When Balance showcased their dramatic renovation at a grand opening party last June, the restaurant's completion was finished only hours before the event. This April 17, when proprietors Ben deForest and Stacy Reilly reopened the Oak Bluffs establishment for the 2008 season, the process was comparatively snag-free.
But even though the gleaming kitchen is brand-new, the easy-care painted concrete floor is still in fine shape after a single season, the tables spotless, and the long mahogany bar polished and ready for guests, there was plenty to be done.
Patrons entering the spacious, softly lit restaurant will be struck by the inviting atmosphere. The original artwork melds with the warm color scheme. Glasses sparkle, music plays, table settings enhance the appearance of the food. But none of it happens by magic. The behind-the-scenes work of getting a restaurant up and running for the season is extensive, and though much of it may be routine, unexpected issues always seem to arise.
"It is a challenge every year," says Mr. deForest, also the chef, for whom seasonal reopening is a familiar process. "My biggest crisis is I convince myself I don't know how to cook anymore!" After not cooking professionally for several months, it takes him time to get back into the rhythms of the kitchen.
Beyond that, there are countless chores, both big and small. "You marshal the forces in your life," he says. "People come help you get open and do the work you can't do yourself."
A tall, deep-voiced, man with a reserved manner, Mr. deForest is known for his imaginative cuisine. He grew up on the Island, and worked at Boston's Four Seasons before establishing his first Vineyard restaurant, The Red Cat in West Tisbury. From 1999 to 2005, he operated the original Balance on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.
Co-proprietor Stacy Reilly's domain is the office. The smiling and energetic Reilly handles beverage and supply orders, accounting, staffing, building maintenance, and much more. She also pitches in where needed, even tending bar or bussing tables on a busy night. A New Yorker by birth, Ms. Reilly visited the Island for 20 years before moving here full-time in 2006 to work on the renovated Balance with Mr. deForest, bringing long experience in event planning to the project.
After a major cleanup of everything from floors to kitchen utensils, inspections are one of the most important aspects of reopening. As opening day approaches inspectors come to check on refrigeration, electrical, and fire suppression systems, emergency exits, and more.
Mr. deForest says that although some consider it an inconvenience, these routine inspections are invaluable for the restaurant owner. "When you get it done yearly then you know your T's are crossed and your I's are dotted," he says, and proudly notes that Balance is one of few local establishments earning a "perfect zero," indicating no violations, from the Oak Bluffs Board of Health last year.
The restaurant must also renew food, liquor, entertainment, and common victualer's licenses.
Hiring staff went smoothly this spring, Ms. Reilly says, since many of last season's employees are returning. Because they are all experienced, little training is needed aside from updates on bar and menu changes.
Work goes on for the proprietors even during the off-season. They meet with food and beverage distributors, taste wines, explore new products, book musicians, and consider possible theme events to draw new customers. Ms. Reilly takes inventory of alcohol and paper goods left from last season, places orders to restock bar supplies, and renews the linen service.
Even with weeks of preparation, the days before opening in April were hectic. Along with a parade of deliverymen, Comcast technicians came to reconnect the Internet cable, minor electrical work was done, and propane tanks had to be refilled. Ms. Reilly herself installed racks for stemware.
With fine dining at the heart of the establishment, planning the season's menu is Mr. deForest's most important task, one he thinks about constantly. "We're really letting the menu develop itself," he says. His goal is to include well-liked signature items, which may evolve over time, along with new items. Daily specials are inspired by local produce at its peak and even by a fisherman showing up at the door with a special catch.
The restaurant buys food in small quantity, with an eye to maintaining freshness. Fish comes from the Net Result in Vineyard Haven, and ground beef for the hefty Reliable Burger is purchased in five or 10-pound batches from the market on Circuit Avenue. Mr. deForest uses locally grown food whenever possible, ordering from farms and individual growers.
Ms. Reilly says the new Oak Bluffs Avenue location, only steps from the harbor, has succeeded in drawing patrons who might have never found the restaurant when it was on Circuit Avenue. "You can't miss it," she says.
The partners aim to attract a widely varied clientele, Ms. Reilly says, from celebrities to vacationers and everyday Islanders who live and work here. While the former Balance was known as a haven for a fun-loving young crowd, the new one is geared to a broader age range. "We wanted a place for grown-ups to go to," she says."
The bar has a sophisticated but comfortable feel: music plays, but TVs are nearby so fans will not miss favorite sporting events. With a wide range of prices, the menu is geared to bringing in customers for a casual bite as well as those who are celebrating a special occasion. By turning down the decibel level on music in the dining area, diners are put at ease.
On opening night both regulars and new customers filled the dining room and within days Balance was humming along smoothly. Last weekend the restaurant was thrown into temporary chaos after a delivery person inadvertently set off an alarm, bringing police and requiring technicians to reset the system. But weathering the unexpected is nothing new for Mr. deForest and Ms. Reilly, as they sail into another summer season.