By Seth Daniel
Rebecca Roth Gullo thought she would go into politics.
She ended up in the business of donuts, and delicious burgers.
Though it’s a world apart from her original aspirations, the founder of the Gallows Restaurant, Blackbird Donuts and Banyan Bar and Refuge has tallied up a lot of votes in her favor as a South End resident and restauranteur.
“There are a lot of restauranteurs in the South End who live in the South End and like to expand in the South End,” she said. “It is a neighborhood. The demographic and the people who live in the neighborhood like to support local business. The majority of our clients are the people we see when we walk down the street, or when I’m in Foodie’s or Whole Foods. You see your customers and they become your friends. I’ve made a lot of marriages in the South End. People here end up becoming your friends and they start out as your guests.”
Having found success now for nearly seven years in the South End, particularly at the Gallows on Washington Street in the Washington Gateways Main Street District, Gullo will be honored for here successful operations at the Neckties Gala for Washington Gateways this coming Wednesday, Oct. 5, at the Ink Block.
“The reason we decided to put Gallows on Washington Street was because as a person who lives in the South End I wanted to open a restaurant that I wanted to go to. Washington Gateways backed me up 100 percent,” said Gullo. “They were very instrumental in making me feel I was wanted as a business person and a resident. Gateways was always there as a resource. They were very helpful to get through the City boards and let you know if you’re going to get approvals or not. They were a true advocate for me.”
That, of course, was before Gullo had the experience she has now.
Almost seven years ago, she opened Gallows, followed up by Blackbird in January 2015 and now just celebrating one year of operations at Banyan on Tremont Street.
Gullo chose the curious name of Gallows because, historically, the Boston Gallows were located across the street where Cathedral High stands today. With Washington Street being the lone entrance to Boston, it was a sign of what would happen if one didn’t behave in the Hub.
“They were there to welcome people to Boston,” she said. “It was a message not to mess around in Boston. I think it was tongue and cheek for us, though it was kind of controversial internally. I guess you can always say the Gallows is a fun place to hang.”
The restaurant gained great following almost initially with its Edgar Allen Poe designs and large glass windows looking out on busy Washington Street. However, once things were at their peak, Gullo took a unique twist.
She started making donuts.
“I was pregnant at the time, and I think that’s the only reason I can come up with,” she said. “I was in Chicago with my husband and had an old fashioned donut there. That donut changed my entire perspective on everything…Gallows was three or four years old and I needed a project. I knew nothing about donuts, and if I had, I probably never would have done Blackbird. Donuts are incredibly hard to make. A yeast donut takes 20 hours to make.”
Yet even though she didn’t have the expertise, Gullo teamed up with Anna Perna and they located on Tremont Street in Castle Square and found instant success – adding more foot traffic to existing businesses in the Castle Square retail area.
Finally, about a year ago, she recruited Chef Phil Tang from his Cambridge restaurant, East by Northeast, to head up the kitchen in the cutting edge Banyan on Tremont Street.
“That one is only because of the chef,” said Gullo. “It started at the beginning of the Asian Tapas concept. I think we were a little bit on the forefront of that, though the forefront only lasted a few months.”
The Gallows Group collection of popular eating establishments comes with the history that has little to do with food, Gullo said.
“The quick story I tell is that I got here because I didn’t get into Harvard Law School,” she said.
Having a penchant for politics and law, Gullo – a Brookline native – thought she was on track to get into the world of politics via law school. However, after being turned down by Harvard, she made a 180-degree turn and headed off to cooking school in New York City.
She returned to Boston after graduating and settled in the South End, becoming a line cook on Tremont Street. After awhile, she struck out on her own at Gallows.
“I love the neighborhood and Gateway has been great,” she said. “What’s really important here in the South End is all the businesses work together – especially on Washington Street. I once had a very important person ask for take-out and we didn’t have nice take-out stuff. I wanted something nice, so I called over to Richard at the South End Buttery and he said he could absolutely help me. He sent some stuff over and it all worked out. That’s how people work in the South End.”