Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel may be the big names attached to Squable, but they aren’t the people cooking the food or creating the menu for the eagerly anticipated restaurant that's set to open this month in the Heights. Those responsibilities rest with chef partners Mark Clayton and Drew Gimma.
Together, these two industry veterans — Clayton worked for Yu at Oxheart and spent time working for Agircole Hospitality, while Gimma, a baker, worked on the opening team at Common Bond before moving to Better Luck Tomorrow — are leading a kitchen for the first time in their careers. Ultimately, it’s their collective responsibility to bring the new neighborhood restaurant to life.
“Justin and Bobby are the owners,” Clayton tells CultureMap. “They are very much involved in terms of guiding the direction that we put the menu in, but all of the ideas for the menu are Drew’s and my own. They come in with comments and critique and suggestions on how we can better execute that, how we can better present it, how we can let people know what we’re trying to do.”
The chefs had never worked together before signing on to Squable, but they quickly discovered the reasons Yu and Heugel united them for the restaurant. Turns out that they have a similar approach to creating dishes.
“I’ve always loved how bakers approach food with a very methodical, precise method,” Clayton says. “They have to weigh everything out to make sure everything is the same day-to-day. That’s how I like to work on the savory side. I think we’re both focused on consistency, quality, and being precise. I think that meshes really well.”
Uniting chef with baker should yield some interesting results when the restaurant opens later this month. Working together, they’re developing a European-inspired menu that utilizes high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. True to its mission as a neighborhood restaurant, they want a balanced array of offerings that diners could come back for once or twice a week. Of course, Gimma's breads will play a prominent role in the dishes. Asked for details, the chefs offer one example of how Gimma’s dough skills should pair well with Clayton’s savory expertise.
“There’ll be a potato flatbread that’s layered sheets of cracker that we’re topping like a tarte flambée with pork, charred green onions, braised onions," Gimma says.
“We’re both super into pizza,” Clayton adds. “We’re trying to figure out a way to sneak a pizza-like item onto the menu without actually have to serve pizza. I really love tarte flambée; they’re really delicious.”
While the chefs have freedom to create the menu they think will connect with diners, they’re drawing on their partners’ areas of expertise for design and equipment. Expect signature touches from both partners’ other establishments like a brass bar top (as seen at Anvil and BLT) and silverware drawers that are integrated into the tables (as seen at Theodore Rex).
In the front of the house, Terry Williams (Anvil, BLT) will serve as general manager, while Anna Wilkins will make the jump from BLT to serve as head bartender. Justin Vann, Yu’s partner in Public Services Wine and Whisky, will oversee the wine list, which offers 14 selections by-the-glass and 60 bottles.
“It’s been incredible to see,” Clayton says about the bar staff. “[Williams and Wilkins] have a very methodical way they make drinks that I haven’t seen in a lot of bars. I have been to a lot of different bars in a lot of different cities, but I like the way they think about using ingredients you don’t usually see in cocktails.”
All that talent means Squable will open with high expectations. The chefs acknowledge that they’re excited and a little nervous, but they don’t see either of those emotions as a bad thing.
“That nervousness gives you an edge,” Clayton says. “I lean into that feeling of nervousness, because it makes me more focused on what I need to get accomplished. This is a big deal. We all want this to be a success. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that’s the case.”