IPSWICH — If you see Bob Vallis and he looks tired, cut him some slack.
He opened the Brown Dog restaurant quietly two weeks ago and found unexpectedly strong demand.
Now working late nights seven days a week after opening in the morning to prep food, Vallis laughs, “It’s been extremely busy. We weren’t prepared for it.”
“The town of Ipswich is eager to have more restaurants,” he says.
A resident of Gloucester, Vallis owned the Blackburn Tavern in that city for 11 years.
But that included a night club. “That aspect of it kind of burned me out,” Vallis says.
So he sold the business and took time off and evaluate his options. But he always wanted to own a restaurant … and ended up thinking, “Why did I do this?”
He jumped back into the business and spent a few years trying to find the right place. “There aren’t that many out there,” he notes.
Now employing around 12 people, Vallis is serving up “classic American food — unpretentious in a nice atmosphere.”
“It’s comfort food you had when you were growing up — things you are familiar with,” he adds.
Behind the large horseshoe bar, there is a selection of wine and beer. But Vallis is concentrating on Scotch whisky and bourbon.
He likes Salt Kitchen’s concentration on rum, calling it a “clever idea.” But the whisky and bourbon “seems to go well with the type of pub atmosphere we have here,” he says.
To drive that point home, he points to two leather couches in front of a fireplace and notes how nice it will be to sit there in winter.
Vallis is also happy with his location. The Brown Dog is the third new restaurant to open on his stretch of Central Street in the last few months.
In fact, his neighbor, The Wine Tap Cafe, will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony this evening, October 19.
The other new restaurant, Heart and Soul Cafe, opened in late July.
Vallis named the business after his dog, Tex, whom he rescued around 10 years ago.
But demand has kept him hopping. He is looking for more chefs to take some of the load off.
“For four hours back there [in the kitchen], the tickets are flying,” he says.
But citing customer feedback, Vallis says, “The town of Ipswich is eager to have more restaurants,” and he hopes to see more open in future.
“It creates sort of a destination area for people to come to,” Vallis adds. If people come to town to check out one restaurant and it is busy, they can go elsewhere, he says.
It’s a model endorsed by David Marino, owner of The Wine Tap Cafe. He provides small-plate meals and appetizers and promotes his business as a place to go before or after a meal in another local restaurant.
“I’ve always loved the Choate Bridge [Pub],” Vallis says. “This is another alternative, a little bit different, and it gives people more variety.”