Chef Rachel Miller’s Nightshade Pop-Up Lands a Home in Downtown Lynn
The noodle bar could open late this summer, with Vietnamese-inspired sandwiches, small plates, noodles, and shellfish.
With her Nightshade pop-up, chef Rachel Miller is going on two years of setting up shop inside somebody else’s kitchen to cook up her creative, seasonal, Vietnamese-style cuisine—but her fly-by-night days are almost over. Miller just inked a lease to open Nightshade Noodle Bar in downtown Lynn. Taking over a small, breakfast-and-lunch spot on Exchange Street, Nightshade Noodle Bar could open as soon as late-summer 2019, serving lunch and dinner five days a week.
“I set a goal to have a restaurant by this point, and we’ve just been pushing as hard as possible to make it happen,” says Miller, who was formerly chef de cuisine at Boston fine-dining icons, Bondir and Clio, before launching the Nightshade pop-up in April 2017.
The plan for her brick-and-mortar restaurant has evolved as Miller has learned from each and every one of her 50 pop-up dinners and events, she says. With an eye on what the growing community of Lynn needs in its dining scene, Nightshade Noodle Bar will be open Wednesday-Sunday with casual, grab-and-go-focused lunch options like banh mi sandwiches, Vietnamese iced coffee, noodle bowls, and vegetable dishes; and about 16-18 ever-changing small plates, noodle dishes, and Viet-Cajun-style boiled seafood to mix and match at dinnertime. Miller is planning to get a full liquor license, and hire a beverage director to oversee the bar program.
Miller, who lives in Lynn, bought an existing venture from retiring business-owners who prefer to remain anonymous for now. But their final day will be around April 27, and Miller will start renovations on the space May 1, she says. She is working with restaurant architect Justin Alpert of Phase Zero Design on the new look. The small restaurant will have just 26 seats, including a handful at the bar.
The Nightshade pop-up’s Monday Night Hot Noods will continue this spring summer at Buenas at Bow Market (including on Marathon Monday), and her Tuesday night series at Brassica Kitchen returns April 16, 23, and 30—the last date being Nightshade’s two-year anniversary. Miller is bringing Nightshade flavors to Whaling in Oklahoma’s Meat & Threes series on Monday, April 22, and she is doing one more late-night Viet-Cajun crawfish pop-up at State Park on Thursday, April 25. But after this month, Miller plans to ease up on her events calendar in order to prioritize construction on the noodle bar. “I plan on being in the restaurant every day, doing as much as possible myself,” she says.
That’s actually how she plans to run the restaurant, too. Miller is no stranger to the difficulties many restaurateurs are facing to find quality staff these days, she says. “I will be hiring help as needed, but with the size of my [restaurant], there’s only so many people that the business can effectively sustain,” she says. She’s planning the menu to “be as efficient as possible [so] I can cook and manage it single-handedly if I have to,” she says.
But the pop-up life has showed Miller just how supportive the restaurant community can be. Her partner, Liana van der Water, has led the front-of-house team for every Nightshade pop-up, while balancing a full-time career as an expressive arts therapist. Sommeliers Kelsey McCallan, Lauren Friel, and Charlie Gaeta have shared their skills to offer stellar wine pairings at various Nightshade events, and servers have helped Miller execute every event. Several fellow chefs have helped Miller prep, cooked on the line with her during pop-up dinners, and allowed her to use their kitchens and storage areas. More than 40 small-scale investors helped Nightshade raise $31,000 via MainVest.
“I feel very fortunate to have had so much support for the pop-up,” she says.
Also a great partner? The City of Lynn itself. Miller has built strong relationships within city hall over the course of seeking so many events licenses, she says, and she’s excited to bring a full-time restaurant to the community as it’s poised to welcome an influx of residents over the next couple years, thanks to more than a dozen development projects.
“Having a pop-up restaurant is rather unconventional, especially in the suburbs,” Miller says. But keeping open communication with local health department officials “has helped build a really great relationship throughout the process. I wanted to build a relationship because I know what we’re doing is going to be a lot different from what’s currently available in Lynn.”
By supporting her pop-ups for nearly two years, food lovers on the North Shore and around greater Boston have shown they’re ready for it. If you’re somehow not following Nightshade yet on social media, stay in the loop via @nightshadepopup on Instagram.
Nightshade Noodle Bar, coming to Exchange St., Lynn, in 2019, nightshadens.com.