A conversation with Ed Kane of Big Night Entertainment Group
If you’re a scenester, chances are you’ve partied at one of Ed Kane’s establishments. His Big Night Entertainment Group operates resto-nightspots such as Empire, The Grand, and Red Lantern. Kane, 58, will launch Mémoire (a nightclub) and Mystique (an Asian restaurant and lounge) at Encore Boston Harbor in the coming weeks. This fall, he’ll welcome celebrity chef Guy Fieri to Boston with his Tequila Cocina next to TD Garden.
What’s the first restaurant that you ever ate at in Boston?
Oh, my God. I mean, I grew up here. Did you know that? I grew up in Dorchester. My earliest memories are of going with my brother and my dad to the No Name. We would go to Café Marliave and the Parker House. And it’s amazing that those three restaurants are actually still there. But those are kind of the earliest ones. I had one of those moms who, on Wednesdays, she made lasagna. We had the same thing every day of the week. On Thursday we had the same thing. The next Thursday and the Thursday after. Friday was always fish Friday. I do remember creamed salmon. Salmon and cheese in a cream sauce.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry in Boston?
For me, it’s the perception that restaurateurs are not advocates and champions for their employees. Sometimes I think that there’s a sense in the community that we’re not all working together. All my relationships with friends and people in the business, I know that they treat their employees so well. I’ve had my first restaurant since 1989. We’ve offered health benefits since pretty much the day we opened. And I know how valuable that is, and maybe that has contributed to our success. Our employees are our greatest assets. We love them, we treat them well, and without them, we couldn’t survive.
What are the restaurants you visit when you’re not working?
I think that the standard for excellence in Boston is Mistral. It’s still my favorite restaurant, and it has been since pretty much the day they opened. But I go to Picco a lot, I go to Nebo, I go to Coppa a fair amount. My college roommate owns a restaurant in Melrose called Turner’s, so I go there every month at least. I go to Sweet Cheeks more than I would like to admit. I have it sent to me all the time. And then, I go to Bar Mezzana pretty much every month for sure. Maybe a couple times a month. Then, because it’s around the corner from me and I love the design and the people there, I go to Yvonne’s a lot.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think you might someday work in the restaurant industry?
My dad bought a bar when I was in high school. So, I started cleaning there, you know? I was the weekend cleaner in high school. Then, I graduated to a short-order cook, which means I worked the grill during lunch and dinners during summers. Then I began to cook there, and then I went to college. And during college, I was a bartender. And after college, I said, “I will never work in that business.” I hated it. I mean, I literally hated it because I did all the crappy work. But then I got involved with my brother, Joe, and we changed the bar that my dad was running and made it more of a sports bar during that time. More adventurous on the food side. I was like, “Oh my God, I love how you can influence people with such an immediate gratification.” People just loved it. That sense that you had a community around you. We had a softball team. So, my first food experiences that really shaped my idea of the restaurant business were at my dad’s place, obviously.
What is the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?
In general, my worst experiences involve service or hospitality. I can forgive everything else. I like to think that we do a great job, but the things that drive me the most crazy are when I have bad service experiences at my own places. And I know that doesn’t seem possible, but it happens sometimes. I’m very sensitive about how hard it is to work in the market.
How could the Boston food scene improve?
I think the Boston food scene is top five in the country, for sure. And I think it’s really advanced so much since the early days of Jasper [White] and Todd [English]. There was that transition period where it was Ken [Oringer] and Barbara [Lynch] and all the people who are still around. They’re amazing. So I think they’ve pushed the envelope, and now people are doing much more ethnic food, and the fast-casual stuff I like. And I think the mayor and the city have done an amazing job. I know that sounds kind of diplomatic, too, but I love that they’ve advanced food trucks, beer gardens, outdoor events. And I know some of my fellow restaurateurs don’t share that opinion, maybe because it’s competition, but I think it makes us a better city. If we’re a more vibrant food city with more diversity, then it’s better for all of us.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners.
Flexible, adventurous, and generally very hungry.
What’s the most overdone trend right now?
I know you’re going to laugh at this. It’s not necessarily a food trend, but I love beer gardens and I hate corn hole. Does every beer garden and outdoor thing have to have corn hole? I don’t get it. I don’t get the whole allure of corn hole.
What type of restaurant do you think Boston is missing?
I named my first restaurant after Stars in San Francisco, which was a Jeremiah Tower restaurant. I think the closest anyone’s come to that kind of atmosphere and great food and just that energy level that’s so over the top was when Todd opened Olives in City Square . . . that magnificent restaurant where you walk in and everybody feels great and looks great and the food is amazing. I wish for that restaurant all the time. I wish that I could create it. I just don’t know how you can. Maybe we don’t do those things anymore.
What are you reading?
Well, I’m reading construction documents and plans. But, as I brag to my friends, I’ve read 22 books this year. They’re all children’s books. Because, you know, I have a new baby. I have a 9-month-old. My favorite is “My Dad Is Amazing.” They’re all about eight pages.
How’s your commute?
My commute is always easy. I try to make it so that I live downtown. I’m kind of the kid who lives next to the school and is late for class. Right now, my projects are in Everett and the Garden, so it’s easy. It’s 12 minutes. I take an Uber or my motorcycle, or sometimes I walk to Encore, which is just about over 5 miles. I like to walk. I walk to the Garden all the time. So, my commute is easy. . . . I have eight motorcycles, so I ride them all.
What’s one food you never want to eat again?
Oh, balut. You know what balut is? It’s a chicken embryo. I had it one time when I was in the Philippines. I’ve been to the Philippines a bunch of times. And every time I go there, they try to get me to eat it again.
What Boston restaurant do you miss the most?
That’s a good one. I mean, again, it’s probably Olives, because I loved it. I loved that atmosphere and that vibe. So, maybe it’s that. I’m trying to think, what do I miss that is closed? I mean, I was at Harvard when the Tasty was there. So, I have great memories of that. I know they’re on different ends of the spectrum.
Who was your most memorable customer?
One night I got to sit down at dinner for a little bit with Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One car racer. He was dating Nicole Scherzinger. Do you remember her, from the Pussycat Dolls? A friend of mine knew them, and I got to go sit with them. Lewis was the biggest Formula One race-car driver in the world. And she was a movie star, a singer, and quite glamorous. So, I enjoyed that.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, where would you go?
Oh, boy, that’s a tough question. My last meal in Boston. I don’t know; it’s probably fried clams somewhere. I love fried clams. I love Neptune; I go there the most for fried clams. Probably fried clams at Neptune with a beer.