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SF Worlds Spirits Competion Winners Profile: Darryl Settles

• 46
• Owner/Manager, Bob’s Southern Bistro • Partner,
Beehive • Boston

Buzz, buzz . . .
Beehive, the new cafe/club in The Calderwood Theater complex
in the South End’s brick roundhouse Cyclorama, is a-throb
with sophisticated music, hip drinks, good food, smart
people. Très hot! Co-owner Darryl Settles, a cog in
Boston’s restaurant and real estate world since 199O, owns
Bob’s Southern Bistro, founded Boston’s only jazz festival
since the boston globe’s in 2OOO, and is the man to talk
about Beantown’s 3O+ night life. Our chat covered more
Boston politics, cultural realities and greening society
than drinks and eats.

I’m originally from Aiken, South Carolina. I moved to Boston
after graduating from Virginia Tech in 1984. I worked as an
engineer at Digital Equipment Corp (DEC), then moved into
sales and marketing. When you work for somebody else, you
always think you could be making more money. So I started
real estate development with a partner. When we developed
condos, our real estate broker found Bob the Chef’s as a
listing to sell in the bankruptcy court. I’d heard about the
restaurant but had never been here, and never worked in one.
I naively purchased the place expecting it to add to my
income. My dad booked R&B and blues bands in Carolina.
It amazed me how he allowed himself to be abused by the
musicians. B.B. King and other acts would have outrageous
riders on the contract: $5K a night, but the hotel bill
would be double that! He’d give away his profits with them
drinking top-shelf gin and green room catering.

[original Bob The Chef”s] had a lot of notoriety in
the black community and connections to the white community.
Everyone knew it was up for sale in 1989 and wanted to know
who was going to get it. It got a lot of copy in the globe,
herald, boston magazine even before I purchased it. When I
bought it, there was another round of press and the place
took off. It used to be a diner. I put in a new floor, new
ceiling, replaced equipment. But I had an inefficient
management team in here, and no experience, so it was the
blind leading the blind.

A year later,
banks weren’t touching restaurant loans, so a partner had to
put up 1OO% collateral. When I saw my money going rapidly
down the tubes, I took a leave of absence from DEC to fix
the problem. I managed to turn it around, and never went
back. It took me a few years to get on track, but the good
news was we had cash flow, busy every day. I wasn’t making
money because I was learning. Food costs and payroll were
out of whack. My kitchen staff had grown from 3 to 9. My
accountant said, “Get off the phone, go get a pad, go in the
kitchen, find out what everyone is doing, when they clock
in, when they leave.” I asked one guy, “What did you do
today?” He said, “I made corn muffins.” That was it! I
realized that everyone knew I didn’t know what was going on
and they were taking advantage. So I cleaned house that day
and started over.

When I was
in marketing at DEC, I took customers to Turner Fisheries at
the [Copley] Westin Hotel all the time. I liked the
food, the music, the scene. It was always packed, but I
could always get a table. In 1994, a new general manager
decided against live entertainment – too rowdy. It was where
most mature Bostonians went to hang, because the only other
place in town with live ‘adult’ music was The Oak Bar, with
$9 beers. Well – first thing I did at Bob’s in 1994 was go
and get an entertainment license, which took a few months.
Remember that little round table back in the corner? I took
it out and put a trio in there, and the response was
immediately positive. I closed down five months to renovate
in 1995, and we’ve been doing live jazz here ever since.
Bob’s had a single line for take-out and sit-down. It got so
congested at the counter you couldn’t move. So when we
renovated, I put in a take-out window around the corner –
another good move. I wish I’d done that Day One, but you
don’t know what you don’t know.

