Five Horses Tavern
400 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA 02144
535 Columbus Avenue, South End Boston
“No one could have foreseen the problems that we were going to have between the landlords and the people we were purchasing from,” said Welsh. “There were also a lot of obstacles with the city that our attorneys helped us navigate.”
Negotiating the Lease
In addition to renegotiating the purchase agreement with the seller, Welsh also had to renegotiate a new 15-year lease.
“The seller had financial problems, which made it that much harder to cut a deal that protected me as the buyer,” said Welsh.
Since each unit in the building is a condo, there is an association that governs it. That meant that in addition to negotiating a lease with the landlord, Welsh was also negotiating with the condo association. Welch said navigating the condo document, and understanding the rules and regulations overseeing the building was challenging.
“I needed to make sure that I was protected not only from the landowners, but that the condo association couldn’t affect my business,” said Welsh.
Zoning and Permits
Soon after the architect’s plans were submitted, Welsh was faced with another frustration when the building permit application was rejected.
Prior to the purchase, language in the zoning papers had the space temporarily zoned for a take-out restaurant, which meant that technically, the space was not currently approved as a restaurant. But because Welsh took over the basement level, he increased the interior capacity. He was advised to return to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to obtain permit zoning for a restaurant before he could proceed with renovation.
That process took six months.
Welsh had to show the ZBA documentation for the condo, and past licenses that the previous owner had from the city and the state showing that the space was, in fact, licensed to be a restaurant.
“The Zoning Board said yes, but only approved the existing capacity of 49 seats,” said Welsh. That was despite explaining the size with the basement takeover, and the addition of bathrooms and sprinklers and everything that, per code, would allow for 79 seats.
Keeping the Neighborhood Happy
Sure, the food and atmosphere of a neighborhood eatery are what keeps people returning, but a lot goes on behind-the-scenes that is critical in keeping the peace.
“Someone on the top floor complained that the roof fan was too loud; another tenant said the bass from the speakers in the restaurant was too loud,” said Welsh. “I went above and beyond what the condo association requested to make the residents happy.”
These issues were addressed by installing acoustical tiles in the ceiling. Speakers were then removed and wrapped in studio-grade sound absorption rubber. On the rooftop, the fan was removed and a 10×10 sound and vibration absorption pad was installed.
From Georgetown to Beantown
Welsh attended Georgetown University. After graduating in ’03, he worked for a year and a half in sales and marketing for a Washington, D.C. consulting firm.
“I knew right away that the corporate life was not for me,” said Welsh. “I couldn’t be trapped in a cubicle all day. At that point I was so young and had nothing to lose so I took a chance and moved to Boston.”
A family friend owned a number of restaurants, and for seven years Welsh learned first hand what it meant to be kitchen cook, door person, bartender and bar manager. He learned how to run a restaurant while working in Inman Square. Soon after he hired a broker and found the location for his first space in Davis Square.
The Five Horses Concept
Welsh started his training in a cocktail bar that served upscale, affordable bar food. His next stop was at a restaurant with a focus on craft beer. Passionate about craft beer and the small breweries that were popping up, he went with his heart and sprinkled in craft cocktails and created a creative, affordable menu.
The Davis location boasts 140 whiskies, 36 draft beers and serves a high volume of craft cocktails. The South End location serves 40 rotating drafts and stocks 60 bottled brands. Without a full liquor license, the emphasis is on wine, cordials, and craft beer.
Welsh is very focused on his kitchen.
“Everyone can have beer and wine and cocktails- we all buy it from the same place- but if you’re going to have a restaurant, the main thing people come for is the food,” said Welsh.
Five Horses has a price cap of $20 on menu items. The hope, Welsh says, is to capture people once or twice throughout the week instead of once or twice a month. Both locations are very casual, and draw heavily from the surrounding neighborhoods. The eclectic. menus ranges from tacos and muscles, to mac and cheese and artesian pizzas.
Five Horses Davis Square has nabbed “Best of Boston” for the past two years.
“I tell the staff that I want customers to feel like they’re in my living room every night of the week,” says Welsh. “You’ll never see bartenders with the cell phones out, or servers gossiping by the service bar.”
Five Horses – What’s in the name
Welch says the name he chose for his two restaurants came about from a chance meeting with a patron at his last job who owned a bar in New York called The Pony. At the time, Welsh says he was on the fence about whether or not to go out on his own. He thought The Pony was a catchy name, and Five Horses immediately came to mind. Growing up in Saratoga Springs, four blocks from the racetrack, Welsh worked there throughout high school and college. He also has four brothers so collectively they make the number five.
“That night I went online, did a name search and nothing came up,” said Welsh. “I trademarked it, bought the website URL. I thought, at the very least, I’m now committed to doing this at some point in my life.”
The importance of a trusted support system
“I interact with a lot of different people- employees, customers, contractors, and white-collar professionals,” says Welsh. “My law firm doesn’t care if you’re some kid trying to open a business at age 30, or if you’re a big time executive trying to push a deal through Boston. You are treated the same.”
Welsh said no matter what issue he had getting his restaurants up and running, they were a phone call away.
“There was no, ‘I’ll get back to you in two days’ or ‘Leave a Message.’ Someone was always on the line in a timely fashion,” says Welch.
He recalls the day when the deal on his first location fell through hours before Thanksgiving.
“Scott Wittlin was on the phone with me Thanksgiving Day from his in-laws place, helping me figure out how we were going to fix things,” says Welsh. “To me, that speaks so much about what kind of operation that they’re running. I think that’s rare these days.”