Ledge gives way to ester: An eatery move in Lower Mills

New owners, including Eleanor Arpino, left, will spend the next six weeks making modest renovations to the Dot Ave. eatery before it re-opens as ester on April 1. Above, Arpino and new manager Luther Pickney show a rendering of the planned exterior of the re-designed restaurant.

Ledge, the Lower Mills restaurant that was sold last year, shut its doors for the final time on Sunday afternoon. The eatery will undergo modest renovations over the next month as the new owners – led by veteran restaurant manager Eleanor Arpino – take charge and train new staff.

In an interview this week, Arpino told the Reporter that the new business – called ester, a play on the neighborhood’s name – should be open by April 1. On Tuesday, staff were already at work cleaning out the Ledge’s bar and kitchen areas under the supervision of Arpino and ester’s future manager, Luther Pickney. Their team plans to re-paint the interior and replace the kitchen floor. There are no other major structural changes planned, but there minor adjustments will be made to improve the flow of kitchen operations, Arpino said.

Most of the next six weeks, she said, would focus on the hiring and training of new staff. The menu, which is still in development, according to Arpino, will include a blend of American standards like burgers and salads along with specialty items that reflect the diversity of the neighborhood.

“It’s all about neighborhood,” says Arpino, who has lived just blocks away in Lower Mills for the last 25 years.  “We’re not going to be just one thing, like strictly Italian or strictly German or pub food or whatever. Because it is a very diverse neighborhood we plan to show that. 

“I happen to love to cook, but I don’t have Italian every night,” she added. “You’ll have your burger, you’ll have your salads and things, but we actually want to do things that people don’t necessarily cook at home. Like you might not take the time to make lamb shanks or lamb stew. So that’s something we want to do.”

Arpino said that the team plans to use the property’s most celebrated feature – its expansive outdoor patio – to full effect in the warmer seasons. She envisions weekly barbeque specials with a buffet-style spread, even pig roasts.

Mostly, Arpino, who ran operations for the fine-dining Davio’s restaurants for 16 years, is focused on finding the right people to staff the restaurant – she calls it “hiring attitude” – a process that will begin in earnest on March 1.

“Because this is a neighborhood place, I’m more concerned about them having that sort of neighborhood type of person who will look you in the eye and smile at you. I can teach them the hard skills and the mechanics and product knowledge. But I can’t teach them the attitude or the confidence that you need to start with.”

Three years ago, Arpino spent three months “in the trenches” at the Ledge as a consultant, assisting the former owners as they sought new ways to manage the eatery. Arpino was a fan of the business from day one.

“We saw the Ledge come in and we were extremely excited. It’s great, it’s neighborhood, it’s not a tough bar, it’s not dark, you’re going to run into friends. We loved it right from the get-go and the Feeneys [the former owners] were just fantastic. After consulting here, I just couldn’t get it out of my head that I should own this.
So I went to the Feeneys and said, ‘Will you sell me the restaurant?’ I know part of the reason they were willing to do it is that they know I am from the neighborhood and I feel the same way about the neighborhood that they do.

“I have a little bit of a burden because I have to make them proud of what they’ve done,” Arpino added.