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The Surprenant System

Añjeo – Hyannis

Eight years later, in 2010, Surprenant launched his second concept, Añejo Mexican Bistro & Tequila Bar on Falmouth’s Main Street. Think of this as Jupiter of the Surprenant system, for it’s the first of a pair. “Añejo” means vintage, mature, or aged, and armchair gastronomists most likely associate the term with a fine tequila. While Añejo has some crossover with his parents landmark restaurant, Surprenant envisioned something more traditional, and he wanted to provide more of an outdoor dining experience. He partnered with an old friend of his, Jesse Kersey, who had worked with him at Sam Diego’s. Kersey is originally from California, and he missed the Mexican food of his childhood. As they built the concept together, the partners conducted extensive “market research.” Surprenant recalls, “Jesse and I spent a lot of time at Erwin Ramos’s Café Olé in Cambridge and at Casa Romero off Newbury Street in Boston.” 

Surprenant’s next venture would be a completely different type of entity, and it was one that he felt almost a responsibility to open. He had moved to Osterville, and had seen the turnover of restaurants at 791 Main Street; he wanted to provide something more stable for the community and also to try to elevate the village as more of a dining destination. In 2013, he opened Crisp Flatbread, which offers wings, meatballs, and pasta, but is most renowned for its wood fired pizzas. As Surprenant told Mary Katherine Starr, “All of the pizza-making goes on right in front of the customer in the dining room. Customers love to see the product from start to finish, and the passion that goes into it. It’s a lot of fun.” Crisp enjoyed rapid acclaim and also succeeds in providing excellent gluten free pizza. Surprenant says, “We searched high and low for the right product and even tried making it ourselves; ultimately we found an amazing GF pizza crust at a little bakery in Cranston, RI, and we have contracted them to make our GF crust. Its flavor is by far the best.” As demand for takeout for all types of pizza grew, Surprenant saw the need for a satellite devoted entirely to this service, so he opened Crisp, Too across the street. All of the pizza chefs at the new location receive their training in the original kitchen, and they go back and forth between the two. Surprenant says, “We also have a kitchen manager in charge of training and quality control; he is vital to keeping both locations on the same page.”

Five Bays Bistro

The most recent planet, the “Saturn,” in Surprenant’s orbit is Añejo Hyannis, opened in 2018. Kersey and Surprenant had always wanted a second location for Añejo, and they moved into an existing Mexican restaurant, where the old Beech Tree Cantina once stood; the 200-year-old tree still grows in the middle of it. Plans for further spin-offs of Añejo have been in the works, but the pandemic has put further developments on hold. 2020 has been a challenging and difficult year for people in all walks of life, but the hospitality and restaurant industries have been hit particularly hard. Surprenant optimistically says, “Hopefully in the future we will look back at this time with a new confidence that if we were able to survive it, then the sky is the limit for the potential of our restaurants. We will survive.”

The enduring success of Surprenant’s collection of restaurants for so many years has much to do with his philosophy as both an owner and a manager. He says, “I enjoy working with passionate, creative people and consider it my job to support my partners and employees by providing them an environment that allows them to focus on the customer experience. I’ve had the experience of not having my voice be heard when I’ve had something to contribute, so I welcome feedback from any of my employees, from the dishwasher to the general manager.” Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s book, “Setting The Table,” is the source for Surprenant’s philosophy about building a team, especially the notion that the “customer comes second. The first and most important application of hospitality is to the people who work for you, and then, in descending order of priority, everyone else: the basic premise is simple.” Surprenant adds, “It’s my experience that if we are taking care of each other first, the customer will always be taken care of in the best way.” And, it is this sense of unity, this family of both blood relations and adopted, that is the true star around which all of Surprenant’s restaurants orbit. He concludes, “I am blessed to work with friends and family everyday. That certainly makes things easier. I go into every day expecting challenges and see those challenges as a way for my restaurants to be better going forward.” 

See what the Surprenant system is all about at any of Jamie’s restaurants: Five Bays Bistro, Crisp Flatbread or either Añejo location.

And check out our coverage of Crisp Flatbread here!

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