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Pearl and Bantam owner Harris Welden is in the business of making quality food

  • Bantam Grill owner Harris Welden makes fresh pasta at the restaurant. Welden also owns Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, both of which reside in the Monadnock Community Plaza at 1 Jaffrey Road. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Bantam Grill owner Harris Welden makes fresh pasta at the restaurant. Welden also owns Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, both of which reside in the Monadnock Community Plaza at 1 Jaffrey Road. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bantam Grill owner Harris Welden makes fresh pasta at the restaurant. Welden also owns Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, both of which reside in the Monadnock Community Plaza at 1 Jaffrey Road. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bantam Grill owner Harris Welden makes fresh pasta at the restaurant. Welden also owns Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, both of which reside in the Monadnock Community Plaza at 1 Jaffrey Road. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bantam Grill owner Harris Welden makes fresh pasta at the restaurant. Welden also owns Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, both of which reside in the Monadnock Community Plaza at 1 Jaffrey Road. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Bantam Grill owner Harris Welden makes fresh pasta at the restaurant. Welden also owns Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, both of which reside in the Monadnock Community Plaza at 1 Jaffrey Road. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, September 18, 2018 10:50AM

Harris Welden never actually expected to own a restaurant – let alone two in the same plaza that sit about 100 feet from each other.

Sure he had dreams of opening one, but what chef doesn’t. So when opportunity knocked, Welden was savvy enough to at least listen.

In the course of a little over three years, Welden went from an out-of-work chef with a new house, a wife and a second child on the way, to the owner of two restaurants and being responsible for the livelihoods of dozens of employees.

It was August 2009 and Welden had recently left his job as the executive chef at Giorgio’s in Milford and wasn’t really sure his next step. Then he was given a tip that Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar was in search of a chef. Two days later, he interviewed – and soon had a new job.

“It happened very fast. It was just fortuitous luck,” he said.

Six months down the line, the restaurant was about to be put on the market and former owner David Chicane asked if Welden would be interested. Six weeks after that, thanks to some financial help from his family, Welden was the proud owner of the Peterborough restaurant.

“When I look back at it now, I can’t believe they gave me that amount of money,” Welden said.

He also can’t believe he decided to take on that kind of endeavor at only 29 years old.

“Restaurants are super risky, challenging businesses to run,” he said.

But as a self-confident, “invincible” 20-something, Welden knew he had to try. And then within three years he was opening his second restaurant, Bantam Grill, just three doors down in the Monadnock Community Plaza – thanks to another round of fortuitous luck. The owners of a soon-to-be opening restaurant in the space decided not to open as planned and wanted to know if he was interested in buying it.

“I thought ‘I’m not going to open a competing restaurant right next to me,’ ” he said.

But once again, it was opportunity knocking – and Welden had to answer. At the time, he was training for a marathon and was logging a lot of miles in the process.

“I had all this time to think,” he said. “And I’m a chef by nature, so you start thinking about dishes.”

Eventually, he decided it was too good to pass up.

“When would I have the chance to have a turn key restaurant fall into my life again?” Welden said.

These days, Welden doesn’t cook as much as he once did – or planned on when pursuing his degree at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He cooks at least one night a week in each restaurant – and whenever else he is needed. As the owner, he has to oversee all the little things on a daily basis outside of the kitchen, which is why he’s tried to hire the right people, and promote them whenever possible.

“Every cook at Bantam started as a dishwasher for me,” he said. “I just trained from within.”

The weekly job of working the line can be monotonous with setting up the station, chopping vegetables and making sure everything is ready for service. It’s when new ingredients come in or the creation of specials/new menu items that gives Welden a chance to show off why he went into the culinary profession. The goal is to use the freshest food possible. That’s why he works with multiple vendors for the best meats and fish (and oysters), while the produce is a mixture of local farms and whatever else his produce guy can find down in Boston. Whenever he can, whether it’s produce, bread or whatever, Welden will always go local.

“The key to good food is having a smaller menu and being busy, so you’re constantly moving through it,” Welden said. “It’s hard to have high quality food if you’re not busy.”

The styles at each restaurant differ, and that allows them both to be successful in the same plaza. Pearl’s menu is Asian-fusion inspired and well-known for its oyster bar, while Bantam has a Mediterranean feel to it with a variety of dishes featuring homemade pastas. It was a learning curve for both taking over Pearl and opening Bantam, as his schooling was dominated with a classical French background.

Welden is originally from Greenfield and graduated from ConVal High School in Peterborough. When he was preparing for life after high school, he toyed with the idea of going straight to culinary school. His mom wanted him “to be a more well-rounded human being.” Meaning she wanted him to go to college, so Welden went to Loyola University Chicago and got a business degree.

He quickly realized the business world was not for him. After graduating, he applied for business jobs and got one selling office supplies door to door. Which in the middle of a Chicago winter turned out to be miserable.

“I was in a hospital and I sat down on a bench and I was like ‘What am I doing with my life?’ ” he said.

It didn’t take long before he was on his way to the CIA.

“I was never going to fit into the corporate world,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to play the game of kissing up to a boss and climbing the corporate ladder.”

But even he didn’t see things playing out quite like this.

“Eventually I knew I had to be my own boss, but then you realize when you become your own boss, you’re so much more trapped than if you work for someone else,” Welden said.

The thing about Welden is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. But the same cannot be said about what people think about his food or their experience at one of his restaurants.

“The worst thing that can happen is for someone to leave this restaurant unhappy and not tell anyone about it,” he said.

With both restaurants doing well, the next year is going to be decision time for Welden. He knows if another restaurant is in the cards, it needs to be done sooner rather than later. While it won’t be in Peterborough, because owning a third restaurant in the same town just doesn’t make much sense, he has a few ideas if something were to sway him to open a third eating establishment.

“Opening another restaurant right now, would mean another year of my life,” he said.

For now, Welden is happy where things are in life with two successful businesses, a wife and three kids. But if opportunity knocks, he might just have to answer.