be in 1998?
I never thought we’d be operating in a larger space in Kendall Square, that’s for sure.
We opened ‘old’ EVOO on Beacon Street in Somerville. It was a 70 seat restaurant with a small bar and open cooking line. We had an amazing core staff and a lot of long-term regular guests. One of our regulars was developing the Watermark Building, and invited us to take a look at the space. At the time, our son Shane had just been born, and we had recently opened the first Za in Arlington, so I was in no position to take on that move.
A few years later, when the residential piece was complete, we were approached by yet another regular who was in charge of leasing the space at the time. This time around, the move made sense… so after twelve years, we moved EVOO to Kendall Square. The ‘new’ EVOO has 120 seats, including three rooms that can be private rooms. We also opened a second Za location in an adjacent space, with a shared bar. I’m not sure what I was thinking taking on this project when our kids were one and four, but it was a good decision. Kendall Square is a pretty cool place to be!
You are surrounded by your family and long-time friends at work. How did this happen?
First and foremost, I’m really lucky to work with my husband, Pete. The rest sort of just happened. Dan, my brother, was the first employee; he worked the bar a few nights a week to help us when we first opened.
Nina, who I’ve known since I was 16, and grew up with Pete, started working with us a few years later. Steve was a regular and friend at ‘old’ EVOO, and he became a co-worker when we opened Za in Arlington. He became a partner when we opened in Kendall.
Then, there’s a whole lot of people that started working at EVOO and Za who have become long-time friends. I joke I’ve known Tiego for over half of his life. We’ve even had a few nieces and nephews of long-time employees come to work for us, so that’s pretty cool. We are really lucky to have such a great bunch to work with!
Do you have a favorite all-time EVOO menu item?
The Garlic and Parsley Studded Beef Tenderloin with Sweet ‘n’ Smoky Onions, Sour Cream Whipped Potatoes, Carrots and Orange Béarnaise is my all time favorite EVOO dish. I used to joke with Pete that if he ever took it off the menu, our marriage may be over. He did take it off the menu for a short time (was he testing me??) because he wasn’t able to locally source the cut he wanted to offer. Thankfully, he was able to find a new source for local grass fed center cut tenderloin, so our marriage survived!
What do you look for when you go to other restaurants?
Good food and good service. Sometimes you want to just go out and grab a quick dinner, but the food should still be good and the service, welcoming and friendly (see pet peeve below!). Obviously, the restaurant has to be clean too. It’s always interesting to watch the way the staff interacts. My kids even comment on various things we see. We usually joke those are the things we discuss in the car on the way home.
What makes you crazy when you go to other restaurants?
My biggest pet peeve is when no one thanks me on the way out, or says goodnight. I find it especially frustrating when employees and managers are standing right there, but don’t acknowledge us, or bother to thank us. There are so many dining options, and feeling appreciated on the way out or not impacts whether or not I want to go back. It’s your last impression on the way out.
Who cooks at home, and what’s your favorite dish to make?
When he’s home, Pete cooks, we are pretty spoiled. Unfortunately for me, Pete’s not home most nights, so the nights I’m home, I’m head chef. I call myself a mom-cook. I cook pretty basic food, but I think I cook it pretty well.
Our son Shane (13) will eat anything, and I mean anything. He was the kid who wanted to try a fish eyeball when he was 11 (no thank you). And then there is Caitlin (10). She’s a little fussier, but she’s come a long way. The other day, I asked them what my best dish is. Shane said steak and cheese subs, and chicken piccata.Caitlin said homemade mac ‘n cheese, and fettuccine alfredo. We always make it a point to try to sit down for dinner together on the nights we’re home.
You have spent so much of your life and career working with and promoting local food and local purveyors. What motivated you to start working this way?
While working at The Bostonian Hotel in the 1980’s and 90’s, I was exposed to a few local farmers: Eva Sommaripa from Eva’s Garden, Verrill Farm’s, Ken Ryan’s Van, and Roger Jones to name a few. They were so passionate about what they were growing, I wanted to support them by buying as much as of their produce as we could use. It helps put meaning into what we do; we strive to be a part of our community.
As EVOO comes up on its 20th anniversary, how is it different than you thought it would be in 1998?
I don’t know, in 1998 we were just trying get by; there was a lot to figure out. We were mostly thinking day to day not really looking too far ahead. After a few years, we settled in and moved ahead, opening Za in Arlington. A few years later we moved EVOO to Kendall Square and opened a second Za location in an adjacent space. It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years will bring.
You are surrounded by your family and long-time friends at work. How did this happen?
They all threatened to expose me for what I really am. So, we’re stuck with them.
Where do you like to eat when you’re not working?
My favorite place to eat is at home, with Colleen and our children–whether it’s a simple meal on the grill, or an elaborate all day experience, there is no place I would rather be.
Do you have a favorite dining experience (other than EVOO and Za, of course)?
It’s sunset on the beach in Nerja, Spain. I’m with my brother Steve, brother-in-law Dan and a couple of friends, and we go into the beach-side bar and for some beer, and ask about food. The proprietor sends us out to the beach with our beers, assuring us food will be taken care of.
A few minutes later the proprietor is making a wood fire on the beach, stoking it, adding a bit more wood as needed, replenishing our beers. Once the coals are just right he brings a bucket of fish out to the fire. He skewers the fish on fairly thick planks, slits the skin to keep it from curling while cooking, and seasons the fish with coarse salt. He then jammed the planks into the sand, so the fish would lean over the fire, with their drippings creating a pleasant smoke while gently cooking them. All the while, he kept the beer flowing. When the fish was finished, he simply slid the fish off the planks on top of some crisp romaine lettuce, adding a healthy squeeze of lemon juice and a long drizzle of EVOO. It was so good!!! Quite often the simplest preparations are the best.
The other extreme would be upon visiting Paul Bocuse’s eponymous restaurant in Lyon, France, where the master himself met Colleen and I at the door with flutes of Champagne, giving us a wonderful personal tour of the restaurant, followed by a perfectly prepared and presented 8 course meal.
You mentor many people? Any hints for others, and did you have an important professional mentor?
Treat people how you would want to be treated.
Kitchen work is stressful enough; you don’t need some egotist with a tall hat and limited skills yelling at you, blaming you for their inadequacies.
Give good directions and constantly follow through with critiques that will make your cooks better. Understand that everyone is different, so you should find ways to use an individual’s strengths, and guide them to better their weaknesses.
Professional mentors? Billy Poirier was the Executive Chef at the Bostonian Hotel when I started working there in 1987; it was an eye-opening experience. My previous experiences at lesser quality restaurants, and at culinary school paled in comparison to the food being prepared at the time, which was, all made in-house with seasonal ingredients.
Other mentors whom I did not work with, but respect their work, are Gordon Hamersley, Jasper White, Lydia Shire, and Alice Waters.