Local Small Business Stories
How Tessie's Bar & Kitchen Became An Instant Favorite in
the Heart of Walpole Center, Mass.
This suburban Boston restaurant offers a burger bar
scene that is truly rare and well done at the same time
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen on Main St. in downtown Walpole.
Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz.
updated on 7/16/2019.
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The third time has been a charm for Mark and Maura McAuliffe, owners of
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen located in the heart of downtown Walpole, Mass.
The husband and wife team always loved the 1006 Main St. location at
the charming, quaint historic Walpole Center Block Building that dates
back to 1927. The challenge: how to build a food destination that
people could enjoy in the small 900 sq. ft. space.
A few doors down, Mark and Maura had already found their restaurant pot
of gold with The Raven's Nest --
a cornerstone business with its wonderful Irish pub meets contemporary American full
service restaurant. Mark and
Maura were simply trying to complement The Raven's Nest
with a smaller more intimate place that had it own personality
After several years of trial and error with a coffee shop and a wine
and chacuterie bistro, Mark and Maura happily found far greater success
with Tessie's Bar & Kitchen -- a burger bar
going far beyond the industry standard. Locals have instantly connected to
the small, cozy environment and found
the locally sourced burgers, salads and other menu items top-notch.
Mark soon found
himself working 14 straight days to
meet the needs of consistent crowds since its soft opening at the
beginning of June 2019.
"I knew it was going to be successful, but didn't think it would take
off the way it did," said Mark, a County Cork, Ireland native.
Tessie's popularity wasn't just a curiosity factor, however, as
for better or worse, gets around quickly about new businesses in this
close-knit small town. Fortunately, for Tessie's Bar & Kitchen,
that word-of-mouth was for the better.
New sign, new restaurant.
Pam Driscoll, a lifelong resident with a good sense of what businesses
work in her hometown, raved about Tessie's.
"I love the new place," said Pam. "The food, the vibe... great addition
to the town center."
Burger with garlic tater tots from Tessie's.
Previously at this location, both the Coffee Perch and The
Raven's Vine &
Tap certainly rose to the top of their genres but had
challenges. Coffee shops with drive-throughs remained the preferred brew
in this area. Cured meats and cheese with a wine and beer menu was a
idea but didn't
fully cure what the locals were looking for in a new downtown restaurant. Mark
and Maura took these two former dean's list-caliber spots and
transformed the storefront into a Magna Cum Laude-level dining
establishment by first employing a few simple tweaks for their
burger bar: graduate from a beer and wine license to a full liquor
license and build a full kitchen for maximum culinary possibilities.
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen now offers everything on The
Raven's Nest drinks list including more than 15 different draft beers,
an extensive wine list and many signature cocktails. Mark and
Maura cleverly had the front-to-back kitchen built at the lower level of
Tessie's, given the small dining and bar area upstairs needed to be
dedicated to eating, drinking and good conversations.
All this has added up to one instantly likable, fully functional place
that is about as comfortable and agreeable as it gets when dining out.
There are clear virtues in the small restaurant concept
starting with a sense of belonging and community.
Cozy atmosphere at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen.
"We picked things that we like to eat when dining
out," said Mark. "It is different than The Raven's Nest. A
type of burger, salads. It's a comfortable place, too. The music is on,
but people can talk. It's not too loud, not too soft."
Tessie's: Mark and Maura's Excellent, Thoughtful Adventure
Mark pours a drink at Tessie's.
While the number of burger bars in the Boston area are about
as saturated as the fat in a burger,
few stand out as great overall experiences. That's because many of
these restaurants follow a paint-by-numbers model without that sense of
community. It is often about following the trend, making a lot of money and, for
some, opening a business to ultimately franchise it.
