In the mid-1990s, Federal Hill was different – drastically different – from the blossoming West Side we know today. Buddy Cianci was mayor, and his administration was determined to “clean-up” the state’s capital and enstate a renaissance. During this time, Julian Forgue moved back from California to open a restaurant in his hometown and take care of his ailing father. After 25 years, Julian’s remains a local favorite and a pioneer in the West Side rehabilitation.
Julian’s had humble beginnings. Originally, the restaurant was supposed to be a coffee shop where people could sit, have a chat, and maybe even eat a muffin or some other baked good. The initial business plan made sense because Julian had little-to-no culinary experience, and a cafe with simple sweets seemed doable. But over time, the owner grew his clientele, and with it, the menu. With a nostalgic chuckle, Julian recalls some of his regulars asking for cooked eggs, and egg sandwiches on bagels. Eventually, he was serving full-blown meals and business was good.
What might be more interesting than Julian’s path to success though is the part the restaurant has played in the revitalization of the area. Co-owner Brian Oakley recalls when he began working there, he and Julian would do the best they could to clean their space and their section of the street, hoping the rest of the area would follow suit. In one case, their “fixer-upper” mentality saved lives. “They used to have dog fights in the lot across from us opposite the old Depasquale Pharmacy. The hedges were so overgrown that folks passing by couldn’t tell what was going on in there. So one day Julian, myself, and one of the chefs went across the street and cut back all the overgrowth and cleaned it up” says Brian, proudly. The good deed was followed by stoppage of the dog fights and gratitude from the community.
Since the 1990s, Julian’s has come a long way, and so has the West Side. The menu and the interior decor of the restaurant reflects the group it serves: a community of diverse, quirky, vibrant people. The menu has expanded to include items that made the eclectic joint famous: from their inventive benedicts and falafel to their meat-free shakshuka. Part of this variety is due to Julian’s own travels and dabblings around the world. But another part is due to his knowledgeable staff. Says Julian, “I was never scared to hire people that knew more than me. I couldn’t go to school because I was running a business. School had to come to me.”
Recently, a space beside the main restaurant has been plastered with a little Kool Aid man and a “J” design, intimating that the business is going to expand. Both Brian and Julian would not divulge what’s coming into this small storefront. However, Brian made sure to mention that, contrary to what the sign says, it will not be a drive-through. To Brian, Julian, and their staff: Cheers to another 25 years!
318 Broadway, Providence • 861-1770