The Secrets Behind 14 Restaurant Names Across America

The stories behind the signs
January 13, 2016
by Zagat Staff

Unlike baby names, there aren't books that help restaurateurs decide what to call their beloved offspring. Instead, the inspiration for a restaurant name often comes from the owners and chefs themselves, and the stories and sometimes historical figures that have influenced them along the way. Read on for the secrets behind 14 hot restaurant names across the country.

Atlanta: BeetleCat

​When Ford Fry announced that his newest restaurant, a sister to the seafood-focused Optimist, would be called BeetleCat, a collective "Whaaaa?" arose from Atlanta's food scene. And while it may seem like we've just totally run out of names, a little background shines a light on things. The Optimist was named so for two reasons — it represented the idea of hoping for a good catch, but was also named after a type of beginner's boat. BeetleCat, whose oyster bar brings a similar nautical vibe to Inman Park, is likewise named after a boat. The Beetle Cat is a traditional wooden New England sailboat that dates back to 1921.

N, 299 N. Highland Ave. NE; 678-732-0360

Austin: The Peached Tortilla

Chef-owner Eric Silverstein says he gets asked about the meaning of The Peached Tortilla all the time. "I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, so I wanted to tie the concept back to the Peach State," he says. "In addition, since some of our food is atypical, I wanted our name to be a little atypical, thus the use of the word 'peached.' Tortilla is in the name since when we started we were a food truck and served primarily tacos. We define 'getting peached' as being 'flavor-smitten,' but in all honesty it is open to interpretation."

5520 Burnet Rd. #100; 512-330-4439

Boston: Row 34

This Fort Point spin-off from the team behind Island Creek Oyster Bar is actually named for a numbered row of cages in the nursery of its bivalve source: Duxbury's Island Creek Oyster Farm. Founder Skip Bennett allowed rows of oysters (starting at row 34) to mature in racks off the bay floor, resulting in an umami-heavy, nutty flavor profile that was distinctly different from the other, more buttery oysters served at ICOB. (Want to compare and contrast? The restaurant has both the 34 oyster and traditional varieties available for your personal taste-testing.) 

383 Congress St.; 617-553-5900

Chicago: M Burger

Many know the story of how Lettuce Entertain You’s burger chain came to be. If you need a refresher, the first one occupies the former private dining room that housed the chef’s table of Tru. The 300-sq.-ft. space was transformed into a burger shop in 2010. The name comes from another Lettuce chef, Jean Joho of Everest, whose thick French accent turns the word hamburger into “mburger.” And hence the M Burger name was born.

Multiple locations

Dallas: Vivo 53

It's all about the dough at Vivo 53 in Downtown Fort Worth. The restaurant draws its name from the 53 attempts and three master bakers it took to create the perfect flavorful pizza dough (pictured in their spicy sausage pizza). The word "Vivo" means "alive" in Italian. One bite of a crispy slice of pizza and your taste buds will definitely come to life.

525 Taylor St., Fort Worth; 682-207-8700

Denver: Finn's Manor

The name of this New Orleans–inspired cocktail bar and alfresco food-truck bazaar in RiNo was inspired by a few different ideas, says co-owner Noah Price. The "manor" equation of the moniker, he explains, refers to a "gypsy palace, which encompasses everything from royalty to traveling vagabonds to troublemakers," while the the name "Finn" — the main character in Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn —  is indicative of iconic Americana, not to mention the mischievous nature that's inherent in most kids. "There's a little bit of Huckleberry Finn in all of us," says Price, who admits that it "took forever to come up with a name that had personality and meaning but wasn't too esoteric."

2927 Larimer St.

Houston: Mongoose vs. Cobra
What's more hardcore than a battle between two fierce, exotic animals?  That’s one of many reasons the Downtown bar, which features a taxidermy statue of the epic battle, chose its thought-provoking name. The namesake creatures also represent the bar’s two specialties: the unassuming mongoose (small-batch beer) and the powerful cobra (spirits).

1011 McGowen St.; 713-650-6872

Los Angeles: Sqirl

When Jessica Koslow first started Sqirl, she was just a girl making really, really good jam. Sqirl, which is pronounced like “squirrel,” is a play on the term “a girl squirreling away,” squirreling being an old preserving word for canning. Why no ‘u’? “Because it’s more about the girl and the action of squirreling away than the animal," Koslow says. Voila!

720 N. Virgil Ave.; 213-394-6526

New York City: The Gander

When Recette chef-owner Jesse Schenker’s son was born, both he and his wife started calling the kid “Goose.” So when the couple were trying to figure out names for their second concept, the idiom, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” sprang to Schenker’s mind. In this case, it appears to be true.

15 W. 18th St.; 212-229-9500

Philadelphia: Stargazy

Chef Sam Jacobson’s pie and mash shop on East Passyunk Avenue gets its name from a traditional Cornish pie. The Stargazy pie is a double-crusted affair filled with eggs, potatoes and pilchards (small, oily relatives of the sardine). Pilchards are baked into the crust with their heads sticking out and looking skyward. And while these namesake pies aren’t a staple on the regular menu, Jacobson has been known to bake a few for special occasions.

1838 E. Passyunk Ave.; 215-309-2761

San Diego: Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub

The outside-the-box name is just one element that separates this Oceanside restaurant from others. Owned by chef Davin Waite and his wife Jessica, the restaurant thrives on experimentation and challenging people's perception about food — and it starts with the name, which was inspired by off-the-beaten-path pubs in England and Ireland. From there, the restaurant embraces a nose-to-tail philosophy with its seafood dishes. Waite calls his offerings "culinary oddities" like egg-sack “sausage” and fish-sperm soup. Jessica Waite says it best: "The name seems to prepare potential customers for the unconventional nature of our business."

1815 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside; 760-271-0531

San Francisco: Chapeau!

Opened in 1996 in the Inner Richmond, Chapeau! has one of the few traditional French menus left in the city (we’re talking about escargots, cassoulet and lots of baguette). It's also gotta be one of a handful of the city's restaurants with an exclamation point in the name. “Chapeau” in French means “hat,” and chef-owner Philippe Gardelle always used to wear hats; so why not name a restaurant after his love of hats? But, it is also a French phrase for “Wow!” You can pick the meaning you prefer, hats or enthusiasm, while sipping a Calvados trou Normand.

126 Clement St.; 415-387-0408

Seattle: Brimmer & Heeltap

This cozy Ballard pub’s name comes from two British drinking terms — the “brimmer” is in reference to a glass so full it’s brimming, while the “heeltap” refers to those last dregs lingering in the bottom of the glass. What happens at Brimmer & Heeltap should be a celebration of the time between the two.

425 NW Market St.; 206-420-2534

Washington, DC: Bluejacket at The Arsenal

Despite its large portfolio of restaurants, Neighborhood Restaurant Group is the first to admit that it struggles with names — polling employees and often wavering until the very last second to settle on a moniker before opening. This was the case for Bluejacket, the brewery housed in the same Navy Yard building as The Arsenal. So, what does Bluejacket mean? Turns out it’s the name of a new Navy recruit, which is a reference to the building, which was once a ship and munitions manufacturing site for the Navy. NRG says diners sometimes bring in their copy of The Bluejacket’s Manual, a book given to new recruits since 1902.

300 Tingey St. SE; 202-524-4862