On October 19, exactly two years after they opened Osteria Radici in Allentown, chef Randy Forrester and his wife, Ally, will serve their last meals at their 18-seat Italian BYO and prepare to move to Portland, Maine, with their three-year-old daughter.
While it’s been an acclaimed two years—two James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic; two appearances on NJM’s annual Top 30 Restaurant List; and high ratings on social media—the bottom line has been dreary.
“It’s partly the taxes here, but mostly the cost of a liquor license,” says Forrester, 32. “Without that, the opportunities for growth over the next five years are very difficult for us as small restaurant owners. It’s paying at least a quarter of a million dollars, or much more, depending on the town. While I understand that, I’m not willing to sacrifice our daughter’s future to do it.”
Legislation to create a new class of license enabling restaurants to serve wine to diners at tables has been stalled in Trenton. “Until they figure out how to compensate the existing license holders,” Forrester says, “I think you’re going to see more of this,” meaning BYOs folding.
Inspired by the micro cuisines of Italy, Forrester has in two years created nearly 200 recipes. “We’ve never repeated a dish,” he says. “Maybe we’ve brought it back with different elements, but once something was off the menu it stayed off.”
The final dinner on Saturday, October 19, will be a kind of greatest hits. “It’s an opportunity to bring back some of our favorites. We’re excited about that. We have seats available for the dinner and also for dinners between now and then.”
The Forresters began looking for a new location in January. “We looked at Montreal, Delaware—on the water in Lewes—Philadelphia, and Italy.” The latter would have been the hands-down winner “if it had a more stable government.”
“There’s a lot to love about where we are in central New Jersey, and about the state in general,” he says. “Ally and I were both born here and, outside of college in Boston and time in Europe, this is what we know. But we both love New England, and we’ve missed it since college.”
So perhaps it’s not surprising that Portland, the first place they looked, won their hearts.
“We arrived in the middle of a horrible blizzard,” he relates, “and we’re walking around town with a two-year-old, and we walked into a restaurant and it was packed, with an energy we hadn’t seen before. Every place we went into had that. The way they think about food and drink up there is the way we think about it. In terms of wine, it’s starting from natural and biodynamic. In terms of food and drink it’s less manipulation, less processing, more how our great-grandparents ate and drank.”
Forrester envisions a life in which, at last, he will have more profitable business opportunities, a saner schedule and be able to spend more time with his daughter, Giada. “Nothing’s more important than having that time at home,” he says. “I was getting videos of my kid doing something she’s never done before, and I loved it, but then I’d feel bad because I’d like to be home for more of that.”
As for the winding down of Osteria Radici, Forrester says, “We’re really proud of what we did. It blew past our expectations. Someday, years from now, we’ll look back on it and think, wasn’t that great. It was small, self-contained, super manageable, and we cooked freely, with no inhibitions. It was a good time.”Click here to leave a comment