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Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern on a Year at Battersby

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Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern.
Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern.

Last fall, Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern?two vets of Anella in Greenpoint?quietly opened Battersby in a small storefront on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. Since then, the restaurant's been a huge hit with neighbors and critics, culminating in it being named one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country by Bon Appétit. Now it's almost impossible to eat there without a lengthy wait.

Ogrodnek and Stern recently talked with Eater about their opening process, the positive press and subsequent reaction, and plans for the coming year.

At what point did you start talking about this project?

Walker Stern, co-owner: Probably the first talk was like a year before we opened. And then from that point, from the first mention, it was still like a few months before we actually started doing anything. Then once we started, it started snowballing faster.

Joseph Ogrodnek, co-owner: It was just when we were at Anella when we started talking about it. We started talking around Christmas, in December of 2010, and then we opened in 2011 in October, so it was even less than a year, I guess, but close to it.

What made you start talking about it?

Walker: The main thing was that we just wanted to get ourselves into a situation where we were independent of any owner or boss or whatever. So we felt that doing this thing together, that it was a more realistic goal.

Joseph: I think we were both just dissatisfied with the positions that we were in and we wanted to do something about it. Being at Anella, that was a restaurant that they didn't have a big budget for to open up, and when we saw that, we were like, "Well we could do this." We thought we could do it and maybe we could surprise some people by doing it. So let's give it a shot.

How'd you find this space?

Walker: We were looking all over the place really. Mostly in Brooklyn, in this area, in Park Slope, Columbia Street. It's funny, I could tell you all the spaces we looked at. We looked at the space that La Vara has now, we looked at the space Pok Pok has now. We looked at all these other spaces that have become restaurants, but this is just the one that we decided would be the best fit for us.

Joseph: We found this place to be the best size for us, with our budget and everything. Just the rent alone is not the deciding factor, there's so many other things. There's the build-out?is the exhaust system already in place or what's the key money and do we have to pay it all at once and things like that.

With all those other spaces you looked at, are you glad you chose this one?

Walker: Yeah, this is a good space.

How did the build out and opening process go?

Joseph: Our original plan was that we were gonna hire people to do it, because we can't do this. We started talking to people and the estimates were just like, wow, we didn't have enough money to do it. We were lucky, though, we had friends. A friend of mine from Philadelphia, basically my neighbor when I grew up, he's a contractor and carpenter. I was always close with him, so he was like, "Oh, I'll come up and help you guys out. I'll save you some money." He ended up driving up with his truck and leaving his tools and just showing us what to do. He'd come for four or five days at a time and then go and we would just do all of the stuff. He was here for the big things like piecing together the bar and stuff like that. So we just ended up doing a lot of that stuff ourselves. Out of necessity, we didn't imagine that would be the case.

Once you were open, what was the initial reaction?

Walker: It was pretty quiet [at first]. Nothing like it is now. But I think the reaction was really good, I think a lot of people were really feeling what we were doing. The perspective at first was that this restaurant was somewhat generic, and then I think when people got in here they realized that it wasn't.

And then it kind of blew up a little bit, with the Bon Appétit praise and the reviews. Did you see any of that coming?

Joseph: We hoped for it. We hoped to get recognized.

Walker: The smaller reviews came in a little bit, and they were good. The first big thing was the New Yorker review, which we didn't know was coming. When that came it was really great.

Joe: We were happy about it. We were kind of hoping we would get a New York Times review or something, that came much later on than we thought, and we were hoping it'd be a starred review but it was [the Hungry City review], which was still positive and brought us more attention.

And then the Bon Appétit thing happened and that was huge, that was a really big deal. That's a national publication that put us at a really high ranking. We were already escalating up to a point of being very busy before that dropped, but once that did, I think we were both taken aback by how busy we got, and then just the response was, well, if you go out here on a Saturday night you will see a line down the block to the corner. It's pretty crazy, like 30 or 40 people lining up.

How has the menu changed since you opened a year ago?

Joseph: The structure's stayed the same, some items have been changed or even left the menu. The menu's constantly changing in the ingredients, but I think we haven't really lowered or changed the style of the cooking. That's pretty much the same. We're constantly changing different ingredients and combinations and techniques.

Is that in keeping with your original concept?

Joseph: One of the things we were afraid of at first was if we were going to be too ambitious with the menu and maybe try to use ingredients or do things that are just too involved that people might not want. But we found out that we could keep pushing it and do even better food. And I think that's probably the only way the menu's changed: our original idea was probably to be really really casual and simple and very well-priced.

Walker: But now we're in a position where we're like a really nice, middle-priced restaurant and the food's pretty cool for the space and for the size of it.

Any plans or changes for the next year?

Walker: The main thing that's happening right now is that we hired somebody to take care of the pastry. We're gonna just try to step up that side of the program. That's an area we weren't really able to get as involved with as we wanted in the beginning, and together we just figured it's best to hire somebody who's really passionate about it. And there's going to be a lot to come in that area moving forward.

Joseph: And other than that, we're just going to keep doing what we're doing and focus on keeping the standard up and trying to raise the bar a little bit, too.

What about the rumors of a new restaurant?

Joseph: It will happen one day.

Walker: We definitely want to do another place, but we're just trying to do it right, do it smart, so there's nothing really to report. We've definitely been laying down the groundwork for some stuff.

Joseph: Actions have been made towards the direction of opening a new place, but it's still very far off. And the reason for that is [that] we don't want to take our attention away from this place. One common mistake that happens with a restaurant like us is they're super-hot, well let's open up a new place and we'll make twice as much money. That's not our angle. We do want to have another place, of course, but we want to take our time with it and do it the right way so we don't lose what we have here.

Does it feel like it's been a year?

Joseph: When I look at the place, the place has aged a little bit. It's not as new as when we built it. But it's been a really fast year. People that I know that I don't talk to that regularly but who I see on the street, they'll ask "Oh, how long have you been open?" And I'll say over a year now, and I'm surprised to hear that myself.

Walker: Yeah, it's been a fast year. It's been a good year. We just want to build on what's happened and do it better in the next year.
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