Interview: Comfort Kitchen Team celebrates successful pop-ups and construction restart in Early 2021

Interview: Comfort Kitchen Team celebrates successful pop-ups and construction restart in Early 2021

We caught up with co-founders Biplaw Rai and Nyacko Pearl Perry of Comfort Kitchen to talk about their pop-ups in Waltham and Somerville as they prepare for construction to begin again at the Upham’s Corner Comfort Station. Read the interview below for their reflections on the pop-ups, their ideas for designing the historic Comfort Station space, and how their vision is coming to life on Columbia Road in Dorchester. Stay tuned for more information about upcoming Comfort Kitchen pop ups.

A plate of handmade momos

What have the pop ups been like in Waltham and Somerville?
B: This pop up has been different than others we have done in the past. Our main motives were to 1) to raise funds for three local organizations, 2) to do team building, and 3) menu creation. It takes a lot of iterations before we land on what foods makes it to the table. We are looking to increase our market too. To survive as a new business, we need people to visit Comfort Kitchen as a destination. We had always envisioned doing these pop-ups to get our name out there.

N: It’s been an incredible learning opportunity for us for exercises like pricing. For example, the momos we offer are handmade and take a lot of time to produce. We are studying how many can be produced in a given amount of time, and how much should we charge given how much work it takes to produce them. We are gauging interest for other menu items as well. In addition to pricing, we are working on team dynamic, and we are honing effective working models to ensure efficiency when we work together. We have a strong team of people who have been in the restaurant industry for a long time. During the pop-ups, we have been asking: “How do we make sure people’s needs are being met through this process and for our own place”.

B: We started at Sweet Basil in Waltham, and we were amazed at the response! We had a bunch of bikers ride all the way to Waltham from Dorchester for our food. We also have friends in our network in places like Watertown and the surrounding area, so they got an opportunity to come and try our food. Sweet Basil was a great partner and David [Becker] helped us with a lot of things. In November, we moved over to Tanam, and that has been a completely different experience. We had mostly walk-ins and bikers who work in Somerville. There was a lot of interest in Somerville. We have sold out almost every day. Partnering with Tanam has been great, because we are able to share their story through the pop up. Tanam has a worker co-op model, and though we are coming at the restaurant side a little differently, our goals for employee models are similar.

B: When we open our doors next year, we want to hit the ground like we have been open for five years. Planning for that takes time. Doing the pop-up has given us an opportunity to tackle that challenge.

Left to right: Biplaw Rai, Nyacko Pearl Perry, Kwasi Kwaa

What sort of tweaks have you made to your opening plan for COVID modifications for the comfort station?
B: We have tweaked a whole lot. Starting with the menu, we had to think about what is good for take out. We have been experimenting a lot to see what kind of containers are best for certain foods to travel. We are also working with a smaller team. To follow guidelines, we are restricted to take-out and are only allowing two in the kitchen and one in the front. As of right now, we are working with a team of less than 4-5 people.

N: All kitchens are set up differently. We have been able to take notes from the pop-ups and bring that back to our design. We are playing with how to make it possible for others to come into our space in the future and work efficiently to do a pop-up of their own. Sometimes we go into another kitchen and see there are obstacles. So if people come to us to pop up we know how to set them up for success.

B: As for the kitchen design with SuperNormal, we kind of knew what kind of design we wanted. My favorite design to play with has been the patio. We are thinking of a COVID plan to see “How would the patio look?” “What doors make sense to enter and exit?”. We had also been dreaming up an artistic gate, but now we are looking at something more functional and tucked out of the way. There will be modifications like curtains between tables for the time being too.

N: When we started redesigning, we were asking “How much can we make if we are following COVID guidelines?”, “How many people can fit?”, and “How many turns do we have to do?” The design was then informed by the financials. We have dreamed up solutions like the take out window, though these are not going to be any permanent changes to the historic building.

The historic Upham’s Corner Comfort Station (1911) at 611 Columbia Road

What is your favorite architectural detail/design detail that is going into the build?
B: For me, I am most excited for the kitchen area. You can see the kitchen from all corners of the restaurant, and though it’s not an open concept, you can see the chefs working if you want to. There are spots where you can see where the magic happens, and other spots where the guest is more separated from the behind-the-scenes.

N: We have a few nooks, and the patio has so many possibilities. We get to build off of what is already there from the historic building, and the rear which has a peaceful garden vibe with all the stone. I think that will be a really nice space to sit outside to enjoy food and the view. The building itself is so beautiful and unique. Seeing it back to life is just gonna be so exciting.

A bowl of Jollof rice a West African rice specialty

What phase of planning are you in at the moment?
B: Design is almost finalized. We’ve already nailed down our design with the kitchen improvements and design. We are about to start applying for permits, and getting the last of the funds. We are looking at January build out and May/June for the opening.

N: The pop-ups will continue through December sporadically, but a lot of our energy is going through loans and securing final funds from a variety of sources. We will be tightening up menu design. Upcoming pop ups will be in Dorchester to get things rolling for opening.

Stay tuned! Engage us on social media and check out the Comfort Kitchen merchandise like sweatshirts and tees!

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