Paul, pastry and peace

It was late August, 2002. My then-husband and I were heading to Maine for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary. For some long ago forgotten reason, we drove down Lark St and happened to notice Andrew Plummer sitting outside of what I had always known as The State Street Pub. We pulled over to stop and catch up, learning that one of Center Square’s most beautiful spaces was finally going to be open once again as a new restaurant, McGuire’s.   

With two little boys at home and a full time job, I had been out of the restaurant business for a few years, but I missed it. The last few months had been challenging – a cancer diagnosis, followed by surgery and, just weeks ago, radioactive iodine treatment. Not quite a year post-9/11, the world and life felt uncertain. I asked Andrew if there might be an opportunity for me at this soon-to-open new place.

He said talk to Paul.

A couple of weeks later, I met with Paul and expressed my interest in working ”a night or two a month.” His face reflected his own lack of interest in what I was seeking. ”Why would I want to hire you to work once or twice a month?” he asked. I responded by telling him that he would be damn lucky to have me there, even if it was only one night a month. He looked at me a bit more intently and nodded. I got hired.

I had close to 20 years of experience at that point in time but, as Paul taught me, there was still plenty for me to learn.

If you’ve been in the industry, maybe you, too, have been fortunate enough to work in a place where everything – kitchen, bar, and floor, all come together in a way that can only be described as magical. That’s what we had in those days at McGuire’s. The kitchen, with Andrew Plummer, Rick Weber and Brian Bowden, was preparing and plating food that was creative and delicious. Johnny Wiz and Kevin Tighe were pouring drinks and queueing up playlists designed to enhance the menu and the overall vibe, while the servers, under Paul’s constant supervision, were delivering plates and an experiences that could be found nowhere else in the area. It was ever so special.

Paul’s willingness to take me on despite my limited availability, was just one small example of how he often went with his gut when it came to hiring front of the house staff. He took chances on those who were green, as well as those who came to the position with more experience, be it in hospitality, or perhaps, with addiction.

He wanted each of us, regardless of how we came to be under his wing, to do and be our best.

He wasn’t always easy to work for and there were times when I left for the night annoyed – either by him or myself. Almost without exception, if the blame could be placed on him for whatever the situation might have been, he contacted me in the morning to apologize and clear the air. He always made me feel appreciated.

Because of Paul, I have people in my life I otherwise would never have known. I have him to thank for the confidence I developed in my ability to provide hospitality at a level which sadly now seems to be mostly forgotten in an industry which has been knocked down and kicked in the teeth by the pandemic, ever rising operating costs and inflation that just won’t quit.

My fondness for almond croissants (“Put it in the microwave for 15 seconds. Trust me.”) came directly from Paul and I know I’ll never eat another one without thinking of him.

Last night, I raised a glass to Paul McCullough, a man I never shared a drink with in this life. He was at his best, his finest, sober, strong and focused when I worked beside him and learned from him. That’s how I’ll choose to remember him. Always.

Peace, Paulo.

3 thoughts on “Paul, pastry and peace

  1. The people we meet and love on this Earthly place are the same people who will greet us with love and open arms in our next life. RIP Paul.

    1. Heartfelt and accurate!
      I met Paul and Susan at Mezza and rooted for their success.
      I made it a point to be at 15 Church on opening night with my daughter.
      I had already attended the soft opening on a miserable sleeting night. Paul made a point of introducing me to Johnathan and Yasmine and showing me the kitchen. On subsequent visits Paul always made me feel special – as he did with every guest.
      I had a wonderful New Year’s Eve dinner with wine tasting – expensive but worth every penny.
      15 Church was the standard that I judged other restaurants – including an enjoyable dinner at the CIA (15 Church was better).
      I would like nothing better than to be able to roll back the clock and see Paul, Susan, Jonathan, Yasmine, et al for a another wonderful dining experience.
      I will miss Paul but always remember his charm and attention to detail.
      Bon appetit.

      1. Bill – Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts. I nodded my head reading your words and find consolation in the knowledge that what Paul and his team provided to you was well received and remembered. He won’t be forgotten.

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