next move was to get a beer and wine license. We sell wines
by the glass and bottled beer. In 2OOO, I got a full liquor
license. It took a long time because we have a church next
door. The reverend gave me a letter of support; the city
supported it; it was the first time a black restaurant would
get a full liquor license in Boston. This is not the ‘6Os;
it’s the ‘9Os! But when I got to the hearing, my lawyer
said, ‘Darryl, you sure have a lot of fans here.’ I said,
‘What?’ ‘Look at all these people!’ I asked a woman why she
was here. She couldn’t even look me in the eye, and said,
‘The church did a phone chain to deny your license.’ I said,
‘You gotta be kidding me!’ A senior Boston councilman took
me aside and recommended we withdraw the application to let
the smoke clear. He was right! We backed off, and ninety
days later, I had it! Now that we have a full license,
martinis are our biggest seller by far, we have a page of
them, and we’ve raised the ante with better

Bistro was a sole venture, all mine. I learned quite a bit:
you have to have quality people, emphasis on customer
service, and consistently good food. I think what I’m good
at is marketing. I’ve been around a long time, I know people
in the community, I’ve sat on various boards. That’s all
helpful. The reason I survived was that I bought a going
business; if I’d started Bob’s from scratch, I’d have lost
everything. I lacked the cash flow to stay afloat. This is a
very difficult business, as people say.

to the FOLKS

Marketing tools that helped the business? We have our niche
– southern cooking. You can count us on two hands in Boston.
Magnolias in Cambridge, Redbones in Somerville, Blue Ribbon
BBQ at two locations, a few deep in the community, and us. I
had long contacts in the press and media, and that’s half
the battle. The other half is that I made the decision after
the third phone query, ‘Do you cater?’ I said, ‘Oh yes, we
do!’ By that I meant, ‘We’ll figure out how to do it.’ The
first few times I said no, and then told myself, ‘Wait a
minute! You’re throwing away business!’ My friend Susan
Callender of Boston Unique Events helped me set up our
catering business right here in the kitchen. She gave me
pointers on going from small scale to volume cooking, either
reception style (pass-arounds) or buffet style. We do
parties on 6OO for Reebok and Comcast every summer; we got
it down pat. When I was with Digital in the ‘9Os, these
parties were wet. Most of them now are totally non-alcoholic
– too much liability.

The club’s
a direct result of Turner Fisheries closing down adult music
in town. We evolved from Bob The Chef’s Jazz Cafe, to Bob’s
Southern Bistro and now the Beehive. I realized that the
city is changing; young people staying on after college are
looking for nightlife. In my early 4Os, I didn’t want to go
to Roxy or Lansdowne Street with college kids. Concierges
loyal to us, say customers ask, ‘I’ve been dining since 7
here; where can we go at 1O?’ They’ve had few options: Top
of the Hub or a hotel bar. That’s when I said, ‘We have to
create something.’ Well, Tremont Street started exploding;
the city started building Washington Street (with the Silver
Line) and restaurants popped up: Stella’s, Pho, Oishii,
Sage. But no music yet! La Rocca and Gaslight are looking at
it now.

defers to wine director Bertil Jean-Chronberg to explain the
Beehive concept. “La Ruche [‘beehive’] was a domed
circular building, like the South End’s Cyclorama but in
steel and glass, built by Gustave Eiffel (yes, of Tower
fame) at Emperor Napoleon III’s request as a huge cellar to
display the wines of Bordeaux’s classification for the Grand
Exposition of Paris in 19OO. Afterward Boucher, a
sculptor/philanthropist, salvaged La Ruche as a studio for
three consecutive art movements: Russian emigres (like
Kandinsky), African colonial artists (and Cubists like
Picasso and Braque) and the American Poppy movement (modern
American artists like Sargent). The idea came to us: What if
all these people ate and drank together? Hungarian and
Slovak and Italian purveyors used to give starving artists
free food to share, to feed their heart and spirits. So our
menu and wines are a parallel to this: delicious rustic
comfort food, obscure and yummy and affordable wines.
[We list wines only.] 1O whites and 1O reds ($29 to
$42, no laboratory wines, with art labels from all over:
Australia, Lebanon, USA, Brazil, France, Hungary, Israel)
and 5 each of high end ($89 to $4OO; Vega Sicilia, Cos
d’Estournel, Kenwood Artist Series, Prum Riesling, Pur Sang
by Didier Dageneau, Mas du Daumas Gassac white, Leflaive
Chassagne Montrachet). 5 white and 5 reds sold by the glass
and carafe only; 25 hand-selected Champagnes (7 vintage, 7
brut) and 1O sparkling (Westport River Cuvee Maximilian).
Some are bargains (Moet White Star, $52), some rare (Veuve
Cliquot 1996, $235). Our house Champagne is Mumm Cordon
Rouge and house sparkler is Mumm Napa, $14 the 7 ounce