While Mark and Maura recognize the value of a valid trend, they created
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen with a genuine, thoughtful approach and a
family and Walpole. First, Mark made sure to name the restaurant after
daughter and his 87-year old mother (who lives in Ireland). Oh, and one
more inspiration, a Boston Red Sox mascot: Tessie is Wally the Green
Monster's little sister. Turns out the McAuliffes are huge baseball
Looking at the restaurant inside and out, as well as tasting its menu
offerings based in local food sourcing, it is clear that Mark and
Maura have hit a home run with Tessie's Bar & Kitchen with, no
doubt, a hall of fame restaurant future.
Outside, colorful flowers enliven the scene with some outdoor seating
available for those comfortable summer days or nights. The awning, by
the way, was
from a jewelry manufacturing plant being demolished in nearby
Approaching Tessie's in downtown Walpole.
Maura's brother, John Davis (a contractor), traveled with Mark 90 miles
out to this
barn in rural western Massachusetts to purchase old barn wood to repurpose for the bar at Tessie's...
Photo credit: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen web site.
They first met with "Joe the farmer" (pictured right) at his farm in Hadley...
Photo credit: Tessie's Bar & Kitchen web site.
And then filled John's truck to the brim to bring back the repurposed wood,
thus eventually creating the bar's beautiful look that flows so nicely with the
A one-of-a-kind look at Tessie's.
The reclaimed barn wood flourishes, post-and-beam design under the
20-ft. high industrial ceilings, the high top tables, handsome bar and
brick walls help create an incredibly welcoming rustic, casual atmosphere. These nice elements, however, do not solely set the tone. It's almost like the small town ways of Walpole have permeated into the restaurant and graced every square foot with a hometown feel. The friendly feel happens through conversations, the owners who love the town, or by just watching the pulse of the downtown through the windows. Smaller spaces can bring about bigger relationships and that is exactly what is going on among townsfolk, out-of-towners and staff at Tessie's. Limited space can magically create unlimited meaningful interaction and it always helps when there is good food and drink to enhance the experience. Tessie's is definitely that kind of place.
Back to the design, the brick wall contains two notable features. First,
Mark and a few friends spent a week painting each
brick by hand. Then, large framed baseball
pictures were placed on the wall to honor America's Favorite pastime --
next to eating and drinking, that is.
Brick walls, baseball pictures, game watching and conversations
"It took a while but it was worth it," said Mark.
"We used chalk paint on the brick and it came out really well. We love
the look, too, of the baseball pictures on the wall."
The Main Course...
Tessie's sources local grass-fed beef and produce from local
farms as a great starting point for the stellar food experience.
Burgers are hand-formed and cooked using
a smash method to keep all the flavor and juices. Served with a choice
of house fries, tater tots or homemade cole slaw, the burgers have a
simply phenomenal, one-of-a-kind taste. Many of the trendy burger bars
and chains, in an attempt to be different, end up having a sameness in
taste of their burgers. It's like a new normal that has become almost
predictable, in some cases. Tessie's, on the other hand, offers a burger that tastes unique, in the best sense.
It's all hard to describe and
better to be tasted but clearly, the chef has an idea of what to do
with burgers. Tessie's offers 10 specialty burgers, but also a "Build
Your Own Burger" option by choosing the type of bun (the potato bun is best), sauce and
toppings. The Tessie Burger is a fantastic option with cheddar,
onion bacon jam, shredded lettuce, tomato and smoked avocado aioli...
The Tessie burger.
"People love The Tessie Burger," said Mark. "And they are going bananas
over that onion bacon jam (there's a hint of maple syrup in the mix,
too). It is so delicious. Somebody said we should put it in a jar and
Tessie's also features beautifully created fresh salads like "And The
Beet Goes On" with mixed greens, roasted red peppers, gold beets,
goat cheese, pistachios and tomatoes, all tossed with lemon honey
And The Beat Goes On salad from Tessie's. Photo credit: Tessie's
Bar & Kitchen Facebook fan page.
Tessie's also makes a stellar, amply served mac and cheese dish with
housemade four-cheese sauce, mini penne and topped with Ritz Crackers.
