Time Out Market Boston general manager Michael Minichello, 54, grew up in his parents’ bar in Quincy, shooting pool. As a teenager, he washed dishes and sliced melons at the Edmund Fitzgerald. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, he moved into restaurant operations and human resources jobs. “I eventually had a family, and got married. Back in those days, with independent people, you didn’t get health insurance,” he says. He worked for restaurateur Frank DePasquale, Legal Sea Foods, and Not Your Average Joe’s.
Most recently, he was general manager of Hub Hall, the food hall across town, before being wooed to the Fenway a year ago. The lineup has changed over time; Craigie Burger and Saltie Girl are gone, but star chefs like Tim and Nancy Cushman and Michael Schlow are still there, along with new draws, such as a pop-up from Urban Hearth’s Erin Miller. But Minichello is equally happy to dine at below-the-radar spots near his Norwell home.
What’s the same and what’s different at Time Out Market Boston after — can I say after? — COVID?
Pre-pandemic, the city embraced us. Business was booming. We were almost at capacity every day. It was new and exciting, because we were the very first food hall that the city of Boston had seen. We opened June 2019, and then March we closed. We reopened in August 2020 and then closed in January 2021, and then reopened. It’s been up and down. We had a slight advantage because of how big we are, and it’s an open space.
There were a couple of vendors who didn’t stick around. They were struggling to keep their brick-and-mortars open. It was hard for them. And there are some that have been with us almost since day one. Some are new. So we’re constantly trying to evolve.
Now there’s High Street Place and Hub Hall. What’s the differentiator for Time Out Market Boston?
I think the overall experience is the difference. We bring a higher level of hospitality. We’re serving things on china. It’s an overall experience where we’re offering some of the best in the city, and we’re constantly trying to evolve that. We have staff who come around and clear for you. We really try to provide as close to a full-service experience that you can get in a food hall.
We do a lot of curating with events. We have entertainment, cooking classes, little details that really make for a hospitable experience.
When you closed due to COVID, what happened? Did vendors still have to pay rent?
No. Everything just froze. I mean, we still had to pay rent. But no; everything went on hiatus. For us, it’s a partnership.
So you started your restaurant experience at a bar in Quincy that your parents owned. That must have been fun.
My parents owned a small, local bar in Quincy, the Washington Tap, so I grew up in the industry. I was able to shoot pool when I was 5 years old. I’d go down in the morning with Dad, cleaning up and doing things, and the old-timers would say, “Come here, kid, let me show you something.” I grew up in there; my parents had that business for over 20 years.
My parents would have open house on Christmas Day, where we would have the family dinner. And then after the family dinner, my mom would put out a whole other meal. The bar was closed, but then the house became the bar. It was all the regulars and all the people who worked for us. And, you know, they were all family. Hundreds of people would just come to our house throughout the night. It was just this amazing thing that my parents were able to create. And that’s what I try to create in the market, no matter where I am, that feeling of hospitality and belonging.
I have to ask: When your parents own a bar, do you get to drink underage?
Drink underage? No!
What restaurants did you go to growing up?
Sunday was family day. Instead of the traditional family day where your whole family is around the kitchen table, or the dining room table, we would go to restaurants, and we’d go to a different restaurant every week. When it was your birthday, you got to pick the restaurant.
There were all these local restaurants in Quincy: the Knotty Pine, Mr. Kelly’s. And then we would try to venture into the city. One great experience was the Bostonian Hotel. Everything had a silver dome over it, and waiters would come over and do the big reveal of everyone’s entrees.
Which Boston-area restaurants do you really miss a lot?
I tell people a story about a place called Mr. Kelly’s in Quincy Point that we used to go to. It was the experience, you know, that has always stuck with me in my career. It wasn’t the food. Mr. Kelly knew who you were. We came in, he knew every one of us, he knew my sisters. He knew me, knew when our birthdays were, he knew what grades we were in. That level of hospitality always stuck with me my entire life. I’m always trying to find that locally, wherever I go.
How did you break into the business?
I was 13 years old. I did odd jobs for my parents around the bar. There was a little place over by the shipyard that I worked at when I was young, like 12. When I was 13, I lied to the chef and told him I was 14, and my parents signed off on my work papers. I became a dishwasher, washing pots and pans, and I was fast, and I was thorough, and I was good. I got everything done. What now? And they’d be like: “Make five tubs of melon balls; shuck this bushel of oysters.” This was at the Edmund Fitzgerald.
How has the Boston restaurant scene changed since you first started out?
When I was coming up in the industry, many, many, many years ago, there was a distinction between restaurants. You were either this family-style, Ground Round-type restaurant, or you were fine dining, the Bostonian. Now palates have evolved, people have evolved, the restaurants have evolved. There’s this higher level of experience that you’re getting in all facets of the business, even in quick-service.
I think the consumer is more educated, and they know what they want. And they’re also willing to explore more and try new things. I think everything’s more middle-of-the-road. Like the new restaurant that Ken [Oringer] and Jamie [Bissonnette] opened up, Faccia Brutta. You know, the food’s exquisite, it’s high-level, but it’s not stuffy where you feel like you have to be in a suit and tie in the restaurant. Food has become so much more approachable for people, and restaurants have evolved to embrace that.
Any new places coming to Time Out Market Boston that we should know about?
We’re in conversations with people constantly. So, yes, there are new things coming, but nothing that we’re looking to announce right now. We do pop-ups. Erin Miller [from Urban Hearth] is coming mid-September through October. And that’s going to be very exciting. … Erin has been doing amazing things. She just received an award for Queen of Seafood, an amazing seafood competition down in New Orleans, I believe. That may lead to something more, or it may just be, she comes in and does a pop-up.
Obviously, there are Time Outs in various places. I’m assuming that each Time Out is representative of the city where it’s located. From a food perspective, how would you categorize Boston?
For us, it’s there’s something for everybody. You’re not going to get clam chowder and a lobster roll in Lisbon. Everything we have is local, even the beer. The largest brand that we have on tap is Sam Adams. It’s a quality product, and it’s Boston-based. Every other beer we have is a local craft brewery.
If you could have any vendors at Time Out Market Boston, who would they be?
Ideally we would have a team of Boston-based Iron Chefs who create a different collaborative concept every two months. It is close to what we are trying to do with our pop-ups.
What are your favorite local places?
I live in Norwell, out in the ‘burbs, We like Trident Galley and the Parrot down on Nantasket. Salt Society in Scituate is a really nice restaurant. Right up the street from our house is a little local place called Cheever’s. I can practically walk there. Square Cafe just opened up a new place in Hanover, right in Previte’s plaza. For me, that’s my old home. Joe Previte is a longtime friend; I used to walk to his father’s meat market. I’d get the veal for my mom, and he would just take the leg out, slice it off, and then pound it out right in front of you: “Here you go, kid, bring this home to mom.” Those are the things that I cherish and I hold on to, and I try to get that everywhere I go.