Dermot Quinn’s bakery, Greenhills in Adams Corner, opens at 5 in the morning and it’s still dark when the Irish guys start lining up for scones and breakfast sandwiches, waiting for rides with their construction crews.
Adams Corner is blue collar heaven, one of the best neighborhoods in the city, self-contained, urban but familiar, sitting comfortably between Ashmont and Neponset. There are vibrant local businesses, from the great tradition of John Stenson’s storied Eire Pub to the refreshing modernity of the gourmet coffee shop Jim Fallon opened on Adams Street last year.
They held their annual Irish festival last week. Irish tricolors flap next to the Stars and Stripes on neighborhood lampposts, and half the people walking around look like they just got off an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin. So it made complete sense to a couple of African-American guys from Dorchester named Jonathan Handy and Kari Person to open a soul food joint.
Soul food in the middle of the most Irish neighborhood in the city?
“The Irish guys love the collard greens and the corn bread,” Person says.
Handy and Person like challenging stereotypes. They ran a hot dog cart in the North End.
“Everybody said we were crazy, that we couldn’t get people to eat hot dogs when they’ve got all those great Italian restaurants,” Handy said. “But we gave people something they didn’t have.”
Their bruschetta dogs went over big.
But the fees they had to pay for the cart ate up profits. The monthly rent for their new restaurant on Adams Street, right across from Greenhills, is what they spent every week for the privilege of selling hot dogs in the North End.
They went looking for storefronts all over Dorchester, but it wasn’t until they hooked up with their landlord, Arthur Murphy, that they felt welcomed.
“Arthur’s the only guy who gave us a chance,” Handy says. “He’s been a straight up guy with us.”
Adams Corner is not short on places for fast food. There’s good pizza, good Chinese, good sandwiches at any number of places.
“We didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” Person said. “We wanted to do something different, create our own market.”
They decided that market was soul food and hot dogs.
Person knew the neighborhood well because his grandmother lived on Fuller Street in Ashmont. His mother grew up in Greensboro, N.C., which explains the Greensboro Chili Dog on the menu.
There’s only room for about 10 seats, so business is mostly takeout. One of their first customers was Marty Walsh, who’s running for mayor, so they created a Marty Walsh Dog. A Marty Walsh is full of mustard, ketchup, relish, and onions. Marty’s opponent, John Connolly, would say he’s full of something else, but I can’t print that.
“People are asking us to do more soul food,” Person said.
But they want to keep the menu limited, and hope to build a catering business.
It’s 3 bucks for a regular dog, and 5 bucks for a big dog that is a meal in itself. You can get a side of candied yams and black-eyed peas for $3.25
Handy and Person went to high school at the Burke, and they are sports nuts. Which explains why one of the photos on the wall shows Bill Russell and Kevin Garnett, the greatest Celtics centers of all time.
What it doesn’t explain is why the other photo on the wall is of “The Iceman,” George Gervin, a Detroit guy who played for the Virginia Squires of the old ABA before becoming a nine-time All-Star with the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls.
“Oh, that,” Person says. “It’s a long story.”
Here’s the short version: Person was on a cruise and he somehow decided, then and there, that he had to buy an autographed photo plaque of George Gervin. He paid $750 for it.
“You should have heard what his wife said,” Jonathan Handy said, rolling his eyes. “He’s lucky he stayed on that ship.”