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By Maia Merrill Gosselin
A warm greeting and a friendly smile. Your favorite drink poured before you sit down. A good conversation. Personalized service and an experience that makes you want to return. In a nutshell: hospitality. It’s the key ingredient to success in this industry and it’s what separates the good from the great. I can think of no person who better embodies this tenet than longtime industry veteran Josh Childs. If you’ve been in this business for any length of time, then his name is certainly familiar to you. If you’re lucky you sat at his bar when he was both a bartender and owner at the iconic Silvertone in Downtown Boston. No matter how busy, you were guaranteed exceptional service, food and drink, whether it was Josh or one of his merry band of bartenders manning the ship. A former bartender myself, I spent many an evening there enjoying a post-shift glass of wine or two.

But even the best aren’t immune to the rigors of bartending and Josh officially put down his church key and stepped off the bar and away from 2am nights about ten years ago. Of course, he didn’t go far. These days Josh has segued into his second act as owner/partner of five very successful bars and restaurants. And while the establishments he is involved with differ in their concepts, the common thread is: customer first. His calm and welcoming ways have never changed and this is reflected both in the caliber of staff he employs and the legions of followers he has accrued over the years. I caught up with Josh recently to find out what he’s been up to and although it had been a long time since we’d talked, it felt as if it were yesterday. Friendly as ever, busy as ever. Not once, in all my years in this business have I heard anyone utter a negative word about Josh Childs. And I doubt I ever will. He truly is one of the greats.

MAIA GOSSELIN The majority of your career has been in the food and beverage industry. What was it about hospitality that drew you to it as a full-time vocation? Where did you hone your bartending skills?
JOSH CHILDS I have to confess, like many of my peers, I fell into it and kept going. I would often joke with my business partner Beau Sturm during a busy bar shift: “Josh, do you need anything?” to which I would respond: “A new career?” Beau: “Too late buddy.” I first worked the bar in Providence, RI but got my real start downtown Boston beginning at West Street Grill in the early 90s.

MG You officially hung up your cocktail shaker several years ago. What do you miss most about being out from behind the bar?
JC The task and complete circle of each and every shift. Setting up your tools, taking care of guests, breaking down, a shift drink. Perfect finality with a clean slate for the next evening, and job well done (hopefully!). I was proud to be (as my good friend Joe McGuirk so aptly puts it) a tradesman.

MG With five restaurants on the roster, what does an “average” day look like for you?
JC I’m mostly at Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville and behind the scenes these days. Besides payroll and Quickbooks, I’m pretty much a maintenance man, think Schneider from the old sitcom One Day at a Time. Now that’s an old guy reference . . . I was working on the hood motor at the bar very early one morning with an electrician friend and I reminded myself that I used to be going home at that hour not coming to work.

MG From Parlor Sports to beach-themed the Paddle Inn, what has inspired the various concepts and menus for your restaurants?
JC Parlor is a fresh twist on ballpark fare going hand in hand with a sports bar, but like everything we do at Starlite, it’s made from scratch. I think you can really taste the difference. Parlor came about through a love of sports bars but is a place where anyone in the neighborhood would feel at home. Garvey (Salomon) runs the show and is virtually the mayor of Somerville.
Paddle is a surf vibe; Beau’s a big surfer and always wanted to have a bar you could “paddle in.” Initially, the concept was inspired by beach cuisines around the world, but we’ve pivoted to more poke and ramen. You can still get our Thai fries though!

Starlite is business partner Suzi Maitland’s Southern-inspired comfort food and from day one has been a scratch kitchen. The theme is our love for neighborhood bars with a nod to the middle of last century. It made sense to name it after Trina (Sturm), one of the best bartenders around.
MG The drinks world has seen many trends come and go over the years. Talk a little bit about what it’s like to have been a part of the cocktail culture evolution. What has had the most staying power? What would you like to see disappear?
JC I am not ashamed to say back in the day I used pre-made sour mix. It was a different time for sure. But the guest was always first and foremost. Hospitality. Simple cocktails and ones with fresh ingredients will always have staying power. There’s a reason the Manhattan has been around so long, and at least we have the proportions correct again these days. I think that what I wanted to disappear, has: pretension in drink making, taking ourselves too seriously. As a bartender, I was always there for the guests, not the guests there for me.

MG We can’t discuss trends and not mention Miller High Life and Fernet! I’m pretty sure it all started at Silvertone. How did this become such a big thing, especially as the preferred post-shift drink for bartenders?
JC Garrett Harker and Tom Mastricola introduced me to Fernet and came down nightly — they lit the match at No 9 Park but we poured gas on it at Silvertone. High Life was our staff beer. No one really had it around town, in fact, Rolling Rock was our most popular American style lager. We had a lot of industry friends come down and Cedric Adams put High Lifes in their hands (he is from Milwaukee after all). We always joked about it being the Champagne of Beers — it’s always a vintage year in Milwaukee.

MG What are some types of events or programs that you run beyond the day-to-day of the restaurants?
JC Monday Industry Brunch was the brainchild of Trina and Beau; they could never go to brunch themselves as they were always working so why not do it on an off day? Emma (Hollander) has been the cruise director of our quarterly Drag Brunches which have been the most popular and great charity fundraisers for causes we care about.

MG There has been so much change in the industry over the last few years and it’s certainly been a struggle for many owners. What are some of the positives you’re seeing today? What are some of the challenges?
JC Equalizing pay between front and back of house, putting staff’s health and well-being at the forefront. Economics are tricky these days, everything is more expensive. Insurance, cost of goods, rent, utilities. I am not complaining, these are realities, but just because markups may seem high, though it’s been overstated, margins really are razor thin.

MG When you work in F&B there is often a unique camaraderie people form that’s different from almost any other industry. What are some of the more special, lasting friendships that stand the test of time for you? Who have been your inspirations or mentors over the years?
JC I have been so lucky to work alongside and become great friends with the most amazing and creative people! In fact the list is so long I can’t even begin to sort them all here. I will say that working the shed bar at Sunset Club with my daughter Lucy and Starlite Snack Shack pulling soft serve during Covid with my daughter Emily have to be the highlights. And Steve Olson, legendary educator, lecturer and industry consultant, opened my eyes to what might be possible in this business. I will always owe him for that.

MG Wherever you have a bar, you seem to attract an industry crowd, something any owner would covet! To what do you attribute this popularity?
JC I think at first it might have been because we always did last call as late as the city would possibly allow — even on a Tuesday night. But more than that it is the staff we have been fortunate to have and all their industry friends become friends. It snowballs.

MG I know for a fact that working for Josh Childs has been at the top of many a bartender’s wish list. Over the years you’ve employed quite a few of Boston’s best. How do you get such an all-star cast on your team?
JC Well I don’t know about that, but I do know (and repeated often) that I have always surrounded myself with people far more talented than I am. Treat everyone fairly, let pros do their job without unnecessary oversight, and get out of their way.

MG Owning multiple establishments and raising a family pretty much requires at least 30 hours in a day. How have you managed the work-life balance and avoided burnout?
JC When my girls were little it was great to work nights so I could see them during the day. Sleep was tough but I didn’t know any better. I have been very lucky to segue from floor operations as I’ve gotten older. I’m embarrassed to say I go to bed pretty early these days!

MG What’s one piece of advice you would give someone opening a bar or restaurant today?
JC Call me and I’ll talk you out of it. If you won’t listen because this business is under your skin, I will help in any way that I can.

MG And finally . . . favorite libation to enjoy at the end of the shift or on a day off?
JC This may not sound very bartender-like, but as the awesome TJ and Hadley Douglas of The Urban Grape tell me: “You’re a 2W white wine, high acid, Bordeaux Blanc kind of guy.” Although a ways off from my Boilermaker (whiskey and a beer) days, if the shoe fits, I’ll wear it.

EDITOR’S NOTE We’d love to hear from you! Do you know of someone notable in the Massachusetts beverage alcohol industry? If you would like to nominate someone for consideration, please email Maia Merrill Gosselin at