2013-07-25 / Front Page

Simpatico exceeding expectations

By Ken Shane

There is a new team in place at Simpatico Jamestown, and according to the principals, teamwork is a key to the restaurant’s early success.

The team is led by Ben Brayton and Amy Barclay, along with general manager Cliff Diamond and executive chef Chris Ferrell. Together they direct a group of nearly 60 employees, making Simpatico one of the largest employers in Jamestown.

Phyllis Bedard owned Trattoria Simpatico for more than 20 years and it became one of the most popular restaurants in the area, on or off the island. For many years, Barclay worked as Bedard’s financial manager.

Brayton, meanwhile, was working as what he called a “serial entrepreneur.” He was particularly interested in real-estate development. “I was looking for another opportunity,” he said. “And this one arose.”

Negotiations lasted more than a year, and a deal was finalized on Nov. 1, 2012. The restaurant was then closed for more than seven months while it underwent significant renovations. Menu plans and construction work had already been well underway prior to the sale. Architect Bill Burgin was brought in to finalize the plans.

The changes to the restaurant included the north deck, an elevated aerie that features outdoor seating and an inside dining area known as the chart room. The standout feature of the chart room is its coppertop bar that was installed by Ken Caswell. Electrical work and restrooms were upgraded as well.

“We wanted to rethink the res- taurant with different rooms,” said Barclay. “So you have the chart room, which represents one environment.”

Meanwhile, the tents that covered the outdoor dining area on the ground floor were removed. They were replaced with a 12-by-60- foot pergola that runs parallel to the stone wall that fronts the restaurant. The outdoor dining area downstairs was reconfigured, and rhododendrons were relocated to improve the view of the bay.

“It really softens the whole look of the building,” Brayton said.

The idea behind the renovations was to create spaces on different levels to provide diners with different views and experiences. The indoor dining room on the ground floor was opened up to create a terraced courtyard area.

The primary issue facing restaurants, both new and old, is food cost. Recognizing that it’s easier to please people with lower prices, the decision was made to bring prices down.

“When people walk into a fouror five-star restaurant, they have very specific expectations and perceptions,” Barclay said. “It’s almost impossible to meet whatever they have in their thought process about what a five-star restaurant is. If you miss any step along the way you’ve failed. My thought was let’s bring down the price point, still offer high-quality food, and make it more accessible.”

Despite good intentions, it’s difficult for restaurant owners to keep prices down while the costs of food and supplies are rising rapidly. The team at Simpatico combats the recession by adjusting the restaurant’s menu based on current pricing. For example, if tuna is being offered to the restaurant at $15 a pound, it may end up on the evening’s specials list, but it won’t be part of the regular menu.

If the prices for the target audience can’t be met for a certain item, it is simply not served. As a result of the pricing scheme, Barclay says she sees a number of local residents dining in the restaurant two or three times a week. Weekend nights tend to add people from off the island who are looking for an upscale experience to the mix of customers.

“What we think we have here is five-star ambience, good service and reasonable prices,” Brayton said.

The menu is reviewed every four weeks and customer input is considered. Mainstays include appetizers like the calamari antipasto, barbecue pan-seared shrimp, panroasted littlenecks, and vegetarian options like the wild mushroom ragout, a dish made from braised mushrooms, goat cheese, horseradish cream and fresh rosemary on crostini.

Entrees include pasta bolognese, pan-seared Atlantic salmon and grilled flat iron steak.

Simpatico also has a raw bar that features oysters, clams and shrimp. There are several salads on the menu, as well as a variety of pizza selections. Desserts are made in-house for the most part and include a carrot-cake-flavored cheesecake and ginger ravioli.

Simpatico opened for business in May. Despite uncooperative weather – a rainy spring and extreme heat more recently – business has exceeded expectations. Brayton said there has been outstanding support from the Jamestown community, including the owners of the town’s other restaurants.

Simpatico Jamestown is open seven days a week. Monday through Thursday, the restaurant opens at 4 p.m. It opens an hour earlier at 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday afternoons, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Simpatico will be closed in January, February and March.

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