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Let’s Eat: Listening to his customers and staff

In its 16th year of business, Lot 66 has a big new addition - a patio.

Mike Roulston wasn’t planning to build a patio.

But when the executive chef and owner of Lot 66 on Court Street got his staff together and asked them what they wanted, the answer was clear: a patio.

“It was a matter of doing it for the staff. They wanted to keep working, but I knew takeout food was going to slow down,” Roulston explains. “I listened to my core staff and I wanted to do it for them, to keep them working.” He knew that if his employees didn’t have work sooner than later, Lot 66 might not have enough staff by the time they reopened for indoor dining.

“I knew that it was important, so we went ahead and did it. And we were going to do it right,” he says.

The patio is a large and permanent addition to Lot 66 - patio stones line the ground, the furniture is of high quality, and beautiful potted flowers and palms dot the area. “It was an investment, but it was one of the best things I’ve done here,” Roulston says. He named the patio Far Niente, and revised the wine list and menu for the patio.

"Basically, Far Niente means ‘without a care,’” he explains. “We’ve all been through so much. I wanted to make this Tuscan garden-like, relaxed setting that takes you away to a whole different place.”

Lot 66’s regular wine list is about 250 wines, but at Far Niente, he trimmed that down to about two dozen. “We don’t want you to study the wine list for 30 minutes,” he explains. “Come in, have a drink, pick a wine, relax. Have some great food, escape.”

Roulston started Lot 66 in 2006. Over the past 15 years, he listened to his customers, settling into what he calls “classic dishes with a modern twist.”

“We used to change the menu a lot, but eventually, there were certain dishes we couldn’t take off the menu - we tried, but our customers revolted,” he says. The gorgonzola chicken breast, the shrimp and scallop linguine, and the classic fillet steak are some of the most popular entrees on the menu.

Roulston says he is a self-taught chef. His career in kitchens started early, when he was 11, working at the Knights of Columbus Hall with his mother. For many years, he only worked the front of the house. But when he started working at Armani’s and saw chef Tom Simpson working in the open concept kitchen, he was “immediately consumed,” he says.

“This was before the internet, before all these food shows. So I started buying French cook books. Book after book after book. I would go to work as waiter from Tuesday to Saturday. Sunday and Monday I’d do elaborate dinner parties, see what people liked,” Roulston recalls.

He also spent six and a half years working at Bistro One, where he became good friends with the former owner and chef, Jean Robillard. “But [opening my own restaurant] was always the plan. So I’m fortunate I got to live my dream,” he says, adding that Lot 66 has been everything he hoped it would be, and more.

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