When an international visitor, unable to speak a word of English, walks up to the counter and points to a picture of caramel and banana French toast on his phone, the staff of The Paramount knows what to do. Their most popular dish draws tourists from across the city and the globe to the Beacon Hill restaurant. In fact, on Saturdays and Sundays, the morning line can stretch up to three doors down the sidewalk as locals and tourists wait for a table. And yet the wait doesn’t seem to deter customers, as the restaurant remains one of the most popular spots in the city.
The restaurant, which opened in 1937 as The Paramount Deli, has served Beacon Hill for years. Two decades ago, in 1995, Michael Conlon and Joe Green bought the restaurant and renovated it, creating the immensely popular breakfast spot of today from the former deli. Conlon’s father, an Irish immigrant, brought him up in the restaurant business after purchasing The Blarney Stone, a Dorchester restaurant. This lifetime of restaurant experience is apparent in the quality of food and service each diner receives at The Paramount.
Going to The Paramount, the first thing you notice is the neighborhood. A block away from Boston Common, located on Charles Street, the sidewalk bustles with activity. Historic buildings line your path. Inside, the brick walls and metallic counter evoke the historicity of the building and provide the atmosphere of an upscale diner. The restaurant has evolved with the times and embraced the modern Boston while still retaining its Beacon Hill originality.
When you walk into the restaurant, a sign reading “Order Here” hangs over the counter in the back. Instead of being seated, ordering, and then eating in the way most restaurants operate, customers here walk directly up to the counter and order their meal from the chef, after which they sit and are brought their food. After trying the traditional seating-first method, they found that it was impossible to produce the same volume of food and satisfy as many customers, so they decided to stick with order-at-the-counter, a system that continues to serve the frequently crowded restaurant well.
After ordering, you can take a seat at one of the tables, which evoke a diner atmosphere alongside the black and white pictures on the wall. When your food arrives, you can be sure that it wasn’t bought frozen. Each dish is cooked from scratch, even the caramel that coats the ever-popular French toast.
They also offer a selection of omelettes, egg sandwiches, and lunch and dinner options. The dishes stand out on the plate, put together in an eye-catching and colorful manner. As Bonnie Owens, manager of The Paramount, said about the chorizo omelette, a fresh-made guacamole and pico de gallo-covered dish, “This is one that, when people are in line, they’re like ‘What is that dish? What is she having over there?’”
The food tastes just as good as it looks, if not better. It’s easy to see why the caramel banana pancakes are the most popular item. Each slice of French toast is soaked in the homemade caramel sauce, covered in slices of banana, and sprinkled with sugar. This sweet breakfast meal has a unique and addictive flavor not found in most restaurants. The omelettes provide an equally inventive and delicious option for the less sugar-inclined diner.
Head chef Gabriel Cheung emphasizes the quality of The Paramount’s ingredients. He has worked at the restaurant for 11 years and said that the restaurant has maintained consistency over the years. If you came to the restaurant five years ago, you’ll remember the experience and the food will be just as good the second time, he said. Over the years, the restaurant continues to purchase the highest-quality food they can to produce the freshest and best meals they can.
The food has proven to be a big draw for the restaurant, which serves up to 500 people on any given day. With consistently heavy crowds every morning, Owens attributes the restaurant’s enduring popularity not only to the food it serves, but the way it is served.
“We know how to do it with a smile,” she said, referring to the staff, some of whom have been working at The Paramount for 15 to 20 years. “This system really forces people out of their comfort zone, so we pride ourselves in taking the extra step in hospitality.”
As customers shuffle between the chef, the cash register, and their tables, it is this extra step that makes all the difference in the crowded restaurant. As newcomers to the restaurant might be thrown off by the system, Cheung said that “being nice no matter what” is extremely important. He also said the restaurant prides itself on always having a seat open. After standing in line and ordering, the customer doesn’t have to stand and wait for a seat.
With this many customers, Cheung said that the food has to be good and the service has to be excellent. As the restaurant continues to pack in customers every week, this system appears to be working.
The Paramount’s popularity has proven so enduring that it has even attracted a few famous faces to the restaurant.
“Table five in the corner, that’s where Lebron and Rajon Rondo had breakfast together about this time last year,” Owens said. The restaurant has also been host to Jake Gyllenhaal while he was filming Stronger, a movie about the Boston Marathon bombings, and Chris Pine for the premiere of The Finest Hours.
Despite this wide-reaching interest and these celebrity sightings, The Paramount still provides a customer with “the feel of a neighborhood place,” as Owens said. Regulars come for breakfast alongside tourists hoping to try the famous food. One college student, Owens said, shows up every Saturday morning, one of The Paramount’s busiest times, and reads her lecture notes during the wait in line. Right in the heart of the downtown and historic Beacon Hill, the restaurant exudes the bustling atmosphere of Boston through these devoted customers and in the many curious newcomers.
For students interested in avoiding the lines at The Paramount, Owens recommends coming in the mid-afternoon on a weekday. During this slower period, the line no longer stretches out the door and you can get a late breakfast or lunch without the wait. The restaurant also has a South Boston location that offers the same menu with a reduced crowd.
Even with the crowds, Owens still enjoys her work at The Paramount. As many of the staff members have young children, she praises the flexibility and understanding of the restaurant when it comes to maternity leave and other accommodations. Beyond that, interactions with customers, such as directing a tourist to the best spots in the neighborhood, make the job interesting and rewarding.
“I had a family in from Alabama about two months ago, they had their elderly father with them and he wasn’t feeling well,” Owens said. “So I gave them this table right away … I didn’t make them stand in the line, I took their order and gave it to the kitchen. They were so happy they sent me a care package in the mail filled with locally made pickles.”
Years of rave reviews testify to customer satisfaction with The Paramount. The food, atmosphere, and experience of The Paramount keep customers coming every week and continue to draw tourists to the small diner with the line out the door.
“Nobody likes to wait in the line, but at the end once they have their food, they’re very happy,” Owens said.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor