Ryan Pernice is the 27-year-old owner and operator of Table & Main, the restaurant that opened less than two years ago on historic downtown Roswell's Canton Street. He's been named an Eater Young Guns semi-finalist, and in this interview, he talks about what it's like to be such a young entrepreneur. Below, catch Pernice's thoughts on restaurants outside the perimeter, forthcoming Italian spot Osteria Mattone, and missing the in-town hustle.
You chose to open in Roswell because you grew up there. Did you expect the restaurant to take off the way it did?
Canton Street is a draw in and of itself. People know how fun Canton Street is. People know that if we are full with a two-hour wait, which blessedly we sometimes are, then they can go down the street and eat at another place or come back after a drink somewhere else. That helps a ton. I knew there was something already attracting people to this region, so I wondered what would happen if we opened a restaurant in Roswell, in my hometown, that had the service and caliber of restaurants within the city. People here were already driving down into Atlanta to get that, so why not put it in their backyards?
So that's drawing people in from the area. And about people coming up from Atlanta— it blows my mind every time someone comes in from Buckhead and drives half an hour outside the city to visit Table & Main. We take that really seriously. I think what it is is that Table & Main is doing exciting things in an exciting area. People like to think that they're going to a cool place, and it still preserves that feeling of having discovered something. Downtown Roswell is this cute little Southern town, and Table & Main is a neighborhood gem within that. And at two years old, we're still new, so you can still discover the restaurant. My hope is that ten years down the road, when we're somewhat established, people will still feel like that. And if you're from Buckhead, you know, people are like, "Oh gosh, it's in Roswell? Do I have to stamp my passport to get there?" So it's a fun little excursion because it's your discovery.
Do you feel like you are classified as an "OTP restaurant"?
Atlanta's got this thing which, as far as I know, is unique to Atlanta, and that's the concept of OTP vs ITP, outside the perimeter versus inside it. Ted and I and our colleagues at other great restaurants outside of the perimeter, I think that we'll take the fact that it's exciting that there's some great food outside of Atlanta, but I don't think that we think of it like that. We want to offer a really great experience and that we're outside of the perimeter happens sort of tangentially. It's just a fact: We're there. We hope to offer the same level of food and service as places inside the perimeter. In the last couple years, there has been a whole cohort of great restaurants happening outside of the city— Seed, Double Zero, Marc Taft at Chicken and the Egg— so it's fun to see all of that grow. But to me, we're all trying to do great food and offer a really cool spot. OTP, ITP, it's all the same.
Would you ever open in town?
In town is not off the table. I want to do a place in Atlanta— maybe our next concept. I'm a Roswell boy at heart, and I love giving back to my hometown, but it'd be fun to do something in a city. I miss the hustle.
You're doing very well in Roswell.
We're very proud of Table & Main. Ted [chef/co-owner Ted Lahey] and I have worked very hard to make this happen. The biggest compliment I can get is when people tell me that this feels like dining in someone's home. I spend enough time there— Table & Main is my home. It's a restaurant industry cliché to be like, "This is our home and we're taking care of you," yes, but it's so true at Table & Main. It was a home; the lady who used to live there brought me photographs of it when it was a home and was crying in the restaurant about how beautiful it looks now and how happy she is that we did that work. We put a lot into it, so it's good to hear that, it resonates with me.
The other thing is that people don't understand how important the landlord-tenant relationship is. You want to get a guy who wants the A-plus, and our landlord is a part of the conversation. He's got a strong opinion on things and interesting opinions on things, and more perspectives are always better than fewer. He's great. He lets us do what we want to do, and we always pay our rent in advance, so there's that, but as long as you have those bases covered, you want someone who cares and wants you to be there forever. He's our landlord for both spaces. It's such an important relationship— it's a big deal, not far behind the chef-owner relationship.
What's the timeline for Osteria Mattone?
We are hoping to open in September or October. We're very excited, but with all the rain we've been getting lately, we're going to be the first restaurant with a pool— it'll be the ultimate sea to table.
Tell us about the concept.
Ted and I sat down and we were like, what do you want to do? We've got this momentum, the time to do another restaurant is now. We're not ready to do another restaurant, but I wasn't ready to do the first restaurant. You get there, or you don't. Ted said that he was good at cooking Italian, that he wanted to cook Italian. I really love cooking Italian, so then it was kind of like, okay, we both have backgrounds for it, I am Italian, let's bring my brother down, we'll do this whole thing. It works out really well that there's no other Italian on Canton Street. There's [Mediterranean] Sugo nearby, and there used to be Fratelli's, where I had two great prom dinners, but there's no Italian spot.
Would you have done Italian anyway?
I think so. Any entrepreneur has a bit of ego, and it takes a confidence and an ability to say, 'I think I can add something here.' Not necessarily, 'I can do it better,' but 'I think I can do something of value.' Osteria is five doors down from Table & Main. We wouldn't do another restaurant where we weren't doing anything different, where we weren't adding some value to what's happening on Canton Street, but we feel very strongly that Italian is something we can knock out of the park. If the next restaurant is going to be scrutinized further than the first, this is something we feel we can bear up under and do.
We came out with this new spring goat ravioli dish, and it was sort of like a litmus test. We wanted to dip our toes in the water and see if people really hated ravioli in Roswell or if they were excited about it, and it was one of those things that's just taken off. It's good to see that the ravioli is as successful as it has been, because if we put out a pasta dish and people were like, "This is terrible, I hate you," then we'd have to take a lesson from that.
You're bringing in your brother to do wines at the new restaurant.
Right. My brother's coming home, that's exciting. Danny was working at the Modern when I was at Maialino. We were living together and that was a lot of fun— he was covering the wine world and I was doing a different part of it, so it was fun to come together. He would share his war stories, and I'd share mine. It's something we've always kind of played at— being at the same dining room together. Living with and working with my brother is either a great idea or not. We just bought a house.
Did you know chef Ted Lahey before you starting Table & Main?
I actually met Ted on Craiglist, believe it or not. I was living in East Village in New York, and I was moving home in two months. The restaurant was slated to open in five— it didn't, but I thought it would— and I still didn't have a chef picked out, which is obviously a big deal. So I thought, I'm freaking out about this, let me just get some resumes and applications in. I put out the ad on Craiglist and predictably got a ton of resumes, most of which were not what I was looking for. Ted's was one of the last ones I got in. I interviewed twelve people. I met ten, had five present a menu, and had two of them cook for me, and Ted's food was just beyond what I could have hoped for.
Do you have any embarrassing stories?
In a restaurant, you're 'on' all the time. You just speak so many words to people that inevitiably you say dumb things, so there have been thousands of little moments at a table where you say something stupid and just back away slowly. It's gonna happen. My staff makes fun of me because I say the same thing to every table— my sign-off is always something like, "Do you guys need anything? Hot sauce or anything like that?" It's what I say when I don't have anything to say and I've been up since seven am. We have really great hot sauce, we make it in house.
Read part one of this interview here.
· Ryan Pernice of Table & Main [Savory Exposure]
· All Table & Main Coverage [-EATL-]
· All Osteria Mattone Coverage [-EATL-]