‘We Have Massive Shoes To Fill’
Matt Jones and Brendan O’Donnell, the two new partners of the LaForge Restaurant on Bellevue Avenue, held a press conference on Wednesday, April 19 to introduce themselves to a curious crowd and to discuss their plans for the 54-year-old Newport Institution when it changes hands, if all goes as planned, in mid-May.
When the news broke earlier this month that owner Peter Crowley had filed an application to transfer the liquor license into the hands of Audrain Building owner Nicholas Schorsch, many local Newporters reacted with dismay.
To combat that, Jones and O’Donnell did something unprecedented in the Newport restaurant world. In what was more like a meet-and-greet than a press conference, they shared equal time and similar sentiments with current owner Peter Crowley, whose father opened the local institution 54 years ago.
“We know that there are tons of rumors,” said Jones. “It’s going to close, we’re going to change the name, we’re going to gut the place.”
“This is a great historical restaurant,” Jones continued. “There will not be a lot of changes,” he added. “It’s not going to become a dance club; and we are not shutting down for two weeks” in order to move on in and make changes.
“We have massive shoes to fill,” O’Donnell told the crowd.
In other words the two were there to assure everyone that as much as possible, they plan on maintaining the flavor of the place. Crowley explained how after O’Donnell first approached him in January, “from the very beginning I felt comfortable. They didn’t want to change the name or reinvent the wheel,” he said. “They wanted to embrace the customers, keep the family atmosphere.
“It was a change I could transition into,” he said.
Once they had their sights set on the LaForge, explained Matt, “we had to go out and raise the money” to complete the deal. “We had to find people who liked our vision.” Schorsch, it appears, was the person.
Jones and O’Donnell have been friends since college. Jones, a veteran of eight years and active duty in Afghanistan (his most recent one was last summer), lives in Middletown. O’Donnell moved to Portsmouth from New York City, where he was a partner in a restaurant in Soho, and where he says he “learned a ton” as the rookie partner.