Chef Rachel Miller Is Crowdfunding a North Shore Noodle Bar

Nightshade is looking to go from pop-up to brick-and-mortar with the help of small, local investors.

Chef Rachel Miller and Liana van der Water after a Nightshade pop-up at Lynn's Capitol Diner / Nightshade crawfish boil

Chef Rachel Miller and service manager Liana van der Water after a Nightshade pop-up at Lynn’s Capitol Diner / Nightshade crawfish boil / Photos provided

Attention, aspiring restaurant investors: Here’s an opportunity to help establish one of the region’s most exciting pop-up dinner series into a first-of-its-kind amenity for the city of Lynn. Rachel Miller, the former Clio chef de cuisine who is now behind the Vietnamese-inspired pop-up and catering company, Nightshade, just launched a crowdfunding campaign to help open Nightshade Noodle Bar.

The $75,000 fundraiser is one of the first projects for newly launched investment-based platform called MainVest, which seeks to reward contributors with a financial return rather than traditional Kickstarter-style perks. It’s a tool that not only could help Miller raise enough money to sign a lease and start building out a restaurant, but that could also introduce her business to potential supporters and partners.

Hosting nearly two years of pop-up dinners and parties around the North Shore and Boston has given Miller that access, too. Most recently, Nightshade wrapped up a two-month stint of dinners at Lynn’s Capitol Diner, and also spent a week on the line at Brassica Kitchen in Jamaica Plain collaborating with the chef-owners there on a number of dishes. The pop-up life has introduced Miller to myriad developers and other business owners, who she says are already helping her keep an eye on available real estate around downtown Lynn, where she hopes to open the 30-seat noodle bar.

Popping up has also helped her hone in on her vision. For Miller, who was also chef de cuisine at Jason Bond’s Bondir in Concord before starting her own business, the end goal with Nightshade has always been creating her own Vietnamese-inspired restaurant. But in 2017, she was envisioning something more in line with her fine-dining background. Now, she’s fully come around to more casual dining. Per the business proposal on her MainVest page, the plan for Nightshade Noodle Bar is to be a counter-service café with banh mi and Vietnamese coffee by day, and a lively cocktail bar with small plates, eclectic noodle dishes, and sacks of Viet-Cajun-style crawfish each night.

“The next wave of fine dining is not right now,” Miller says. “I’m not feeling it anymore personally, either.”

She is feeling the trend of seafood boils, though, wherein diners don a bib to indulge in a bag of boldly spiced shellfish. As seen in places like Allston’s Holly Crab, Bootleg Special in the South End, and Hook & Reel in Revere, Viet-Cajun seafood boils are something Miller grew up loving in the South. Nightshade has been doing its version once per month since July.

“I like eating with my hands. I like thinking about the differences between this cuisine and others. The concept of Viet-Cajun is super inspiring, and you can take it in several different ways,” she says, adding that Nightshade will differentiate itself from the pack with vibrant small plates on the side. “I want to merge the world of what I love about tapas restaurants, Vietnamese restaurants, and crawfish restaurants,” Miller says.

Diners can expect dishes like oysters with cucumber mignonette; eggplant “banh mi” finger sandwiches with whipped tofu; wild mushroom spring rolls; tamarind-glazed popcorn chicken; a turmeric crepe filled with grilled prawns and lap xuong (sausage); Vietnamese soups, both traditional and not; and crispy-fried egg noodles with seared scallops.

Miller says she’s in talks with a player on the Boston beverage scene to develop a bar program for Nightshade Noodle Bar, but she’s not ready to share who that is just yet. The plan is for an all-natural wine list, hyper-seasonal cocktails to pair with the menu, and local and Asian craft beers.

The Nightshade pop-up has been driven by wine pairings, first by Miller’s fellow Clio alum Kelsey McCallan (Catalyst), then by Lauren Friel, who just opened Rebel Rebel Wine Bar in Somerville. For the four remaining Nightshade pop-ups this fall, Charlie Gaeta is taking over drink duties; the Lynn native was wine director when Branch Line in Watertown earned its Best of Boston nod.

Nightshade’s MainVest campaign seeks to raise $75,000 by December 24, 2018, and has netted $2,300 in its first week. Following a handful of events in Cambridge and Salem in November and early December, Miller will pick up her bimonthly pop-up series again in 2019. In the meantime, she continues to hunt for a brick-and-mortar location, and gets ready to open her own place, on her terms, and with her community’s support.

Nightshade is popping up Monday, Nov. 5, with a four-course menu and wine pairing at Momi Nonmi in Cambridge. On November 9 and 10, it will have a late-night collaboration with Ledger in Salem. Look for more details to be announced about a November 19 pop-up at Loyal Nine.

A Bánh cuốn with wild mushrooms from an April 2018 Nightshade pop-up.

A Bánh cuốn with wild mushrooms from an April 2018 Nightshade pop-up. / Photo by Jacqueline Cain

Scenes from the kitchen at a recent Nightshade pop-up at Soall Bistro

Scenes from the kitchen at a 2018 Nightshade pop-up at Soall Bistro. / Photo by Melissa Stefanini