For a decade, things had been going quite well for chef Matt Jennings in Providence. Farmstead, the restaurant he owned and ran with his wife, pastry chef Kate Jennings, had racked up multiple James Beard nominations and a splashy photo in the New York Times for its brand of edgy, New England–inflected cuisine. But in the spring, he and Kate announced that they planned to close the restaurant and open a 4,500-square-foot spot in Boston. Was Matt looking to cash in on all that attention and bring his cooking to a bigger audience?
Not according to the chef, who says the move was more about a homecoming than anything else: He grew up in Boston and Wellesley, while Kate hails from Cambridge. “Even though Providence is so close, we always really missed Boston,” Matt says. “In fact, when we first opened Farmstead, we had a conversation that someday we’d come home—we just didn’t know when that would be.”
Opening later this winter, the couple’s restaurant, Townsman, could do more than serve destination-worthy food—it may end up being the catalyst for the revitalization of a neighborhood. After bypassing the restaurant hotbeds of Cambridge and Somerville, Matt and Kate landed on the ground floor of Radian, a glassy new residential building in the no man’s land surrounded by Chinatown and Downtown Crossing. The chef says he already feels a connection to the area. “The more I spent time [in Boston], and this is the God-honest truth, I would come downtown in my car and I would sit there,” Matt says. “There was something that was happening that I felt drawn to.”
Indeed, the area is enjoying a resurgence: Tech companies such as PayPal and LevelUp and incubators like the Cambridge Innovation Center and WeWork have opened offices downtown, and with the completion of complexes like the Radian and Downtown Crossing’s Millennium Place, thousands of new residences will soon be available.
Because eating and drinking, of course, are the favorite pastimes of the young tech and luxury-condo-dwelling crowd, it’s easy to understand why Matt saw an opportunity. The owners of the Radian eagerly pursued him after paying a visit to Farmstead, and invested heavily in bringing Townsman to fruition. Matt was also the beneficiary of new legislation that allowed the distribution of 75 free liquor licenses designed to promote restaurant activity in specific areas of the city—and received one of the first ones doled out since 2006.
Anchored by a 12-seat raw bar focusing on shellfish towers, inventive crudos, and a range of house-made charcuterie, the 100-seat restaurant will follow a New England–style brasserie concept. Beyond Matt and Kate, the team includes sous-chefs Brian Young, who recently worked at Post 390, and Matt Leddy, who worked at Farmstead. Pastry chef Meghan Thompson, most recently at Milton’s Steel & Rye, and bar manager Sean Frederick—an alum of cocktail haven Citizen Public House—round out the roster, along with general manager Meredith Gallagher, formerly of Menton.
The restaurant’s success will be a bellwether for downtown’s potential, and, with any luck, signal to landlords that investing in a creative chef instead of a Starbucks is a smart idea. Meanwhile, Matt is keeping an eye out for more growth opportunities. “I would be foolish if I was to tell you that this would be the last stop on the Jennings train,” he says. But that’s getting ahead of things. “Right now, I have to worry about getting the door open.”