Merrill & Co. Pushes the Reset Button
After ten months of staffing issues, tumultuous menu changes, and the mutual parting of ways between management and executive chef Jason Cheek in November, Merrill & Co. finally decided enough was enough. After service on New Year’s Eve, the South End restaurant shut its doors to implement a full-scale reinvention. Chris Bauers of JM Curley and Bogie’s Place (two other restaurants within the BiNA Family Hospitality Group) was brought in to replace Cheek. Suzie Dagenais, the opening general manager of JM Curley, was recruited to help usher in a more hospitality-driven staff. And chef Ashley Gaboriault, formerly of The Beehive, was brought in to help Bauers breath fresh air into a convoluted, over-priced menu.
“I really feel like what we set out to do, we never fully achieved,” says bar manager, Kevin Mabry. “That’s tough to say obviously, being a part of the opening team. But I really felt that a lot of us were working against each other. Jason [Cheek] had his own ideas about what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t really true to the concept. I don’t think we ever really found our niche with Jason. He put his heart out there, but ultimately he just wasn’t the right chef for the concept we wanted.”
Starting tonight, Merrill & Co. reopens with an overhauled menu void of signature items like Cheek’s fried chicken brined in sweet tea, waffle fries coated in cheddar powder, tiger shrimp in XO sauce, octopus, and uni French bread. Instead, you’ll find bar bites like wings, and fried pickles, a tuna Cuban sandwich, a fish charcuterie board, and chicken fried steak.
“We just got to the point where we had to hit the ‘Stop’ button,” Mabry says. “Ultimately, we got to a place where I felt we could actually open our doors and say, ‘This is what we should have been from day one: casual, down-home, a bar where anyone could walk in and have a good time.’ I think we priced ourselves out from the get-go. We said we wanted to be affordable, but we had people coming up to us saying they were leaving paying $75 a head. That’s completely not where we wanted to be.”
In addition to the new menu, Merrill & Co. is doing away with OpenTable reservations and introducing bar-centric diversions like bar bingo, regular trivia nights, and a monthly industry party with DJ Ryan Brown. Mabry has also re-conceptualized the bar program, with a menu featuring 12 original house cocktails, a rotating cast of classic cocktails, and a heavier emphasis on the soda jerk concept, which will include root beer floats, adult smoothies, and the return of the much-heralded Pimm’s Cup Slushie.
“I was thinking of the Pimm’s Cup as a seasonal item, but people loved it and I took it away,” Mabry says. “Well, shame on me for letting my ego get in the way. If they want the Pimm’s Cup Slushie, then I damn well am going to give it to them seven days a week.”
New Merrill & Co. Menu
1 Appleton St., Boston; 617-728-0728 or merrillandcoboston.com.