“When the first bomb went off it shook the building, and everyone instantly got real quiet. I was making my way into the kitchen, but processing it in my head I thought it was cannon fire, something to celebrate the end of the race,” Brendan Griffin said, recalling the April day of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Griffin is the g.m. of City Table and City Bar, which are connected to the Lenox Hotel. The hotel fronts Boylston Street and its entrance is 100 yards from the marathon finish line.
“But as I walked into the kitchen, the second one went off. Then I saw runners, marathon runners coming from Solas (the bar on Boylston Street located at the front entrance of the hotel) with their numbers on, running through our kitchen, and I knew immediately that something was not right,” says Griffin, who plans for four months to make sure the Lenox Hotel’s four-day marathon festival goes without a hitch.
“I went back into the restaurant and people were a little bit nervous, but because we’re on the back side of the hotel, we still didn’t quite realize that was going on,” he says.
“Then suddenly the Solas staff and the people from the New Balance party started to come through the kitchen, and continue running right out of the hotel onto Exeter Street. It was at that point that we knew something serious had happened. We (his restaurant staff) locked the Solas doors and got everyone inside. Then we went back up to City Table and by that time the Boston Police had put the hotel in lockdown. They gave the order: ‘No one in or out.’ They locked us down,” Griffin recalls.
“Now, we had police stationed at every door in order to make sure that no one came in our out. They also came in and grabbed our surveillance video right away.”
The restaurant and its customers were kept in that lockdown for about 45 minutes as everyone in the bar silently watched the televised scenes of carnage that were unfolding right outside the hotel’s front door.
“People were dead silent, watching TV to see what was going on. At one point the police came in and made an announcement to turn off all cell phones, telling everyone that they could detonate any other possible devices. After they made that announcement, you could see people become visibly upset and nervous. Until then, they were kind of curious, but now their demeanor had shifted to really nervous,” Griffin remembers.
Shortly thereafter the police swarmed the hotel, ordered everyone to leave, and told them to use the Exeter Street entrance, then turn right onto Huntington Avenue, away from the finish line area, which was now a designated crime scene.
“I tried to go up to my office to get my keys and wallet, but the cops wouldn’t let me. After the customers and guests left, a crew of us hung back to make sure all the kitchen equipment was properly turned off. Once we had that secured, about a dozen of us left together, and we were easy to spot, because we were all wearing our matching New Balance outfits. They are one of our biggest clients, and every year for marathon week they outfit us head-to-toe in New Balance gear. They also hold a lot of private parties at the hotel starting on Thursday evening, and on race day they take over Solas, which is a great viewing spot,” Griffin explains.
The hospitality dozen walked to a South End park rendezvous, and that’s when Griffin called a friend who is a chef at the Beehive Restaurant, which is located a short distance away. Once he explained their situation, they gladly welcomed everybody in.
Griffin’s crew spent an hour at the Beehive, and once they realized that they were not going to be allowed back into the hotel at least for that day, they decided to walk to South Boston and set up camp at Shenanigans bar on Broadway.
“It’s all kind of a blur, but I think it took us a half-hour to walk to the bar. Once we got there we posted on Facebook that we were okay, and after that it got completely nuts,” said Griffin.
“For the next hour-and-half, between rounds of beer, all I did was continuously responded to people texting and e-mailing. It was great. It took your mind off what was happening. It was great to know that people that I haven’t talked to in 10 years, guys that I graduated with were checking in to see if I was okay. In fact I went over that list the next day and it was amazing,” recalls Griffin.
'Like time had stopped'
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He left Shenanigans around 8 p.m., and caught a cab to his comfortable Milton home and as soon as he walked in the door, he went straight to bed.
On Tuesday morning he received word from his boss Mike Carlisle that the managerial staff should come in, but he missed the e-mail in which Carlisle wanted everyone to come in wearing their New Balance gear, and Griffin, who hitched a ride from his brother, showed up wearing a suit.
“When I walked into the restaurant it was like time had just stopped. There was one table that still had four untouched entrees on it. And Boylston Street, where the bombs had gone off, was just the same. There is an Asian restaurant, Typhoon, located across the street from us, and on a table on its patio sat two plates of food, a purse and a baby stroller, for 10 days. It was just surreal, almost like the end of the world, as if a Neutron Bomb had gone off,” he says.
