Small businesses in New England - The Charred Oak
VisitingNewEngland small business partnership
Twin Brothers Create One-of-a-Kind Restaurant at The Charred
Oak Tavern in Middleborough, Mass.
Mike and Matt Menard have taken their love of local
seafood and whiskey to help create a wonderful restaurant that ranks
among the best south of Boston
Sylvia and Mike Menard, Matt and Katrin Menard at The Charred Oak
Grill. Photo credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.
Article and photos by Eric Hurwitz.
created on 7/23/2018.
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On a comfortable summer night in downtown Middleborough, Mass., everything
seems so right. At the historic Middleborough Town Hall, a band plays music to hundreds
of residents at the Town Hall Summer Concert Series. Many Colonial homes
that line Main Street for the quarter mile have American flags draped
over their front porches. Couples are out for a twilight walk on
Center St., where conversations don't get drowned out by traffic like in other Boston area towns. It's
quiet here, almost like a little country town dressed up a little in
suburban gear. The overall scene embodies a true slice
of small town Americana with a touch of Norman Rockwell and Currier and
Ives gracing the still of the early evening and the unmistakable New
quaintness with people out and about in their beloved community.
But what would a small town truly be like, however, without a local
eatery where locals congregate for hearty meals and good drinks? Every
developed town and city seems to have one, but often the quality varies
depending upon the motivation and resources of the owners. Fortunately,
The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleborough fills that need, but goes so far
the norm that it actually exceeds many of the highest regarded
restaurants of this genre in Boston and Providence.
Scallops over bourbon candied bacon at The Charred Oak Tavern.
Identical twin brothers Mike and Matt Menard, at
35-years-old, had a
strong vision on what kind of restaurant they wanted to open and worked
with contractors and eventually staff to ensure those dreams would
Opening in June 2017 at the former Antique Emporium store, The
Charred Oak Tavern
took about eight months to build, according to Mike. Matt's wife,
Katrin grew up in the area and her family owns a coffee shop, Coffee
Milano, across the
street from The Charred Oak Tavern. Katrin and Mike's wife, Sylvia,
work at the restaurant, also, making it truly a family-owned business.
Front of The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleborough.
The first step into The Charred Oak Tavern
reveals something special. The layout creates the cozy
feeling with a large, rustic dining room and handsome bar under high
ceilings with duct work,
exposed brick walls, wagon wheel chandeliers, industrial
lighting, decorative white lights, reclaimed wood flourishes, copper
touches, wooden barn doors, leather
sofas, high-top tables made from whiskey barrels and big front windows
allowing warm sunlight into the restaurant and views of the quiet
Main dining room at The Charred Oak Tavern.
The Charred Oak Tavern --
meant to be primarily a restaurant and bar for the locals -- has gone
way beyond expectations as people from the Boston area, Cape Cod (not too far away), New
Bedford, Rhode Island and Connecticut have taken notice of this
beautiful restaurant, knowing it is worth the drive. At one point,
found themselves with up to two-and-one-half-hour waits, but that has
been somewhat offset by the addition of the new, adjoining function
-- otherwise, used for birthdays, anniversaries, whiskey-themed
dinners, Kentucky Derby parties and many other events and celebrations.
Function room at The Charred Oak Tavern.
As an outstanding local seafood restaurant and whiskey bar that
happens to do everything else right, The Charred Oak Tavern draws
upon nearby New Bedford -- the top grossing commercial fishing port and
largest seafood processing center in the United States -- for its fresh
seafood. Additionally, the
Menard brothers love for, and extensive knowledge of whiskey plays a
major role in The Charred Oak Tavern's appeal.
Charred Oak Tavern's name comes from the process of charring oak
barrels for aging whiskey. To no one's surprise, the Menards
offer an extensive array of drinks from "distillery masters" from all
over the world and features craft bourbons,whiskey cocktails, bourbon-aged
mixed drinks (many beer selections, too!). The
once even traveled to Iceland to visit, Floki, one of their spirits'
distilleries. The drinks selection is ample and caters to all tastes.
Bar area at The Charred Oak Tavern.
