Talking With Celina Tio of Julian

Attention to detail.  That was my first impression as I waited to have a fast chat with Celina Tio.  I noticed her attractive wall display of tee shirts promoting the restaurant. She has men’s AND women’s sizes for sale!  We all know that a woman’s body in a man’s tee shirt doesn’t work. Celina knows it too and that why she has sizes in both styles.  And the price?  Just $15.  That’s noticing the small stuff.

This seems to be Celina’s guiding principle for her first owned and operated restaurant:  attention to detail regarding delicious food and offering meals at a reasonable price.  Looking at the menu, she’s priced well — actually lower than many dinner items offered at nearby Carmen’s Cafe or Avenues Bistro.  Julian is  open for Thanksgiving–offering all the standard items for a fixed price:  3 courses for $30, 4 for $34 with service over the noon hours or late afternoon.  I like that idea–the traditional foods served with a twist for the holiday, from an accomplished chef, for a special holiday.

Foodies know that Celina came from the American Restaurant, has a husband and small daughter, and has quite a bit of energy and determination to make this restaurant a success.  She chose Brookside as the location because it was ‘good timing, a good location, and the loyal neighbors like to keep their  money in the neighborhood’ by supporting local businesses.  She says the best and worst thing about having her own restaurant is the same thing:  she is compelled to do everything herself.  While we were chatting, she jumped up twice to answer the restaurant phone and take a ‘reservation’ (details on that process later).  Celina is so focused and pumped up — she is in the kitchen, on the floor with guests, bussing a table, tweeting on the Blackberry.   She has positioned Julian to be a place that won’t “break the (money) bank or the calorie bank”, serving fine food without the high price tag.  She’s also into comfort food, which shows on several menu items (Boulevard pale ale macaroni and cheese, crispy pork shoulder and  pasta with meat sauce) .  And that’s just the right trend for these recessionary times…you want to enjoy a nice meal out but can’t justify spending $100 on dinner.  

Julian is open seven days a week, currently just for dinner but Celina wants to open for lunch within the next few weeks.  On Sundays she serves the 3 for $30 dinner–which is just whatever she happens to be creating that day–and it’s served family style. Mondays are “American Classics” — lasagna, steak.  She’s now collaborating with her staff for the winter menu.    The restaurant doesn’t take reservations but will do ‘priority seating’–call in with the time you will arrive and you will get the first and best table available.  To keep up with Julian–get connected to her Facebook and Twitter accounts–she does all the social media herself.

One remark Celina made while we were talking keeps coming back to me.  I asked her, what do you know now that you wish someone would have told you when you started out as a chef?  She replied, “That all employees don’t have the same work ethic and morals as you do”.  When she was getting the restaurant ready to open, sometimes she would stop at McDonald’s (?!) and bring in breakfast for everyone.  As they were unwrapping the sandwiches, she noticed that so many of them weren’t stacked with care–the bun was slapped on the side, the insides were spilling out, etc.  One time she noticed a perfectly wrapped sandwich with the food inside properly put together and presented.  She said, “I was so happy to see that someone actually cared about putting the food together the right way”.  You can expect your meal at Julian to be not only properly presented, but also infused with a love of the art of preparing food.

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