The management crew, a total of 30, spent the first couple of hours just cleaning. Once that was completed, they switched into serving mode. They were trying to figure out a plan on how to feed all the law enforcement personnel—FBI, city and state police—who had worked all night and started to filter in looking for lunch.
The managers expected that they would be serving lunch for 50-75, and accordingly, prepared a bunch of sandwich trays. The lunch went smoothly.
“There wasn’t much dialogue,” Griffin says. They would just come in, take a sandwich, grab a seat, have some food and go. And any money that they insisted on leaving was all donated to the One Fund Boston. For us, it was a great way to get back into some type of normalcy, to get your mind off what had just happened.”
Expecting the same numbers for dinner the restaurant’s two chefs went about preparing a meal of sirloin, mashed potatoes and green beans for 75.
Those preparations sailed along hitch-free, but there was one unanticipated problem; that 75 for lunch had multiplied faster than the loaves and fishes.
“We had everything all set up in the kitchen for dinner,” said Griffin. “Our chefs left about five o’clock and it was just me and two other managers to handle the dinner, but by 5:30, all the food was gone.”
“So we just started digging in, scrambling to put something out for dinner. One of our front-of-the-house managers, Cailey Platt, went to culinary school, and she went right into the kitchen and started grilling skirt steak, and all kinds of stuff. Once that was gone, we went into the walk-in and started pulling out whatever we could find.”
In the interim, four other managers—including hotel g.m. Dan Donahue, who has a reputation as a talented cook—answered the SOS call and returned to beef up the forces to a robust total of seven.
It is also where Griffin’s Cornell hotel school education was put to the test.
“Now we were simply at the point of just trying to get anything out,” Griffin says. “It became the joke of the week: the “Starch Buffet.” It was rice, mash potatoes, mac and cheese, lettuce and some other carb. That was our menu and we made it with all different variations. We figured we had 15 different variations, and we put it together in a menu form, as if it was a normal menu. It was a lot of laughs.”
By the time dinner service had ended, the estimate of 75 for dinner had ballooned to an eye-popping total of 250-plus law enforcement personnel meals.
On Wednesday morning the number of diners had swelled to 500 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It continued that way until Friday evening.
Supply lines cut off
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With that high volume of traffic, the food stocks started to run precipitously low. And with deliveries impossible because of the crime scene lockdown, Griffin’s passion for the business, its ever- changing dynamism, its constant buzz and its close relationships with people, was reinforced, by all of things, his competitors.
“Restaurants from everywhere were sending food: the Fairmont Copley, the Colonnade, the Kowloon, Stella’s, everywhere. Initially it was surprising, but then thinking about it, we would have done the same thing. We’re all competitors, but we’re a close-knit industry. In fact during most nights the staffs from the surrounding restaurants pack into Solas to unwind after their shifts. We’re like the neighborhood beacon, a safe haven of camaraderie for the other restaurant staffs,” he says.
To bring all these donations of food into the hotel, Griffin and his staff had to go up to a nearby corner, load the food onto carts, then wheel it all down and into the hotel. That process continued until the surviving suspect was captured on Friday night.
On Thursday evening Griffin went out to dinner with a couple who are regulars. It is something he does with a lot of his long-time loyal customers with whom he has developed close friendships. That particular couple is from Wayland, and they have followed him around on his various restaurant circuit stops, and now frequently dine at City Table, where Griffin has served as g.m. the past three plus years. “A lot of my customers have become close friends, in fact I dine with a 65-year-old couple whom I refer to as my Jewish parents,” he says, laughing.
After dinner Griffin returned to his hotel room, and immediately crashed, setting his alarm for a 5 a.m. wakeup to serve breakfast.
Overnight a shootout worthy of a war scene had taken place in a Watertown neighborhood in which one of the bombing suspects was killed. And now with a massive manhunt underway for the other suspect, the Governor had placed the entire state in lockdown. So the staff who were scheduled to come in and serve breakfast wouldn’t be able to make it in.