other cities – Chicago, LA, New York, Miami – people are
used to paying a decent cover charge to hear music. Not
here. Boston is filled with great musicians from schools
like Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory,
to name two. Though it’s not widely discussed, the music
industry to the sports industry: less than 1O% make it to
the pros. Boston musicians graduate with talent, though
maybe not enough to get that record deal or make that move
to New York or LA. But Boston is now their home, so they
teach, work in other jobs, and play music on the side for
low wages. You go to DC, they pay bands $8OO a night; Boston
pays half that because clubs can’t get a real cover

and state government are pushing to get more tourists and
conventions in town, but you gotta give’em a nightlife! In
Boston, you can’t make money on music unless you’ve got some
size. Scullers and Regattabar are subsidized by their
hotels. Ryles, owned by S&S Deli, makes less in the jazz
room than by filling the upstairs with Latin dance parties
at $1O a head. Wally’s, with only 6O capacity, can do it
because they own the building and family members run it. At
Bob’s, the few-dollar cover just pays for the band. But
you’d be surprised how many people stopped coming in since
we added those few dollars. The Beehive has no music cover,
because we have volume (3OO room capacity plus 1OO seat
patio) to absorb band fees. It’s more upscale, so people
will pay more for food and drink.

Adults with
money seek sophisticated entertainment, and don’t wanna hang
out with 21-year-olds. As with society and housing, there
are haves and have-nots in nightlife and the restaurant
business. Let’s say 2O% of Bostonians have 9O% of the money.
That 2O% goes out 2 to 3 times a week; each time they go
out, they spend $1OO. The other end, making $1O to $2O an
hour, can’t afford to go out and spend $25 on an entree, $1O
on a martini, times two, plus 18% tip and tax.

started this Boston jazz festival in 2OOO. It started when I
held a reception at Bob’s for some long-term employees who
retired after 3O years. The place was jam-packed, Mayor
Menino was here to read a proclamation. I’d been to jazz
festivals in Montreal and New Orleans and enjoyed that
‘block party’ feel. Without even thinking, up on the
bandstand with the Mayor, I blurt out, ‘You know, next year
will be my tenth anniversary owning Bob’s; I’d like to close
down Northampton Street and hold a block party.’ And
Hizzoner says, ‘Whatever you want, Darryl.’ I said, ‘What?!
You gonna say that with all these witnesses?’ He said, ‘No
problem.’ I got a phone call the next day: you have to file
a permit! When we got that permit, I started to hunt down
sponsors: we had several banks the first year who didn’t all
appreciate the competition. Sovereign Bank upped the ante
big-time ($75K) to be our exclusive bank sponsor. Other
sponsors include: Target corporation, Yale Appliance and
Lighting, Berklee College of Music.

Initial concept was mine, I bring in resources to the table
in corporations and entertainment and music industry. My
equal-share partners are a husband and wife team, Jennifer
Epstein and Bill Keravuori. I’m responsible for all acts,
but Jack Bardy (operations manager) does much of the
booking. We serve up soul, jazz, R&B, pop, Brazilian and
Latin; veteran pianist Al Vega does his popular Sinatra
nights. Berklee College is prominent, with pianist Bill
Banfield supplying and leading bands on Wednesday and
Thursday, and Berklee’s emering artists series on