Mac and cheese from Tessie's.
The Chili Bowl features a hearty, flavorful taste with the right mix of
ground beef, melted cheese, sliced jalapenos,
scallions, and tortilla chips served with sour cream on the side.
The Chili Bowl.
features many other standouts including Buffalo fried cauliflower,
wings, crispy fried pickles, steak and turkey tips and the fried
chicken sammie: hand-breaded chicken, bacon, shredded lettuce, tomato,
cheddar cheese and honey mustard sauce on a pretzel roll. "The Harry Dog is is another highlight with an all-beef frank, potato bun, ketchup, mustard, relish and onions.
The Harry Dog from Tessie's. Photo credit: Tessie's
Bar & Kitchen Facebook fan page.
If having any room for desserts, Tessie's offers some fresh-made offerings like the chocolate cheesecake.
"The main focuses are to serve fresh food and do it well," said Mark.
Location, Location, Location
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen on Main St. in Walpole.
Tessie's overlooks a classic small-town New England scene framed by a
church with a tall white steeple, three town commons, American flags
and the understated brick grace of a historic building block in which
the restaurant resides. The most prominent sight from Tessie's large picture windows (that open up
during good weather) is the unique stone gazebo built in 1901 at the town common. This is the
home of many concerts and other forms of entertainment as well as
presidential visits. JFK spoke here once when campaigning to become the
35th U.S. president. It's a stunning sight that reminds us that we are
officially in New England. First, a view from Tessie's...
Historic gazebo beyond the windows at Tessie's.
And then by taking a nice walk around the town common after lunch or dinner to see the gazebo and green space up close
while spotting a wonderful Main Street USA scene in downtown Walpole...
A closer look at the town common gazebo.
"We love the town center," said Mark. "It is so quaint, so historic.
Walpole is really a fantastic town and we are so glad to be here. The
town common really adds a lot to the town. It's beautiful and has so many events going on like Santa's visit and concerts."
Walpole town common.
Cozying on up to the bar at Tessie's.
Tessie's took more than a year to open and left people
wondering, "Why is it taking so long to open a restaurant that is so
small in size?"
Mark has a simple answer.
"It took a while because we wanted to do everything right," said Mark.
"We didn't want to be in a rush and that allowed us to do things
correctly. We strive for perfection."
Mark points to a Guinness beer glass as a metaphor to the time it took
to open Tessie's.
"The lesson of the story 'The Tortoise and The Hare' was that the tortoise was more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than
acting quickly and carelessly," said Mark. "That's what we did here."
Guinness glass with tortoise logo at Tessie's. Photo source:
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen Facebook fan page.
The slow build ultimately led to a fast start at Tessie's Bar &
Kitchen. The growing crowds suggest this cozy, instantly likeable restaurant could very well become a cornerstone "go-to" restaurant -- just like its big brother, The Raven's Nest -- in the near future. It is that good of a place. Additionally, they also realize downtown Walpole is about to change with
nearly 400 market-rate apartments scheduled to arrive within a year.
Knowing that more customers are on the way but with a limited small dining
space, Mark and Maura plan on signing up with food delivery services
so that new and current residents, alike, can enjoy Tessie's
delicious foods at home. It's all part of a visionary plan, first having started with construction of the full kitchen downstairs.
Call it all a small restaurant in a small town with a big vision and heart.
"We are very excited about Tessie's," said Mark. "It is so intimate and
welcoming. We are creating great things in the kitchen. Everyone loves
burgers and salads. And the service is so good. Unlike larger
restaurants, the waitresses don't disappear. Here, the waitresses can't
do that nor would they want to. It's like going into someone's living
Tessie's Bar & Kitchen is located
at 1006 Main St., Walpole, MA. Tel. (508) 734-5746. Log
onto the Tessie's
Bar & Kitchen web site and on
Be sure, too, to visit Mark and
Maura's first restaurant in Walpole, The
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