How Tiger Mama Reversed the Curse

Tiffani Faison took a chance on the corner of Boylston and Kilmarnock streets. Here’s how she turned the unlucky storefront around.

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Photograph by Jared Kuzia

The corner of Boylston and Kilmarnock streets housed three restaurants in just five years before Tiger Mama, Tiffani Faison’s colorful Southeast Asian–inspired eatery, roared into the Fenway. If you ask the chef, the awkwardly configured U-shaped dining room was the culprit. “In terms of physical space, I would not have chosen [it],” Faison says. But who could argue with the location, just steps away from her first restaurant, Sweet Cheeks? So Faison and her wife, Kelly Walsh, decided to take a chance on the unlucky storefront, tapping Sousa Design Architects (Banyan Bar + Refuge, Alden & Harlow, Sweet Cheeks) to tighten up the space and actualize a vibrant love letter to Southeast Asia in the process. “I didn’t want it to be the Rainforest Café,” Faison says. “The idea is to nod to a certain place in the world.”

1. The ash-wood chandeliers installed in the dining room were inspired by the baskets of rice and fish Faison spotted locals hauling during her travels through Southeast Asia.

2. An ever-changing living wall of herbs, succulents, and palm fronds contributes to the “thickly settled rainforest” vibe, Faison explains.

3. “It basically means ‘Put up or shut up,’” says Faison of the Chinese proverb that sets the restaurant aglow in neon orange.

4. “We wanted to create spaces within the space,” says Faison of Tiger Mama’s stylish dining nook, accented with reclaimed wood to subtly connect the space with the chef’s barbecue joint, Sweet Cheeks.

5. Are they tiger stripes, or palm trees? The ambiguous tropical background of the restaurant’s new tiki bar is a prime example of the “urban rainforest” design motif.

6. Corrugated-metal siding is common in contemporary bar design, but here, it’s inspired by southeast Thailand’s shanty towns.

 

See more from our 2016 Top New Restaurants feature.