Closed since August 2015, the Hamilton restaurant Clementine quietly reopened late last month, said chef and co-owner Winston Blick.
He admits that opening the doors again around Christmas was “quite possibly the worst time to open anything,” but Blick said he’s reinvigorated by Clementine’s return.
“It’s progressively gotten busier, and we anticipate tonight to be pretty busy,” Blick said. “It’s hard, it’s stressful and all that, but it’s fun. I was able to remember the fun.”
Blick said he and his wife, co-owner Cristin Dadant, initially closed Clementine because they were burnt out from overworking and tired of not seeing their now-11-year-old son enough. So they chose to focus solely on catering — a decision they quickly regretted, partly because it wasn’t financially viable and also because they missed operating the restaurant they opened in 2008.
“We didn’t realize completely how much of an impact we had on people, or how important we were to the community,” he said, noting that Clementine will offer catering. “From minute one, [the closing] just felt weird.”
Blick and Dadant knew, though, that changes were necessary.
The restaurant restructured its business plan after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April. Since then, Blick and Dadant brought on a new silent business partner, and raised just under $8,000 via an online fundraising campaign.
This time around, turning a profit is a much higher priority, he said.
“We’re not business people. We’re in our late 40s, and it’s going to be hard to learn, but I want to learn more and understand more,” Blick said. “But we knew without any advice that we needed to cut down on payroll and labor.”
Such tweaks have already been implemented. There were 34 employees before the restaurant closed, and now there are 10, Blick said. The kitchen is also cutting back on portions, and offering two versions of entrees at different prices — one smaller, one larger.
Another change is the number of seats, down from 89 to 75, he said. Before there were two dining rooms, but now there is just one, on the bar’s side. Blick said the paring down of staff and seats has led to better training and more streamlined execution, which has resulted in shorter wait times for food.
What hasn’t changed, Blick said, is his emphasis on locally sourced comfort food, including items like chicken pot pie, whole-roasted rainbow trout and a dish titled “Winston’s World Class Meatloaf Redux.” His inspiration remains the dishes his grandmother served.
“We’re not trying to be new American and throw every baby vegetable we can on the plate,” he said.
The bar program also features more local and regional selections of beer, wine and spirits. Expect to see beers from Waverly Brewing Company in Hampden, for example.
Describing the past year as “brutal,” Blick said he lost “a whole lot of sleep” over closing the restaurant and subsequently realizing he needed it to feel fulfilled. The struggle to pay bills didn’t help.
But now, he’s determined to get it right for “Clementine Version 2.0,” Blick said. More changes will come over time, including plans to turn the former kids’ area of Clementine into a market that sells local wine, beer and spirits within a year.
“We have many ideas. I don’t want to get too far ahead of where we’re at,” he said. “What we need to do is keep the restaurant packed, and go from there.”