Bobo’s Derek Goodman Might Play Your Record Request

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"[P]eople have sat through half their meal and then are like, 'I'm not in Babbo, am I?'" Photo: Melissa Hom

After studying opera in college, Derek Goodman decided to become a voice-over artist after people told him “it sounds like you’re on the radio.” If you call Bobo and you’re lucky, he may be working the reservation line, but Goodman is mostly a server. He’s been with the restaurant ever since it opened in September, when owner Carlos Suarez recruited him from Blue Fin. We asked Goodman about Bobo’s old-school sound system, new high-low direction, and whether he thinks its third chef, Patrick Connelly, will stick.

Is the new focus on the bar area a result of the tumbling economy?
That definitely played a factor. We wanted to encourage people to come just because it’s a Thursday and you want to have a little something to eat and something to drink. The downstairs bar menu is designed to be a heck of a lot more affordable. Nothing’s more expensive than $18, and it's designed around family-style, fun food. The aesthetics have changed as well. It was all in an attempt to make it a little more approachable so people could walk by and feel a little more inclined to just walk in.

The restaurant’s unmarked; do people come in and confuse it with Babbo?
We’ve had plenty of situations where people have sat through half their meal and then are like “I’m not in Babbo, am I?” I had a table, I want to say two weeks ago. These came in right when we opened at six o’clock. They had even shared with me how excited they were to get a reservation because they were trying for a long time. But, after they had ordered and sat for a little bit they asked me how I pronounce the name of the restaurant. I said “Bobo,” she said, “you don’t pronounce it Babbo?” And then it dawned on them. They stayed, they loved it, and they came back. We’ll take those mistakes because if someone’s going to sit down, we’ll show them a good time anyway.

Who came up with using old LPs as menus in the bar area?
The idea of the records was actually Patrick’s. Because we do all of our music for the restaurant off of an old-fashioned LP player rather than using an iPod, everybody was like, “that’s a great idea.” At first, it was a little bit fifty-fifty. Some people were really excited, then there were a handful of people who were just like “oh, we thought you guys were a little bit classier than this.”

What sort of records do you play?
You’ve gotta pick and choose as you go. We start off with lighter jazz, anything from Charlie Bird to Miles Davis. We also find ourselves playing a lot of Ray Charles or some nights a lot of reggae. If it’s more of a party atmosphere, mid-eighties rock, because a lot of the crowd, that’s what they grew up on. For the most part we just look at the crowd and try to make a good decision on what they’re going to enjoy the most.

How do you judge what the crowd wants to hear?
Age is a big part of it, but also body demeanor. If it looks like they’re moving and already lively maybe you want to do something that contributes to that. It’s going to have a lot to do with how people are dressed, [too]. And the guests that are sitting at the bar downstairs can actually see the records and kind of flip through things. I’m not saying that we necessarily take requests, but as long as the guests are making selections that are fair enough, we’ll let the guests make choices. If the evening’s just getting started, we don’t want to be blasting Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" album.

So why did Suarez go all the way to Boston to find new chef Patrick Connelly?
It wasn’t specifically about Boston. I think he was looking for somebody that shared the same views. Chefs can sometimes be one way or another, and Patrick is definitely the way where he’s just very easy to get along with: He respects a lot of people’s work; he doesn’t just assume everything he’s doing is outstanding; he’s willing to try things; he’s open to criticism. The first guy [Nicolas Cantrel], it became clear pretty quickly that what we were trying to do with the restaurant — the style, the size, the prices — wasn’t what he wanted to do with his career. It was time to get, I hate to say it, fresh blood. And then Jared Stafford-Hill was extremely talented, but also a little bit harder to work with, ran a little bit hotter and colder. It sounds weird, it’s almost like looking for the right partner in a romantic relationship, [finding] the right owner and chef for the restaurant.

So is Suarez like a Latin lover when it comes to looking for multiple chef partners?
Well, it goes both ways. Carlos is half Cuban and half British, so I guess one side would and another wouldn’t at all.