Generations of Goodness: Julians Hits 20 Years in Stride

A Look into the West Side Gem

By: Maggie Dunleavy & Ginnie Dunleavy

“Old school” is the first thing that comes to mind after speaking with those behind Julians, a Providence classic in the way of good eats and eclectic ambiance. We sat down with Julian, founder and keeper of the restaurant, and longtime manager, Brian Oakley, at the restaurant as they celebrate their 20th year in business. Julian remembers the early days of the restaurant fondly, then a men’s club in a rarely traveled part of town. He told us the story of a man sticking his head in and asking if they had any coffee. “I really think he may have been the first paying customer,” Julian said of the man, whom he still knows by name.

Twenty years later, the restaurant has come a long way. Julians is known for an atmosphere that is at once familiar and unique, accentuated by the hum of conversation and kitchen noises as well as the rotating artwork collections that give every seat something to look at. This is an institution that has been propelled forward by hardworking people learning as they go, and loving the food that they create. Julian and Brian have worked together for over 10 years, and it’s clear when talking to them how well they balance each other. They admit that it has not been an easy road, but these two have found what they love to do and are doing it with pride and passion.

The day we braved the Sunday crowd for brunch, it was clear that the community Julians serves is part of what makes it great. The crowd was a diverse mix of ages, ethnicities and styles, all brought together for good food. Julian and Brian speak of their customers with reverence and obviously take pride in having a storefront that has been with the neighborhood in good times and challenging times. They have a reputation for being open when nobody else is, and serving dinner until 11pm and drinks until 1am every night without fail.

Our brunch was delicious; Ginnie started with a scrumptious Bloody Mary, Maryland-style mix. Maggie ordered Thee Weeping Toreador omelet, which comes with avocado, cherry tomato, black beans and pepper jack cheese, while Ginnie went with an arugula and heirloom tomato salad with smoked mozzarella and Dijon-honey balsamic dressing. Brian shared with us some of his favorite dishes to recommend to new customers. One is their Shakshuka, which is two eggs, poached in spicy tomato stew, with lemon tahini and fresh parsley, brought to Julians by a former chef’s memory of what his Israeli grandmother made for him. Another favorite is the House corned beef, served with roasted fingerling potatoes, maple glazed carrots and caraway stout braised cabbage. And while it is well known that good food is not always cheap food, Julians finds a way to make great food affordable.

When it comes to what’s in store for the next 20 years at Julians, there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down. In addition to their restaurant, they feature catering, their omnibuss and a smoker. The restaurant is on the cutting edge with its commitment to green practices, expanding their use of technology that reduces their carbon footprint. They’re also looking to their relationships with those in the community they serve, finding new ways to strengthen their ties by collaborating with other businesses and groups. Julian and Brian seem to have no shortage of innovative ideas and Julians is only getting better. When the topic of the restaurant’s future came up, Brian put it best by simply saying, “I don’t think we’re going anywhere.” As a mother-daughter duo that loves meals that nourish body and soul, we couldn’t be more grateful to hear it.

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