October 16, 2017

Spreading the deadhorse love around Worcester

Photo/Brad Kane
Sean Woods, Jared Forman, Bert LaValley, co-owners of deadhorse hill and simjang in Worcester

VIEW: Spreading the deadhorse love around Worcester

Sean Woods, Jared Forman, Bert LaValley

Titles: Co-owners, deadhorse hill and simjang, Worcester

Employees: 25 (with 15 more to come)

Ages: 40 (Woods), 34 (Forman), 33 (LaValley)

Birthplaces: Queens; Brooklyn; Portland, Maine

Education: School of hard knocks, Johnson & Wales University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Nearly 18 months after opening their first restaurant – deadhorse hill – Sean Woods, Jared Forman and Bert LaValley plan on opening Korean restaurant simjang on Shrewsbury Street by the end of the year.

What is up with the lowercase names?

Woods: We just like it.

Forman: Why is that such a thing for everybody? I'm not a very good typer, so I can't reach the caps key that well.

What does simjang mean?

W: Simjang is the Korean word for heart, and Worcester is the heart of the commonwealth. We are very proud of everything that has taken place here in Worcester, and we are very proud to be a part of it.

Why go with Korean cuisine?

F: It is an amazing cuisine really underrepresented in this state. Something near and dear to my heart is in New York there is a really great K town. Sean also lived in Koreatown in Los Angeles for a long time, and there is just really great food there. It breeds a culture about fun. It is all about community and sitting around the table to eat family-style.

When will simjang open?

F: Anytime you do any of these projects, there is more red tape than you can handle, so we lean on Bert for a lot of that stuff. Trying to make it feel like the right space – choosing the right decor and the right cooking items – it just takes a long time to do all that. It is always a lot slower than someone with our attention spans can handle.

Bert, do you like being the guy to deal with the red tape?

LaValley: My main business is outside of this, mostly in construction, so I'm pretty used to it.

In a short amount of time, deadhorse became the hottest restaurant in the city.

F: We love how much the city loves it, but the best part for me, though, is what we do here every day. I love to cook. Sean loves to shake cocktails. I love to watch Sean shaking cocktails.

W: I love to watch Jared cook.

F: It's great not having to answer to anyone when you want to get a new piece of equipment or mess around with a type of cuisine Worcester may not be familiar with. We just are going to do what we love, and hopefully the people in this community will see that passion and want to be a part of it. That is what has happened so far.

Has all the buzz translated into sales?

L: Absolutely. We timed it perfectly as a lot of momentum was building in Worcester. As people get more excited about what is happening, that benefits us to get more people coming downtown.

F: The distribution process – for food and liquor – we just hit it at the right time, too. Sterling farm-to-table distributor Lettuce Be Local is a huge part of our restaurant. I get fresh fish from Japan. Captain Marden's Seafoods in Wellesley comes out here every day with fresh seafood from New England. If those things didn't happen, we couldn't do what we wanted to do in Worcester. Worcester is really close to Boston, but even 10 years ago, it was a world away. Now, everything we can get in New York or in Boston, we can get in Worcester. That is huge.

How did you get them to come to Worcester?

W: We cultivated a lot of relationships in Boston after Jared and I worked there for years, and that is why we have access to it. Now, we have friends who are doing things out here, and we are able to make those introductions.

F: We have friends who are farmers on the border of New York, who just drive right past us to get to Boston, so they just make a stop for us here. Because they are doing that, they are trying to get other restaurants in this area to buy from them, which just increases how much local food and great products Worcester is using.

Why stay in Worcester with your second location?

F: Sean says, "Worcester, it's the place!" We believe in this city.

W: In this area, you are able to make a difference. There's great satisfaction. We've been doing this in the restaurant industry for years, but Worcester just feels right. It feels like home.

There are the financial benefits, too.

F: If you are in New York or Boston, you have to focus on just getting your rent paid every month, it sucks. I want to put all of our resources in thinking about the menu, not thinking about paying rent. It just makes for a better restaurants.

W: This is a place where you can have an idea and execute it. In Boston, you can have an idea for a restaurant and crunch the numbers, and it will cost $4 million. That's not realistic.

F: And you will be in a shoebox.

How much would it cost to put a place like deadhorse in Boston?

F: It would be so far out of price range, we don't even consider it.

L: 10x is a pretty close number.

Will you eventually open a third Worcester location?

L: Definitely.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by Brad Kane, WBJ editor.


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