Jasper White Preps Summer Shack Cambridge RenovationBy Scott Kearnan
January 23, 2014 By Scott Kearnan | January 23, 2014
The Cambridge location of Jasper White's Summer Summer Shack is about to get a facelift, the star chef tells Zagat. "It's been screaming for it," says White, who will close the flagship for about a week in February to complete the renovations, modeled after a recent million-dollar redo of the Mohegan Sun location that revamped the trademark beach hut vibe to a sleeker, modernized incarnation. When finished, Cambridge may wind up boasting the biggest oyster bar in city, says White, who plans a 30-seat bar that will have diners sitting nose to nose with shuckers. Also big: the Oyster Open, which White co-founded, celebrating its 10th year at Mohegan Sun on Sunday, January 26. It's part of the weekend-long "Sun WineFest," and White feels it has grown in esteem (last year's winner came all the way from Norway) to be second only to Galway's world championship.
The Summer Shack renovations are coming after a strong year for the restaurants, says White, who admits that more challenging ones preceded. "We spent the last couple years hunkering down and refining what we need to do," says White, adding that a new Summer Shack location probably won't appear in the area anytime soon. (A new seafood concept? He has some ideas, and plans to consider it more closely in the year ahead.) White says the whole industry has become more challenging since he opened his late fine dining icon Jasper's in 1983. "Once upon a time, 20 percent profit made you a success. Today, 10 percent profit makes you a genius," says the chef. But despite increased competition and expensive overhead, White says he's happy to see the evolution of Boston's dining scene over the last three decades, which he thinks is now flush with restaurants on par with the best in the world. "When it came to culinary, for a long time America was lagging behind when compared to the other arts," he says. "We've caught up."
Another change: the move far away from the white tablecloth experience. But White, who surprised the food world when he opened his casual Summer Shack digs 14 years ago, isn't shedding any tears. "I do think I helped lead the way, or at least gave people the guts to try something different," he says. But ultimately, White explains, it was part of a natural industry evolution. "At the end of the day, there's no longer an economic model for fine dining that works. Chefs have been pretty much forced to loosen up their ties. It's just like fashion; the standard of dress has changed, but I don't think that means it has gotten worse. You can wear a ten dollar pair of black pants or a three hundred dollar pair of jeans. Who's to say?"