For would-be star chefs, success rarely stops at one restaurant. Not when there are empires to build—and cookbooks, knife sets, and spice rubs to sell.
But there is another, more organic way to expand—one that requires less capital and marketing, not to mention square footage—as some local restaurateurs are demonstrating. Instead of debuting big new concepts, they’re opting for casual, affordable spinoffs. "Little sisters," if you will.
As the name implies, these spots are directly related to the bigger, fancier restaurants that inspire them, but with a simplified—if no less delicious—menu.
Building off their sibling’s existing clientele, they offer upscale flavors at a lower price point. At Inman Square’s Olecito, for example, "I might take a dish from Olé and serve it on a bun, like street food in Mexico," says chef-owner Erwin Ramos. Oleana‘s Ana Sortun, along with pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick, is working on a menu of scaled-down Middle Eastern entrées and sweets for Sofra, the Cambridge bakery and café she’ll open this summer. Meanwhile, having already launched two Petit Robert Bistros (with another in the queue), chef Jacky Robert hopes to debut Ma Petite Boulangerie, a pastry shop and bakery, later this year.
Why go smaller? For Jeff Fournier, chef-owner of 51 Lincoln in Newton, less-formal food is a good way to turn occasional diners into everyday customers. His café/catering business Citrio, across the street from the restaurant, serves simplified variations on his New American cuisine, making a lunch dish, for example, out of 51 Lincoln’s $22 pasta Bolognese.
Think of it as the next generation of takeout. "Nobody has time to cook, so people are interested in better prepared foods," says Sortun. Does this spell trouble for Boston’s fine-dining sector? For now, no. It’s not Sofra versus Oleana; it’s Sofra versus the drive-through. And who wants to order from a clown head?
A sampling of sibling restaurants around the city.
Big Sis: Olé.
Sample dish: Grilled skirt steak with beans, scallions, three salsas, and handmade corn tortillas ($19).
Li’l sis: Olecito.
Sample dish: Taco de arrachera, with marinated steak, pinto beans, Chihuahua cheese, lettuce, and avocado sauce ($2.75).
Big Sis: 51 Lincoln.
Sample dish: Molasses-glazed pork tenderloin with collard greens and a sweet potato pancake ($23).
Li’l Sis: Citrio.
Sample dish: Cider-glazed pulled pork on a freshly baked bun, with jalapeño–Napa cabbage slaw ($7.50).
Big Sis: Sel de la Terre.
Sample dish: Niçoise salad with seared yellowfin tuna ($14).
Li’l Sis: Sel de la Terre Boulangerie.
Sample dish: Niçoise salad to go ($4.95).