"Along with a great dining experience, this is a great learning
center," said Matt. "We have something on the chalkboard that says
your whiskey' -- know what it is and what it pairs well with. The
bartenders, the staff are all educated on this. Like Jefferson's
(Ocean) Whiskey that is sailed around the world for two years. That's why that
whiskey almost takes on a saline flavor because of the sea. Here, it is
all about education rather than the cliche of taking a shot of whiskey
because you lost a bet."
Whiskey drink from The Charred Oak Tavern. Photo credit:
The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.
Many of the food selections, too, have a whiskey-infused taste like the
bourbon maple glazed salmon, bourbon steak tips and the whiskey-smoked
short rib BBQ mac and cheese with Tratolle pasta,
whiskey flambe short ribs and three cheese
BBQ sauce tossed and topped with whiskey smoked sugar.
The mouthwatering Charred Oak Tavern Steak -- a New
York center cut sirloin dolloped with garlic butter and served with
smoked whiskey BBQ mashed potatoes and green beans is absolutely
phenomenal. The steak rivals the high profile Boston area steak houses.
"We don't cut corners on steak," said Mike. "We buy quality steak and
want it to be consistently great. Some places you go, the steak comes
out different each time. We are willing to pay a higher price for the
The Charred Oak Tavern Steak.
The Charred Oak Tavern offers a well balanced, family-friendly menu -- with an
accent on slow-cooked meals -- that features
appetizers, homemade soups (like the New England clam chowder,
French onion and kale), fresh salads, big mouthwatering burgers,
oversized sandwiches and wraps, chicken,
steak, lamb, pork, Italian pasta dishes and the
aforementioned seafood. It's hard to choose what to order. For starters, The Charred Oak scallops
and bacon with seared scallops are seated on a thick-cut slice of
candied bacon and scallions. The Charred Oak Tavern quahogs are
stuffed with locally sliced linguica, applewood smoked bacon, red
peppers and onions and finished with a roasted garlic-lemon
aioli. Back to the whiskey theme, the Charred Oak Bison burger features
bison beef, whiskey-infused
caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and mixed greens. A lobster roll comes
in a toasted roll or grilled wrap alongside coleslaw. Fried seafood
selections like the fisherman's platter, fish and chips, and shrimp and
scallops platters should please the biggest fans of this form of
cooking. On the pasta
side, the lobster mac and cheese features Tratolle pasta, lobster, a
three-cheese sauce blend and is topped with sherry seasoned bread
dessert, the chocolate lava cake, creme brulee and banana bread are
"My mom used to make banana cake with vanilla ice cream, so it's nice
to bring something to the restaurant that we enjoyed when growing up,"
Burger from The Charred Oak Tavern. Photo credit: The Charred
Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.
Added Matt: "We fill a need in Middleborough. For example, we
pizza here. You have three places down the street that do that. We give
people something additional here that they might not find locally --
like our bison meatloaf dish, fresh seafood, the
whiskeys. We offer something
unique, but people from outside the area are also now discovering us."
About humble beginnings, close-knit brothers and big ambitions
Hailing from coastal, working class Fairhaven, Mass., the
Menard brothers loved
growing up in their small town and the South Coast area of
Massachusetts, in general. They dug
their first quahogs at eight-years-old, later graduated Fairhaven High
School and then attended and graduated from the University of Massachusetts
Dartmouth in Dartmouth, Mass. (Matt with a degree in human resources,
Mike in business
finance and both earning honors) before heading to Florida to
"short term view of the area," according to Matt. The brothers wanted
to be close to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. -- a place they had
loved -- and became employed as bartenders and in all facets of
restaurant operations at local dining out places including Planet
You can never truly take coastal New England away from a local boy,
however, so Matt and Mike came back to New England in 2007 to
work various jobs until opening Regal Transportation in New Bedford in
2010. They still own the business, which offers non-emergency medical
transportation for those without their own
"Yes, it gets busy with the transportation
company and the restaurant, but we make both work," said Mike.
Mike said that because he and Matt are close brothers and
many of the
same places of employment that a venture into co-owning their own
restaurant seemed like a natural fit. The strong bond Matt and Mike
experienced during childhood has clearly transitioned into adulthood --
the kind of brotherhood some are blessed to have and others could only
"It would feel more strange working at some other place without Matt,"
said Mike. "Matt and I
have done so many things together growing up and working jobs
at the same place."
