Merlin Verrier has a 45-second commute to work as culinary director for Next Door, a restaurant opening this month in Eastbridge that’s part of The Kitchen Restaurant Group. He says it’s a double-edged sword. “The good news is I am 45 seconds from work and the bad news is I’m 45 seconds from work!” The best part, he says is that “it creates a little more ownership because it’s my friends and neighbors going, so there’s a lot of pride for me.”
It’s the same situation for Verrier’s colleague, fellow Stapleton resident Colin Ness, who is the director of operations for Next Door, which will have four locations with the Eastbridge opening. From the start, Ness was excited about the possibility for the Eastbridge restaurant because he felt there was a lack of independent, chef-driven restaurants in his neighborhood.
Next Door’s concept is an American eatery. “America is a melting pot and an American eatery allows latitude to experiment with different flavors from around the world because America has a little bit of everything,” Ness says. Examples include Thai Butternut Squash Soup, Meatballs on Polenta, a vegetarian Beet Burger and Greek Salad.
The restaurant looks close to home when it comes to sourcing. “If it can be harvested in the morning and delivered to us for evening service, it’s considered local,” says Verrier. They make everything from scratch except bread, which they get from Boulder’s Izzio Artisan Bakery. “Everything is better when it’s made from scratch,” says Verrier, “because then you’re in complete control of the ingredients you use.”
Although Next Door will be suitable for adults for date night or an outing with friends, both Ness and Verrier are parents and understand the challenges of dining with kids. “There’s nothing worse than when you go to a restaurant and the kids are hungry and that stopwatch starts and you know they’re going to have a meltdown if they don’t get something in their stomachs,” says Ness. To that end, a free small dish of hummus, carrots and celery will immediately be brought out for kids. “We provide some sustenance and then mom and dad can relax,” says Ness who adds that kids’ menus will have activities to do so families can interact with each other.
Verrier and Ness will be joined by general manager Chris Calcaterra, who most recently lived in Chicago. Having grown up in the restaurant industry, he’s looking forward to opening a new restaurant with the team who, he says, care as much about the food they serve as the communities the restaurants are in. Ness is looking forward to the sense of community that will be created through the project, and feels the fellow restaurants are unique enough that they aren’t competition to each other and can, instead, be supportive.
For Verrier, the food is the core. “Our big focus is to put together dishes that you’re going to feel really good about eating. Obviously, there’s a domino effect afterward, which is better performance in life, feeling better about yourself and feeling happier. That’s the ultimate goal for what we do.”