LYNN — Wednesday is opening night for Rachel Miller’s Nightshade Noodle Bar, and the acclaimed chef is excited, ecstatic and a bit anxious. I guess you could say she’s on pins and noodles.
“It’s been really stressful. Any restaurant opening is,” said Miller. “This place had not been updated in 35 years. There was a lot to do.”
Still, Miller is confident her Vietnamese-inspired restaurant at 73 Exchange St. will do well and that she is well-prepared for running a place of her own, thanks to lessons learned at her hugely successful Nightshade pop-up dinners, where she prepared and served meals in borrowed kitchens and rented spaces.
“We’re starting off in good shape. The last two-and-a-half years of doing the pop-ups taught us a lot. We had a lot of practice finding out what worked and didn’t work, with keeping costs in line, working with food distributors. And we’re opening a restaurant with more than 3,200 customers already, those who follow us on Instagram.”
Nightshade occupies the former home of Campus Coffee Shop. Patrons who frequented the place when Annie and Kwang An operated a restaurant there will be awestruck by the changes.
In bringing the intimate 30-seat space to life, Miller worked with architect Justin Alpert, who specializes in restaurant design and is a supporter of the local food scene. Steve Hanley built the gorgeous light maple butcher block bar, tabletops and helped Miller throughout the rehab process. “He’s a rock. He helped a lot, and he put a lot of love into everything he did.”
The restaurant’s colors — green and plum — are soothing and welcoming.
Liana Van de Water, wine director and Miller’s life partner, painted the eye-catching wall mural that separates the kitchen and dining room. Samantha Kennedy, who worked with East Boston Oyster, another successful pop-up restaurant, is general manager. Lead bartender is John Groh. There is a large selection of craft beers, all in cans.
The lunch menu, Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., will have six items: three bahn mi sandwiches and three noodle dishes. Hanna Rybolt, former floor manager at Ledger in Salem, will bake all the baguettes in house. There are 10 employees in all, and most live in Lynn, Miller said.
An “unconventional” brunch featuring creative noodle dishes and a signature Bloody Mary with Vietnamese spices will be served weekends from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. “There will be no home fries or bagels” at this brunch, said Miller, a Virginia native and former executive chef at fine-dining establishments Bondir and Clio.
The dinner menu will change often. “It will be noodles and not noodles” and will follow the small plates trend that encourages sharing among tablemates.
“We want people to think they can come here three or more times a week, and enjoy four or five different meal options. There will be mainstays, but I’m too crazy to do the same thing every day,” added Miller, with a smile.
Most dinners will cost less than $20, she said.
“This is exactly what I wanted, a fine dining restaurant that’s not stuffy,” said Miller, who lives on Oxford Street. “I moved to Lynn about three years ago. My first apartment was right across the street, in the basement. I love living here. I’ve never been happier or felt a sense of community like I do here.”
Charlie’s Junction Deli, a few doors down the street, has closed and the owners, who retired, gave Miller their neon ‘Open’ sign. “We’re going to use it. They’ve given us so much. We love them. We’re going to miss them.”
Miller has high hopes her noodle bar will occupy a similar warm spot in the community and in the hearts of Lynners.
“I want this to be the place that people, when they eat here, will want to live here.”