DOVER – When Dover Brickhouse owner Chris Serrecchia began to experience personnel issues, he began to think of creative solutions. After losing most of his kitchen staff, he explored options like renting part of the restaurant and the kitchen to a smaller restaurant, but decided that was not the solution.
Serrecchia’s retention and recruitment challenges are not unique, as many other local and national restaurateurs have struggled to hire. It is even more difficult to compete with seasonal wages without passing the cost on to customers.
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“Help has become really hard to find and we are paying a lot of money just to be open,” Serrecchia said. “It is no longer financially viable to continue like this. I’ve been in our building for 17 years now, and have owned the business for 14 years, and I think it’s time for a change, refresh it and think outside the box.
So he forged a partnership with Mark Segal, owner of Gravy in Somersworth, as a solution to getting more help in the kitchen. Segal was already interested in a slow expansion of Gravy’s operations, but not quite ready to embark on a new lease and a new location. Naturally, the partnership was perfect, he said.
How Gravy and Brickhouse will work together
Segal and some of his team will be working in the kitchen at the Dover Brickhouse Wednesday through Sunday, starting June 23.
“I saw that he had lost almost his entire kitchen team and as a restaurant owner I felt bad for him,” Segal said. “I reached out, thinking there was really nothing I could do but sympathize a little and see if I could get him help. I was honored that he gave me an opportunity to work together.
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Segal calls the partnership “Brickhouse up front, sauce back”, but it’s actually an infusion of favorites from their two menus from those days. While the menu is still being finalized, customers can expect Brickhouse staples like wings, in addition to the lighter, more customizable options that Gravy serves.
How will Segal manage the two spots with the same workforce? He says he lucked out with the hiring and is grateful to have Renee Dockham, a staff member, as an anchor to maintain Gravy’s Fort.
“She’s just incredibly talented and wonderful on both sides of the house, so she’s very comfortable running all the food in gravy,” Segal said. “Plus, working just a few days at Brickhouse gives me a window to bounce back in between.”
The Dover Brickhouse hosted a pop-up Wednesday night, on a trial basis to help staff get started next weekend.
“I wanted to find someone like Mark – someone who is a seasoned chef, someone who loves and is good at what they do,” Serrecchia said. “It makes sense for me to reduce my profits a bit so that I can deliver a good product with someone who is reliable and who wants to be there. I think we can both benefit from the relationship.
The sauce remains open in Somersworth
Gravy is a young restaurant that opened in early 2020 in the heart of downtown Somersworth in the old 1886 railway station, weeks before the coronavirus pandemic closures began.
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But Segal was no stranger to catering, having worked as an executive chef at Portsmouth restaurants such as Pesce Blue and the One Hundred Club after working for award-winning chefs in California.
Serrecchia said he had ties to the old train station, when station 319 occupied the lower space of the building. This is where Serrecchia began his career, taking his first jobs in the restaurant business, so he sees the new partnership loop.
Segal said it was a great opportunity for Gravy to enter the Dover market, while also partnering with a well-established restaurant like the Dover Brickhouse. Segal jokes that the ‘Gravy Train’ is now heading for Dover, but claims his location in Somersworth is not going anywhere.
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“I’m a resident of Dover and my business is in Somersworth, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds for me,” Segal said. “Somersworth will be there for the long haul. I really love the community there and I love being a part of it. It’s an opportunity to have an extra side to maintain growth.
Speaking of this growth, Segal recently purchased a 23-passenger bus which it hopes to convert into a food and beverage truck in the future when local events intensify later this year.