Damon Lequin (almost) has a front-row seat for every home Red Sox game. Lequin, 40, has been a server at Kenmore Square’s Eastern Standard for more than seven years — a happy presence for people who stream in before the game and the late-night crowd that pours in afterward.
“What I try to tell [employees] in their first year is that the myth and the hype of baseball season is going to be missed upon you in the first couple months. The epic-ness of working at it will hit you in about August, when you’re still doing it. It’s still happening. People are showing up at 5:15, leaving at 7, then there’s a dinner crowd, then the game gets out, people show up, it’s still happening, then the industry crowd shows up at 12:30 still going, and it’s last call — and you have to muster up the mental fortitude to finish strong,” he says.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? That’s going to go back some time. In 1996, one of my first memories was eating at the Pour House on Boylston Street. I probably ate a burger. This was before I was even of drinking age!
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? I’d like to make it healthier for the service staff. I think one of the reasons there’s a lot of turnover, a lot of good service staff leave their restaurants or the industry as a whole, is that there’s this perception that it’s unhealthy or too much of a physical grind, or even an emotional grind. [We should] create stability in the workplace for professional development among those people. There have been people who have moved on to other gigs, and they could have done it for the rest of their life if they figured out how to crack the code or if the restaurant figured it out for them and helped them sustain that lifestyle.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you arrived in Boston? The volume of restaurants has changed dramatically. In Kenmore Square, when I got into Boston, there was still the whisper of The Rathskeller. It was pubs and high-end restaurants. There was the high and low, and this giant gap. Which is kind of where Eastern Standard comes in. It was such a cool addition to the restaurant scene wherein you could go in and get six oysters and a steak tartare and a glass of wine, and anyone could do it.
What other restaurants do you visit? I try to get out to a lot of them. The routine spots are Atwood’s in Cambridge, Lone Star Taco Bar, and I love Bergamot. That’s where I go for occasions. I love Audubon. It’s fun. Oh, and I gotta shout out Taberna de Haro. It’s a little cliché, but I’m in the industry, so I go out all the time. Oh, Snappy Patty’s in Medford, and A Tavola in Winchester.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? I was standing at the bar at The Country Club, my first job, and they were doing a wine tasting. We were tasting some really cool Burgundy at the time. I didn’t know anything from anything, and it occurred to me that this is fascinating — that you could go through a wine tasting and go from a glass of red wine and get all the way down to the soil it came from, the year it was produced, the aromatics, the climate conditions of that year, the producer. You could glean so much from what was sitting in a glass. It’s really transportive.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? One of my earliest ever, as a child, I was at a Denny’s with my grandmother and sister. It stuck out to me because my grandmother was so upset by the whole thing. Somebody was literally vacuuming in front of our table. She was taking us out to go clothes shopping, and there we were at Denny’s, and there was this guy vacuuming at our table. I wasn’t so put off by it, but my grandmother was like, “What is happening? The nerve of these people!” It always stuck with me.
How could Boston become a better food city? Houses and apartments and living scenarios are getting smaller. You end up sacrificing the living room. The living room is a luxury. The communal space is getting outsourced, and the restaurant is becoming that communal space. If restaurants could embrace that a little more, it would actually get more regulars . . . where it’s not so much about turning a table, it’s, “How can we have you stay here longer?” That creates more of a communal scene for the restaurant. If restaurants could embrace that they’re the international living room and build on that, you’d create more general goodwill and maybe even change the culture of what it means to go out to eat, because you’re not pressed to keep a table moving.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. Savvy — there’s absolutely a collection of folks who are quite savvy. There’s a family dynamic, and there’s the explorative, inquisitive crew, who is a little younger and Instagram-driven. So savvy, familial, millennial.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? Tapas isn’t the right word, but the multi-plate system. My girlfriend and I, when we go out, sometimes we just want to have an entrée. There’s not enough of that traditional appetizer-entrée scenario, which is why Bergamot sticks out in my mind: They have a three-course package on Sunday nights. That’s a little limited nowadays.
What are you reading? What am I reading? Gosh. I read all of the resources that come out of Eastern Standard from day to day to week to week. A massive beer list, massive cocktail list. All these things are constantly pumping out to keep us current and relevant. That’s where my reading is centered, it really is. Otherwise, I read stuff about nutrition and the whole natural food movement.
How’s your commute? Pretty routine. I just recently got a new car, and I went from stick shift to automatic because I realized literally a healthy percentage of my existence is going 2 miles per hour on Storrow Drive.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? I could live without octopus. It’s so rarely prepared properly. Even when it’s done right, it’s not that life-shattering.
‘The epicness of working [the baseball season] will hit you in about August.’— Damon Lequin, server at Eastern Standard
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? A couple more late-night spots. Uni does late night on Thursday and Friday, which is pretty awesome. Eastern Standard is open late and serves dope food until 1:30 a.m. I would love to get out at 12:30 a.m. and have half a dozen delicious oysters with a generous beer selection and craft cocktails. That would be great.
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? Hi-Fi Pizza in Cambridge. I used to live right above it, and it was just this cultural melting point of craziness. They were always open until 3 or 4 in the morning. All the bars had gotten out, the Middle East was closed, Central Kitchen was closed, and there they were all these Goth people from the nightclub down the street. . . . [There were] Goth people, drunk people, people from hip-hop nightclubs. It was a scene, with that bar food scenario, pizza and subs and chicken fingers at 3 a.m., and people hoping for a better day tomorrow.
Who was your most memorable customer? His name is Bert Dane, a single diner. I waited on him at Legal Sea Foods. I was there for five years. He was super-chatty, in his mid-to-late 90s. When I first met him, he had a cane, then a walker, and then it was the wheelchair. It got to the point where everyone in the restaurant knew I was waiting on this guy. He was so sound of mind, but annoyed with his age. He was actually quite awesome, and I’ll always remember him. One of his [sayings] was, “What is it these days? When you left someone a nice tip, it was 10 or 15 percent, then it was 20 percent, and now, if you want to be a sport, you’ve got to leave 25 percent!”
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? Eastern Standard’s pork blade steak smoked with applewood. It’s thick-cut, with a little fat and a little gristle, and super tender, juicy white meat. I’d absolutely end up at Eastern Standard.Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.