Rebecca Blackwell left Boise, Idaho as a young woman to discover the world.
She traveled; she studied interior design; and she married a charming Brit.
Midway through her journey, a medical diagnosis put a pause on her plans, and Blackwell and her husband Stuart Ford, returned to her hometown to reinvent themselves as proprietors of a neighborhood wine and beer establishment called The Local. They opened the quiet, sophisticated wine, beer and nosh bar four years ago with Blackwell’s sister Katie after they realized their neighborhood was crying out for a quiet place where adults could gather.
Taking as inspiration the local watering holes frequented by her husband back in the day, in merry old England, The Local offers warmth, peace and quiet, good cheer, and a decided absence of both rambunctious children and blaring TVs.
The concept has been a smash hit!
In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Rebecca Blackwell tells us more.
Q: How did you and your sister decide to open The Local?
First, I should say that though my sister and I were born and raised in Boise, and my sister lived here her whole life. But I left and was fortunate to live all over the country. I lived in Seattle for about 10 years and went to school to become an interior designer. But, I decided to reinvent myself and my career path after I was diagnosed with MS. Along the way, I met my husband Stuart, and eventually convinced him to move back to my hometown: Boise.
We quickly realized that though there were plenty of places to eat out, there were no quiet places to enjoy a glass of wine and quiet conversation after dinner. We had a lot of sports bars and family restaurant options, but nothing like what we envisioned when we decided to create The Local.
Q: Please tell me about The Local’s niche.
One of my biggest priorities when we conceptualized The Local was its acoustics. That might seem funny. But, I really wanted a place that would not echo, a place where adults could converse without having to yell over sound bouncing off hard surfaces.
One of the first things I did with the interior design—and everyone said I was crazy — is I insisted on having carpeting on the main floor. The priority to dampen sound was key. Another thing we did that people said was crazy is that we insisted on no TVs. We got a lot of flak for that. It took a while for customers to understand that we weren’t a sports bar and most people did not bring their kids.
It took a little while for people to understand our niche, but we’ve been open four years, and we now have a real following. There’s an older demographic. It’s a place where people like my parents, their friends, and teachers who don’t want to run into their students can come for a nice glass of wine or a good beer and some excellent nosh.
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle?
We had some unfortunate turnover at the end of last year. We lost our longtime kitchen manager. She and my sister were in junior high together. We were and still are very close, and when we opened The Local she jumped in. She wanted change, and we wanted someone who knew what they were doing.
But unfortunately, we just couldn’t afford to keep her. It was hard to lose her. She made our food amazing.
That was our biggest challenge. We had to run around and look for someone to replace her. While we tried to get someone else in place, our food suffered a little and we lost some clientele. But fortunately a classically trained chef became available, we hired him, and he’s hitting his stride. We’re not an entrée restaurant, but focus more on light bites, nosh, and sharing items.
Q: Can you give me an example of a popular bite?
We have a house-made pretzel, a Bavarian style, which is big and doughy. This is a concept that was started by our first chef, and though she left, she has allowed us to continue making her mother’s secret recipe pretzels.
We serve them with gourmet dipping sauces, and they’re dangerous! I put on 10 pounds sampling them. Our nachos, which our first chef also created, are another big seller. Our new chef has put his own adaptation on them, and they’re very popular.
Q: Tell me about your beer and wine.
When we started out I knew a small amount about wine. Mostly, I knew I really liked it. And my husband and sister knew a lot about beer. The place I wanted to create was not going to be a snobby wine place. I wanted to keep the wine list small, affordable, and approachable for people.
Over time, my sister has blossomed into a great connoisseur. And my husband being British just asked for one British beer on tap. We stock mostly wines from Oregon and Washington. But we also listen to our customers, and because of them have expanded our selection to include some French labels as well. We try to keep it regional and keep local wineries as our tap wines, when we’re not priced out. We got some really, really great local wineries at the moment.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone hoping to start their own restaurant?
Just to have faith in yourself. No matter how many hits you take—and Katie and I took a lot of hits on this effort, with a lot of trial and error. We joke now about writing a book. What we didn’t know about the restaurant business presented us with a steep learning curve. For example, we thought renting a space was like renting an apartment. We knew little about the business side to things. So, my next advice is to surround yourself with knowledgeable people that you trust. That’s huge.
Having a chef who was our trusted friend was invaluable when we started. And not to give up. Don’t listen to critics either! Stay true to your vision. So many people warned us that we should have TVs. If we had listened to people in the beginning, we’d be like every other restaurant, with kids and TVs tuned to sports channels. Now we have a clientele of people who love us because we offer a break from all that, plus excellent food, wine and beer! I want to add a word about the menu covers because as someone who trained to be an interior designer, I was thrilled when I opened the box and saw how beautiful they were. We were able to get them in our trademark green color, and the quality is exceptional. —The Local of Boise uses Boxerbrand’s iCandy and Metallic Tones line in its table presentation. Thank you!