It’s not Bob’s, but Darryl’s is a welcome addition
Darryl Settles walks around his new digs, stopping here and there to give old friends a hug and welcome new friends to Darryl’s Corner bar and Kitchen — a sleek bar and lounge at the heart of Lower Roxbury in the South End neighborhood of Boston.
“It’s about time. We’ve been waiting for you,” says one patron as she exchanges a friendly hug with the 49-year-old Settles who sold the legendary Bob the Chef’s in 2007 — a move that many in the Lower Roxbury community regretted since Bob’s had been a cornerstone there since 1957.
Settles explains why he originally sold and bought the business back over the course of two -and-a-half-years.
“We had opened the Beehive,” he says. “My wife was pregnant with our second child. I was involved with many projects and wanted to fully pursue other opportunities and spend more time with my family.”
As a result, he said, “The business was put up for sale. Everyone knew it. There were white brokers, black brokers, everyone was involved with the process, yet no one of color stepped up to the plate to take it.”
Darryl’s Corner is in the same spot as Bob’s now, and while one can no longer get a plate of collard greens or a slice of that scrumptious sweet potato pie — the soulful vibe is back on the block.
“Do you know who that is?” Settles asks a young patron as he points to the large life-like black and white portrait of the Queen of Soul at a fairly young age.
“Of course,” says the patron, scrutinizing the image. “That’s Aretha Franklin.”
The other black and white prints by local photographers Lou Jones, Hakim Raquib and Don West are dispersed throughout the main dining room area, giving the place its mood and character.
Its décor is tasteful, warm and rich like the maroons and reds in the works on the wall of Roxbury visual artist Ekua Holmes. The energy in Darryl’s Corner on this night is vivid like the brush strokes in the oil on canvas by Paul Goodnight that hangs under a soft light in the second dining room area.
Getting back on the block seemed like a quick and easy thing for Settles who owns the entire 604-608 Columbus Ave. building including the restaurant space.
“I sold the restaurant to someone who did not last long and then he sublet it to someone else and that did not last. I’m a real estate guy and I understand the business and I did not want this to become a ‘bad corner,’ which is a jinx in real estate terms. I know the neighborhood and I loved the renovations that they did and for various reasons I missed owning the bar.”
After selling Bob’s, Settles partnered on a project with the Abbey Group’s Bill Keravuori and Jack Bardy, the former owner of what was one of the South End’s most popular pan-Asian dining experiences — Pho Republique. What came out of the partnership was the Beehive Bar and Lounge on Tremont Street in the South End, an idea that Settles says was his own. After a lengthy and bitter court battle, Settles’ co-ownership of the Beehive has been dissolved.
Despite all of the drama, the patronage at Darryl’s Corner will soon make it one of the few places in Boston to attract a multi-racial crowd.
Settles bought the building while working for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1990, after completing a condo project on Fort Hill in Roxbury with Erline Belton.
“All of this happened after the stock market crash of 1987,” said Settles about the launch of his career. “It took a year-and-a-half to get financed because back then banks did not regularly give loans to restaurateurs due to the high failure of the industry. But finally Boston Bank of Commerce and Ron Homer stepped up and financed the project.”
Settles worked in several industries including DEC where he started out as an engineer and later moved into their sales organization, which he loved. At the same time, he got involved with real estate development projects and soon after became a restaurateur.
In 2001 he founded the Beantown Jazz Festival, and is part owner of WiSe Urban Development LLC — a joint venture between himself and Winn Companies — that works with nonprofits and CDCs to develop and maintain affordable housing. His most current project involves the process of developing a boutique hotel in Back Bay with other long term business partners.
Settles believes it is far more difficult for someone to get into the restaurateur business in today’s market than it was for him some 20 odd years ago.
“It’s not cheap to buy a liquor license,” he explains. “A proper build-out or renovations are also not cheap. One must also understand neighborhood relations and the political landscape. Lastly, unless you’re willing to be an apprentice and learn the business upfront, it could be a very costly mistake.”
After discussing a failed attempt to open a bar on historic Fort Hill in Roxbury, Settles launches into a prescription for the future. “The most important point to make is that our communities need to understand and know that the more amenities that we have the better off we are,” he said. “This is why during bad times our market value decreases more than in other neighborhoods that have more amenities. People use the word ‘gentrification’ for the South End but it just means better amenities like good dry cleaners, quality restaurants, cafes, quality home goods and clothing stores, etc. This is what we need to push for in our communities, and then support those business owners that take on the risks associated with providing those services.”
Darryl’s Corner will occasionally offer live entertainment and an eclectic menu mastered by the chef Tim Partridge, formerly of East Coast Grille, The Back Eddy, Perdix and the Atlantic Fish Company. The menu includes seafood, duck, a late night burger bar selection, and even some old Bob’s menu items such as Bob’s catfish strips, jambalaya and traces of the south in the North Carolina Style Pulled Pork or the barbecue shrimp and cheesy grits found on the brunch menu.
The charismatic Corner Cocktails take their names from neighborhood notables like The Fort Hill, the South End Sour and Darryl’s Chicken Martini — no chicken included but named after the theory that the more absurd the drink’s name the better the sales.
So far this theory has worked. “Guests love it,” says Settles, “just to say that they have had a Chicken Martini.”