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10 questions for a food entrepreneur: Flea Foster of Spoke

Flea Foster
Flea Foster
Flea Foster

This Examiner is hyper-local to Spoke, and so had the fortune to watch it sprout from a discreet slice of storefront between Dave’s Fresh Pasta and Sunshine Lucy’s on Holland Street. More than once and not so discreetly, I would duck my head under a barely-opened front window for a glimpse of what-all was going on behind the minimalist screened façade.

When I no longer had to try to climb in through the window, Spoke became an instant favorite. I met owner Flea Foster (pictured here though this was a few years back) one evening when my husband and I popped in for impulsive aperitivo. Cristiano and Flea are both avid cyclists and wine nerds, so the conversation flowed freely.

I liked Flea instantly and entirely, which only added points to my already high praise of Spoke.

This interview is part of the 10 questions for a food entrepreneur series for Examiner.

Q: What was the seed for what is now Spoke?

A: Motorcycle riding out West with a friend who is older and much wiser than I am, I was saying how I thought I was really ready to do something on my own. My dad’s friend is a serial entrepreneur and mentor to me, and has always said: “Go with what you know.” I know wines and, in a previous life (my late 20s), I’d owned a martini and wine bar in – of all places, Mobile, Alabama – so it started there.

Q: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

A: Licensing and permits.

Q: How do you define success?

A: Making a decent living doing something you love and doing it with people that you enjoy being around.

Q: How do you manage failure?

A: That’s a tough question because what is failure? How do you define failure? Is it the day-to-day or the long-term? My definition would be “not trying” I guess. I don’t handle failure well.

Q: How do you cope with pressure? (Any secret recipes for taking care of yourself?)

A: Exercise. Sleep is important too. I have a coffee shop that I’m a regular at and if I can get there a couple times a week to just read, that’s a kind of an escape… You’ve got to find time for your friends too.

Q: What are you going to do next?

A: Who knows! There might be another restaurant in me. It won’t be another Spoke. It will be totally different. And I want to be involved in the wine-importing side of the business at some point too because I want to travel.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in the past year?

A: Probably from my motorcycle friend: What’s the worst that could happen? It fails…? There are a lot of things more pressing than this business – like life and death. If it fails, you just pick yourself up and move on to the next thing.

Q: Give us your advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs… in 6 words or less.

A: Surround yourself with good people.

Q: You win the Oscar equivalent for your industry. When you take the stage, who will you thank and for what?

A: First and foremost, I would have to thank my girlfriend Sheri for being so supportive and loving and for encouraging me. My friends as well. I would have to thank Chef John daSilva for bringing such amazing food to this place and for just being such an amazing human being and my bar manager Cali Gold for bringing a first rate cocktail program to Spoke. And my staff for making this place what it is.

Q: What about Spoke most feeds your soul?

A: Putting a quality product out there and having people respond so favorably to it.

Spoke is a little bit hidden. From the Davis Square movie theater, cross the street and walk up Holland, and when you reach Dave’s Fresh Pasta, stop and look carefully: it’s the door just past Dave’s. On finding it, the gravity of these directions may feel silly, but people miss Spoke all the time, and you do not want to miss it.

In addition to Flea’s fierce wine and beer lists, the wonder of small plates dreamed up and crafted by the incredible John daSilva (formerly of No. 9 Park) and cocktails by Cali Gold will knock your socks off. But don’t take my word for it: some of Boston’s top restaurateur-chefs are frequently spotted there.