30 Under 30 Update: Bryanna Lee Tebbetts on BRINE
To celebrate its 1-year anniversary, lauded North Shore restaurant BRINE Oyster Bar will give guests a special deal, expanding its Thursday night "Buck a Shuck" special to encompass all hours during the entire first week of February. And though general manager Bryanna Lee Tebbetts is generally more concerned with running the ins, outs, and everything else associated with the restaurant's operations, maybe - if you ask nicely - this Boston 30 Under 30 honoree will take a second to shuck you one herself.
After all, that's how she got started.
"The deal was, I got five dollars to shuck each gallon. I think it took me a week to do one," laughs Tebbetts of her foray to the food world at 8 years old. The Rowley, Massachusetts native grew up spending time at her family's seafood company ("Cheap babysitting!"), where she learned some valuable lessons early on - and not just about shellfish. Hard work, dedication and the value of a dollar struck a chord with Tebbetts, who was impatient to get started on the career in the restaurant biz that she had always known she wanted. But it wasn't cooking that appealed to her. It was the front of house work: running a show, making gears turn, creating a special event. "Even as a kid, at family dinner parties I'd always want to set the table, clear the dishes, help make everything happen."
Today at 24 years old, that's exactly what she does - big time. In December she scored a spot on our "30 Under 30" list for overseeing 20 employees and a $1.5 million annual P&L, impressive eats for a young manager on their own. That she's steered BRINE toward big accolades ("Best New Restaurant" from Boston magazine) and innovative programs (like its 15-course "Culinary Opus" series) in year one is even cooler. But Tebbetts offers credit to mentor Nancy Batista-Caswell, whose Caswell Restaurant Group owns BRINE and sibling restaurant Ceia Kitchen + Bar, for understanding that age is less important than ambition.
"I felt defeated," recalls Tebbetts of the summer that followed graduation from Johnson & Wales, where she studied events management. "I had spent all this money on a degree, but no one would consider me because on paper I didn't have restaurant management experience." But she clicked with Batista-Caswell at her interview; she too had studied at Johnson & Wales, and achieved her first assistant GM position at barely 20. "She's said that she sees a lot of herself in me," says Tebbetts, who was hired on the spot to start a GM role at Ceia. BRINE became her baby when it opened a year ago. And in an industry where chefs often get all the credit, Tebbetts continues to plug away behind the scenes and at front of house; she's usually first to arrive and last to leave - when the dishwasher stops, around 2 AM.
Where does she want to take things going forward? One, she hopes to increase visibility of BRINE as a destination known not just for its seafood (and impressive crudo), but for its steaks too. ("It's the highest quality beef you'll find in the area," she offers.) And now that the craziness of the first year is over, Tebbetts hopes to take even more weight off Batista-Caswell's owners - so that she can dedicate more time to expanding the restaurant group and prep a third concept in the offing. One thing Tebbetts doesn't see in her future: her own restaurant.
"It would be one thing if, one day, the group was on its sixth restaurant Nancy came to me and said, 'Do you want to be a partner?'" she muses. "But honestly, I don't think I want to open my own restaurant. "It's not a matter of not having faith in myself. I just love and appreciate being able to work with a mentor: someone to go to for questions, advice, and bouncing ideas." Fair enough. Bit someday, we have a feeling, that role will belong to her.