By all accounts, Julian Edelman had a terrific eighth birthday party. He and his friends got to make their own pasta at one of the North Shore’s hottest restaurants—5 Corners Kitchen in Marblehead. Of course, Julian had a special connection—his dad, chef/owner Barry Edelman.
By around 1 p.m. that sunny Wednesday last July, the final guests had filed out. A half hour later, firefighters were called to the restaurant. “I didn’t even have time to clean out the pasta machine,” Edelman recalls ruefully. But it turns out the scrub-down required for the kitchen equipment—the only thing salvaged from the fire—would be the easy part. What Edelman thought would be a three-month process has turned into an 11-month ordeal to reopen the restaurant that routinely drew diners from Boston and even Philadelphia to sample his elegant French-infused cuisine. There is, however, a happy aside: 5 Corners was named one of the best new restaurants in Boston in the 2011/2012 Zagat Guide.
Edelman marks the time that has passed since the fire as a rundown of a restaurant’s busiest times. “At first,” he says, “we were sure we’d be open by the holidays. Then we were sure we’d be open by Valentine’s Day.” Now, it appears that the restaurant will reopen around Independence Day. And when it does, it will be double in size, with a kitchen nearly three times that of the original.
Edelman admits that getting to this happy spot has been a rough road. The first hurdle? Insurance companies. Edelman says he was unknowingly underinsured—probably by about 75 percent. But that was just the beginning. His business, along with Terry’s Ice Cream Shop next door, were the only ones damaged in the fire, but that meant that three different insurance companies—one for 5 Corners, one for Terry’s, and one for the building’s owner—all had to agree on who should pay what to whom.
While local officials and the state fire marshal found that faulty wiring, smoldering for several hours prior to their arrival on the scene, caused the blaze, Edelman and his insurance company weren’t so sure. “No one smelled anything,” Edelman says, noting that a passel of parents and kids had been in the restaurant just before the fire broke out. Because insurance inspectors also disagreed about the fire’s cause, that discrepancy caused months of delays.
“Three parties of insurance companies had to work out what to do,” notes Derek Bloom, Edelman’s Marblehead-based architect. “But once the insurance money came through, we actually got a permit to rebuild fairly quickly.”
But plans quickly hit another snag. The damage was so extensive that the rebuilding had to be renovated up to current code. Among other things, that meant Terry’s Ice Cream Shop, which formerly had no bathroom, and 5 Corners, which had two small ones, had to install handicap-accessible facilities.
“You might think that, after a fire, you have the right to rebuild it as it was,” Bloom says. “But [regulations] treat it more as if you chose to have the fire and are now sinking money into your business to improve it. When you do that, you have to upgrade to full code.” In 5 Corners, the new bathrooms required four times the space of the old ones, but there wasn’t an ounce of room to spare.
For two months, Edelman and Carlos Rocha, the owner of Terry’s, negotiated to make the three bathrooms fit without having a negative impact on either business. Ultimately, Rocha decided to move his business just down the street, enabling Edelman to take over the space next door.
“In the end, it just wouldn’t fit,” Bloom says, adding that he and Edelman quickly began envisioning how to craft the new space. Unlike the first time, where budget and space constraints dictated a lot of the design, “There is a lot of flexibility in the new layout,” he says. “There will be several settings in which to enjoy the restaurant.”
For starters, the dining room will be twice as big, but with only 50 percent more seating—bringing the total to 60 seats. The ceilings will be higher and the steel beams will be exposed, making the space feel even brighter and more modern. The renovation will also address the clamor mentioned in the Zagat rating. “The old space was very noisy—there was a lot of echo,” Bloom says. “The new restaurant will be a lot more controlled acoustically.” There will also be an emphasis on the connection to the street, especially in the new bar/lounge area, which will feature walk-in seating and its own, budget-friendly menu with the vibe of a casual neighborhood brasserie.
While Edelman says the dining room will have a similar feel to the original space, it will be more refined and will offer a window into the new kitchen. “I want people to be connected with the fact that we’re in there, cooking their food. It doesn’t just magically appear,” Edelman says. The kitchen will also be custom-designed to deliver the kind of food that Edelman is preparing. “I had 14 months of real-life experience to learn exactly what I need in the space,” he says.
The whole restaurant will have a timeless, classic look—reflective of Edelman’s style of cooking. “I don’t do anything trendy, because trendy goes out of style just like that,” he says. “I don’t want someone to walk into the restaurant 10 years from now and think, ‘Oh, that is so 2012.’”
As for the food, Edelman would like to keep that under wraps until the opening—though he promises the diners will still find popular items on the menu, as well as an expanded raw bar offering. “I’m working with local fishermen to do a strong focus on oysters…there are places in Paris that serve a really beautiful shellfish platter. We’re going to be doing that,” Edelman says, adding that he won’t be neglecting lobster, the mainstay of the Marblehead fishing industry.
One thing he is very excited about is his expanded wine program and the way he is rethinking restaurant markups. “If you drop $40 or $50 on a bottle of wine in a liquor store, your expectations are going to be pretty huge,” he says. “If you go into any restaurant and spend $40 or $50 on a bottle, your expectations are that it will just be pretty good. I aim to change all that. The most important thing to me is that people are psyched.” Edelman says he doesn’t want patrons to forgo ordering a bottle because of price, or because they may not finish it. So, he’ll offer wine doggie bags.
Edelman is especially proud of the fact that his entire staff will return when the restaurant reopens. First in line is sous chef Julian Escobar, who is so loyal to Edelman that he didn’t even want another cooking gig while waiting for 5 Corners to reopen, instead opting to learn more about the restaurant business and even working as a bartender.
“I love the place,” Escobar says. “It is completely different than any place else I’ve ever worked. 5 Corners Kitchen is full of people with heart—people who really want to be in the restaurant industry.” From kitchen staff joking around to servers taking handstand breaks in the basement, everyone recalls 5 Corners as a big happy family—and diners enjoyed that vibe.
Escobar credits Edelman with creating that atmosphere. “Barry treats people the right way,” he says. “I’d never cooked with the chef/owner right next to me. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had.” Wonderful, but occasionally painful—especially for Edelman, Escobar says. “I burned him a lot,” at first in those tight quarters, he recalls. “We learned how to move around each other. Now we don’t even have to talk.”
While getting here has been painful, Edelman says the pace he kept before the fire may not have been sustainable. “I was burned out,” he says. “The night before the fire, it hit me that I couldn’t believe how busy we were. It was almost too much.”
If the restaurant has not reopened by press time, this time Edelman knows it’s all on him. “When we reopen, everything needs to be just right. I am going to take my time and make sure we are ready.” 5cornerskitchen.com