Last spring, Table & Main duo Ryan Pernice and Ted Lahey announced plans to open an Italian restaurant called Osteria Mattone on Canton Street. Since then, Pernice and Lahey have been busy with research—including an eye-opening trip to Italy. Below, Pernice shares plans for the restaurant, which is slated to open this fall.
How has the vision changed since you first decided to open an Italian restaurant?
Working for Danny Meyer to open Maialino, he told the opening team that ultimately you need three things to start a restaurant: a concept, location, and chef. You can start the process with two of those, but you eventually need all three. With Osteria Mattone, we had a killer location, and I had my chef [Ted Lahey]. That left the concept as the biggest gap to fill.
When Ted and I began thinking about what sort of concept we wanted to pursue, Italian seemed like a great starting point: There are no other Italian restaurants on Canton Street, and both our backgrounds have prepared us for such a concept. But “Italian” is really just a very broad statement of cuisine, not a concept. To fully flesh out our ideas, we spoke about a range of things: What is our precise brand of hospitality, and what sort of restaurant suits that? What sort of cuisine does Ted want to cook and what is he great at cooking? What sort of feeling do we want to evoke in our guests? We went on an Italian eating binge through New York and, more importantly, Italy. We ate our way through Rome, Naples, Bologna, and Montepulciano to refine the vision, visiting thirty-one restaurants in eight days.
In the end, we settled on building an “osteria” as the purest expression of the sort of warm, welcoming neighborhood restaurant vibe we want to offer. The great challenge and thrill for me is that Osteria Mattone must give our guests essentially the same feeling they get at Table & Main but through a completely different lens.
Can you explain more about how your trip to Italy influenced your plans for the restaurant?
I think everyone has a craze for the idea of “authenticity” in restaurants. We knew that in order to claim any authenticity in defining this experience, we needed to be able to say we’d been there ourselves and tasted these dishes, at the very least. What we found, somewhat surprisingly, was that the restaurant experience in Rome is very different from what guests might expect here. If we held ourselves to a strict definition of authenticity and airlifted a Roman trattoria into Roswell just as it exists in Rome, I don’t think it’d be hugely successful. Everyone’s definition of authentic may be a little different, go through a different lens. (To prove that point, get a group of Southerners from Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina talking about what authentic barbecue is.)
The greatest benefit of our trip to Italy, then, was in helping Ted and I figure out which aspects of that experience would best serve our guests in Roswell. We want to be faithful toward, and honor, the Italian cuisine we look to serve, but we also want people to feel a certain way. Our trip to Italy helped us refine and shape that lens of authenticity that we’re going to use.
What will the decor/atmosphere look like?
Upon walking in, the first thing guests will notice is a huge, dine-in wine room. We will showcase the bar and informal osteria on the left and a more formal reservations section of the restaurant that we’ll call the trattoria on the right. You’ll definitely see flashes of inspiration from our Rome trip, but the overall goal is to impart a sense of place without making it seem Epcot-ish. And “mattone” means brick in Italian, so definitely expect a lot of brick!
What are some planned menu items?
There will be a big focus on fresh pasta and wood-fired entrees, as well as some pizza, risotto, and other favorites from our trip. Ted and I both love cured meat and cheese plates, so those will certainly be a section of the menu. Although we don’t want to define the menu by a specific region of Italy, because of our experience and travels, there will likely be a strong Roman bent to the offerings: tonnarelli cacio e pepe, bucatini all’amatriciana, etc.
What challenges have you encountered thus far? How has your experience opening Table & Main impacted the way you've approached Osteria Mattone?
Ted and I are both intrigued by the challenge of building not only a restaurant but also an organization. We can’t be two places at once, so to succeed we must put together a structure that can support two separate restaurants. Opening a single restaurant is something we’ve both done before. Building an organization? Well, that’s something we need to be very thoughtful about.
To speak specifically to the management of the kitchens, Ted is definitely the executive chef of both kitchens. Ted sets the menu, manages those teams, ensures quality, and controls costs. Also, he will be on the line at Osteria Mattone. But, as he and I have talked about a great deal, we then need to find another person to steer the ship at Table & Main. That’s a big, big part of building the organization instead of just a restaurant.
Let's talk about the physical space. What's special about it?
The component of the design I’m most excited about is our dine-in wine room. Wine is a huge part of the cuisine and culture of Italy and a huge part of this concept. To symbolize that, we’ve custom built a 12-foot-high wine room with a tasting table in it for our guests to really delve into our list and try some exciting wines.
From Table & Main, our guests will notice the same informal versus formal setup to allow our guests to really customize their experience. There will be a beautifully landscaped patio out front for guests to enjoy year-round. And we have 32 parking spaces!
Roswell's dining scene has certainly grown a lot since you opened Table & Main. What affect do you think all of the competition will have on Osteria Mattone's success?
We wouldn’t want to open another restaurant here unless we could add something unique and delicious to the scene. As a 22-year resident of Roswell, I’ve always thought that we needed a killer Italian place. (Although don’t get me wrong; I did enjoy my two prom dinners at Fratelli’s.)
Canton Street is a bigger draw than any one restaurant, and there’s amazing understanding and support of that idea among all the restaurateurs. I don’t look at all this competition and think of it as money out of my pocket. The guests of Hicham [Azhari, who owns three nearby spots, including Little Alley Steak] today are my guests tomorrow and vice-versa. I want all the restaurants here to do well because that makes Canton Street a better destination.
Changing the subject a bit, you two are business partners. You travel together. You work together. Do you hang out outside of work, too? What makes your partnership work?
Partnerships are very, very tough. I think Ted and I have done well together because we quickly realized that our skills are very complementary, and, in that situation, it’s often best to let each other do what he does best. Make no mistake: We’ve had some strong disagreements, to put it diplomatically. We have before. We will again. But at the end of the day, we both have respect for the skills and experience each other brings to the table.
Anything else we should know?
Yes! I’m excited to finally say some big news I’ve been keeping to myself for a while: As I mentioned before, wine is a huge part of this concept. To really drive that part of the restaurant, I know I need a true wine professional whose wine knowledge and experience is far greater than mine. I’m very proud and excited to say that my brother, Dan, is moving home from New York to open Osteria Mattone with me. Dan has worked at Union Square Hospitality Group’s Midtown restaurant, the Modern, for the past four years. He’s been a sommelier in the Dining Room there for just over two years. The Modern won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service in 2011, and they just had a fabulous three-star review in the Times. This is definitely a big deal for me personally and a big get for the wine culture on Canton Street.