After two years of elusive city permits, endless recipe testing and agonizing construction delays, the team behind Blackbird and Avec is on the verge of opening this year's hottest restaurant-provided it doesn't kill them first.
He’s traded in his characteristic thickly knotted ties for a plain black T-shirt, his slim suits for camo cargo shorts, and he’s climbing up a shaky ladder with the bravado of an acrobat. When he reaches the top, he heaves himself over a steel barricade, legs flailing in the air, and starts walking on the grating. He’s ten feet above the sidewalk, strutting on a steel structure that three weekends ago didn’t exist.
“You okay up there, Donnie?” the general contractor asks. He doesn’t get an answer.
Ask him why his new restaurant—the pork-and-beer palace he and his partners have dubbed the Publican—is taking so long and restaurateur Donnie Madia might point to this structure. It was built to hold the heating, air conditioning and ventilation units. These things usually go on the roof, but the landlord didn’t want that—he thought building a steel box on the back of the restaurant would be more subtle. The structure cost a rumored $50,000, and it took months to secure the permits. But the restaurant is more than two years behind schedule at this point, so that’s really only part of the story.
Still, until the metal box is done, restaurant construction is on hold. So Madia is here at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, standing above steelworkers as they finish the welding. He helps lift a 300-pound grate and send it crashing to the sidewalk below. He holds his sunglasses in his teeth and shoves the grates into place with a pick almost as big as he is.
Later that morning, the wheels on one of the scaffolds unlock with three men still on it—one of them wielding a welding torch. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” they yell at nobody in particular as the scaffold rolls down a sloped driveway. The men are frantic, looking for something to grab onto. They’re picking up speed, rolling toward the mouth of a garage where cars occasionally dart into view. One guy jumps. The other two appear to be along for the descent.
Except that Madia’s there. He drops the extension cord he is coiling, runs to the scaffold and grabs it, catching it before things get disastrously out of control.
Check out the other sections in our 2008 Fall Preview: