Getting Salty with Puritan & Company chef-owner Will Gilson
Puritan & Company chef-owner Will Gilson launches Puritan Trading Company next week. The Inman Square “ghost restaurant” is adjacent to his current spot, but it’s delivery-only, with global foods designed to travel from car to couch: crispy chicken sandwiches, fried whole belly clams, scallop and linguica dumplings. Beats a pizza, right?
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? Probably Legal Sea Foods, the original Inman Square one. I came in with my parents and I ate a stuffie, I’m pretty sure, fish and chips.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? I think that Boston restaurants, at least like ours, are so dinner-focused that you have to try to give your best performance and accommodate everybody in the smallest window of time. It seems more often than not that we’re trying to make a day’s earnings from 6:45 until 9:15, and that’s a very small window for a restaurant that employs people all day long, 365 days a year. I think it’s the way people dine; dining out is still very much a focus in that window.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you arrived in Boston? Staffing. It used to be the easiest part. Ten years ago, when I got my start running places, you could always find someone to fit into the mold — talent might be somewhere on a spectrum. But now you never hear anything back. And the pay, rightfully so, has increased in correspondence to that. The spectrum of people you can get is different than it used to be. It used to be young and hungry cooks. Now the biggest competition that restaurants have with entry-level folks is Uber. [People] can make $15-plus by driving their own car, listening to their own music, and making their own schedule versus 10 to 12 hours a day in the hot, fast-paced environment of a restaurant. So they choose the path of least resistance.
What other restaurants do you visit? I love going to Sarma. I love going to Little Donkey and hanging out at the bar and getting whatever Jamie [Bissonnette] is cooking. And my favorite place to be, hiding away from all restaurant people — hopefully this doesn’t catch up with me — is the Stockyard. I live in Allston, and I think the Stockyard is the last bastion of great old Massachusetts bars. You get a drink in your hand in under a minute.
What’s your earliest memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? I spent one night working at the kitchen of Marcuccio’s under Charles Draghi in 1998. My dad had met him at a farmers’ market and offered for me to come in to spend a night in the kitchen to see if I liked it. That was it. I was addicted.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? I needed to charge my phone at Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Cancun last December. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Cancun airport, but everyone is partying like the world is about to end. The only place to charge a phone was at the bar at his restaurant. It has nothing to do with Guy Fieri or his food, but it had everything to do with the fact that there were people spilling tequila on me, bumping into me, and no inkling of hospitality. People just wanted to get as messed up as possible before going home.
How could Boston become a better food city? With rents becoming as expensive as they are, the product that you have to offer [needs to be] more crowd-pleasing. You’re fighting for market share, getting butts in the seats to pay the rent, and it inhibits the ability of younger chefs and restaurants to put out the concepts that they really want to put out. You’re trying to offer a broad spectrum to get more people to sit in the seats to get the money you need to pay the rent. If you had lower rent, you could be more creative.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. Loyal, price-conscious, and for the most part, adventurous.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? Poke and sushi burritos. I don’t get why you’d want to take beautiful raw fish and shove it into a burrito.
What are you reading? Sadly, I’m reading a lot of political blogs. I listen to a lot of “Pod Save America” podcasts. I used to be more excited about reading about the lure and fantasy of food throughout the generations and years. Now I’m more concerned about making the right decisions if changes in legislation come at me, and I have to adapt. I want to do right by my staff and keep my doors open.
How’s your commute? It’s great. I live in lower Allston. It’s a 12-minute bike ride.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? Sundried tomatoes.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? A restaurant like the Ace Hotel lobby in New York, with people co-working and being able to get everything from a coffee to an alcoholic beverage to a snack to a shared meal with a group of friends.
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? All the good ones are still open! Locke-Ober was a slice in time. That place was what restaurants tried to be for the better part of a century. It tried to be this amazing place where everything was polished, pomp and circumstance, and over the top.
Who was your most memorable customer? When we first opened five years ago, a customer left a receipt on the table that said, “Good luck; you’re going to close.” That was all the motivation I needed to sacrifice peace and happiness to make this place great and fill it with great staff and better guests. I wish I knew who that guest was. It gave me a lot of motivation to strive and be better.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? Foie gras nigiri and aged sake at O Ya.