Added Matt, "We are happy, optimistic and couldn't be happier doing
what we are doing -- working with each other and with a bar and wait
staff that is enthusiastic."
Behind the scenes at The Charred Oak Tavern
Out at the back parking lot of the restaurant, a gentleman
named Lance drives in from New Bedford to deliver fresh fish. He knows
the "ins and outs" of the New Bedford fishing and seafood scene and
brings in fish
straight from the source directly to The Charred Oak Tavern.
"We are spoiled coming from New Bedford," said Mike. "It's great that
have a guy at the fishing boats and bringing that seafood in straight
from the boat. Sometimes, we will run of out a certain seafood dish at the restaurant and
that just proves that it is fresh. We don't store fish as we
prepare it right away... We are from New Bedford, so we know what
seafood is like. The fishermen are out there three, five, seven days,
two weeks. We benefit by collecting the fish that was caught on the
Bringing in fresh fish straight from New Bedford.
In the kitchen, Puerto Rico native Manny Hernandez creates culinary
magic. At just 25-years-old, Manny has been cooking with passion for
and said that he "likes to cook everything." One of his favorites at
The Charred Oak Tavern: The
Carribean Bison Meatloaf with red bliss mashed potatoes, Cabernet
mushroom gravy, shredded carrots, peanuts, and a hard boiled egg in the
"In my country, Puerto Rico, my mom used to make meatloaf with an egg
in the middle," said Hernandez. "So, this dish that I make was inspired
In line with The Charred Oak Tavern's concept, Manny is adept at
infusing whiskey into many of the dishes.
"Sometimes, chefs and owners don't see eye-to-eye with a concept," said
Manny. "Here, we have the same vision. They (the Menards) are great to
work for. I will be here a long time. I love it here!"
Manny works with precision and focus...
Manny Hernandez working in the kitchen at The Charred Oak
Tavern. Photo credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.
But is willing to take on any bigger task in the kitchen without being
Manny Hernandez and a big salmon. Photo
credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.
Benjamin Perry works the bar at The Charred Oak Tavern and like others
at the restaurant, knows a lot about drinks including, of course,
whiskey. Intense but friendly and conversational, Perry seems like the
bartender -- one who can handle many tasks at once, work with knowledge
and be able to interact with everyone from the construction worker to
the high profile executive.
"I really enjoy working here," said Perry. "I worked for a corporate
restaurant and it could be so cut throat. You can connect here so much
The owners are great and you can take the time to get to know the
community. I am glad I am here."
Benjamin Perry works the bar at The Charred Oak Tavern.
Balancing life, offering a great restaurant to the public at the
Even with a busy schedule and the thrill of following a
passion, the Menard brothers will always find a way to prioritize
time. On this night, for example, Matt and Mike leave early to attend a family
event. Matt and Katrin have two children, Mason, six, and Kyla, two.
Mike was recently married to Sylvia, has a stepson Ayden, 13, and a
child on the way.
Mike and Matt are clearly living the American Dream, but remain humble,
authentic and lifelong students of their craft and life, in general,
that the educational process doesn't end after graduating school.
Feeling equally blessed every day, Matt and Mike bring a strong set of
values and good old-fashioned work ethic to The Charred Oak Tavern with
the lucky recipients being the customers.
"My advice is to spend a lot of hours working, to have a dream, and to
follow that dream," said Mike. "There are a lot of moving parts in
running a restaurant. This is a sensitive industry and things can
change. We make sure to never get lazy. This is a team and we, as
owners, try to lead by example. We (as brothers) work well together and
have worked at many of the same places. That, and close support from
family and a great staff makes all the difference."
As the sun sets in downtown Middleborough, the sun rises, metaphorically
speaking, at The Charred Oak Tavern where customers enjoy the fabulous
food and drink and look forward to the restaurant's bright future as a
cornerstone business in a historic central district with lots of upside.
"We love being here in Middleborough and waking up each day to work at the
restaurant," said Mike. "Things are going well. You can hear the
conversations at the restaurant about people enjoying what we offer.
It's easy to have someone come in for the first time here. The trick is
to make them want to come back again and again. We are doing that."
The Charred Oak Tavern is located at
57 Center St., Middleborough MA. Tel. 508-923-9034. Web site: http://www.thecharredoaktavern.com. Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/charredoaktavern.
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