Griffin began to call and bang on the doors of the managerial staff who had stayed over for help in getting breakfast served.
“Once that Friday morning was over the turning point came when the police caught (the remaining suspect) in the boat on Friday night,” says Griffin.
“I’m a news junkie I have the news on all the time. But because of our hectic week none of us really watched it, we were so busy, and indirectly, were actually living a part of the story.”
But that all changed on Friday night, the night of the capture.
“Everyone in the hotel, the staff, the FBI, the Boston Police, the State Police sat silently as we watched the entire scene unfold on the big screen T.V. which we had set up to watch the marathon.”
“And while it’s happening, we’re listening on the police radios that are crackling right beside us. It was like a play-by-play of what was going on, and the police translated for us exactly what was occurring,” Griffin recalls.
As the drama of the capture was unfolding the Boston Police were called away to a murder scene in Roslindale, and once the suspect was in custody, the FBI agents started gearing up to head out to Watertown to lock down the scene.
With a sense of relief, Griffin and other managers moved to the darkened City Bar. They purposely kept the lights off, enjoying a beer as a release for their incredible week, as well as some closure with the capture of the remaining suspect in the largest manhunt in the history of the city.
“The state police bomb squad came back from the scene with their dogs and saw us sitting there, and before you knew it we had all these law enforcement guys in the bar. We were blasting Bruce Springsteen and they were releasing the tension after a tremendously stressful week, and our staff was right there with them. I went to bed about 3 in the morning and their celebration of a job well done went until dawn,” recalls Griffin with a laugh.
Back to business
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As things began to settle, and Boston started to return to some workweek normalcy, the g.m. received word that the hotel would be able to reopen for business on Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m.
Griffin brought all the staff in on Tuesday afternoon to clean and restock the bars and the kitchen, and all the outlets were reopened.
“We all rendezvoused at Solas, including the staffs of some of the restaurants that hadn’t yet opened. It was very emotional; everybody was happy to be back into some type of regular routine,” Griffin says.
“The first week we opened we couldn’t keep up with the business. It was crazy, crazy. It was an hour wait just to have lunch. It really didn’t calm down until the first weekend after we opened, and even now, a month after the bombing it’s still going great. It’s one of the reasons that I love the business. The relationships you form with people who come in to your place and end up becoming friends. That’s why I continue to be in the business—the relationships,” Griffin says.
In addition to the overwhelming outpouring of public support for the yeoman service performed by the restaurant and its staff, the entire law enforcement community was also very grateful for the way the restaurant staff and the Lenox Hotel treated them.
“Our hotel g.m. could have said to law enforcement, ‘you’re on your own,’ but that would be totally out of character, he always wants to go way overboard. The comments we’ve received from the officers who have come in for dinner as to how they have never been treated any better are really gratifying,” Griffin says.
That sentiment was perfectly expressed by the wife of one of the FBI agents, who a week later, came in for dinner with his family.
“When this agent came in, he introduced me to his wife and family, and his wife said; ‘Thanks a lot. You’ve made my job a lot harder now,’” Griffin recalls a laugh.
The staff who volunteered to work that week without pay has been equally taken aback by the financial support shown by its customers.
“The customers who came in for the next two weeks after we reopened were just throwing money at our staff. Customers would come in to dinner and say, ‘I was going to donate this to the One Fund, but instead we’d like to give it to the staff who worked all week without any money.”
Griffin recites from memory a letter that he received the first week the hotel had reopened for business.
“’I’ve been reading about your business in the news and my heart breaks for you guys. I wish I could be there to help support your business, now that you have reopened, but since distance separates us, and I can’t be there, here’s my donation. Do with it whatever you see fit.’ It didn’t have a return address, and was signed ‘A friend from Los Angeles.’ Enclosed was a $100 bill.”
On a blustery and cold recent evening, Griffin is once again surveying his room, schmoozing and moving from table to table.
As he pauses to chat with diners, some first timers, others, loyal customers, he exudes a quiet, elegant confidence, putting into practice his hospitality philosophy: “Whatever you put out there comes back at you.”
“I try to treat people well, in hope that in return, people treat us well.”
Paul Kenney is a Boston-based freelance writer.