From clothing store to Caribbean vibes, Silverstein continues legacy

Oct 21, 2021

Don’t worry about success, Dartmouth restaurateur Steve Silverstein was taught at an early age.

“Make friends today, make money tomorrow,’’ he said, quoting a maxim he learned many years ago. “And then tomorrow we say, make friends today, make money tomorrow.’’

That approach has served him well throughout the years, culminating with the recent opening of Cisco Breweries, a waterfront restaurant in New Bedford’s South End that has drawn buzz — and crowds. 

The restaurateur knows the area well: He was born and raised in Dartmouth, attended town public schools through 10th grade, then went to Tabor Academy in 11 and 12th grade. 

From there he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at UMass Amherst and a master’s degree in business from New York University. 

He worked for a while for a large accounting firm in Boston, then served as a CFO of a company in Aspen, Colo.

In 1993, he returned home to help with the family business, Silverstein’s clothing store. And he learned something about his home area: There was a shortage of great restaurants with reasonable prices in the suburbs.

He had no experience in restaurants, but understood something he considered the lifeblood of any successful restaurant: Hospitality.

In 1994, he opened the first Not Your Average Joe’s in its current location on Route 6 in Dartmouth. 

He grew that restaurant to 30 locations, before selling the business, keeping only the first location, now known as Joe’s Original.

Silverstein also owns The Black Whale and The Whale’s Tail on the New Bedford waterfront and Cultivator Shoals in the city’s downtown.

He credits his success to building relationships with people and understanding how to treat them well. 

Silverstein learned those lessons from three generations that preceded him in business. His family operated the iconic Silverstein’s clothing store in New Bedford for nearly 100 years.

His great-grandfather, Barnet Silverstein, an immigrant from Lithuania, founded Silverstein’s in 1900. He began selling sewing needles and cloth, first from a pack on his back, then from a cart.

The store grew out of the family’s front room in their home on South Water Street. The iconic clothing store was eventually owned by his grandfather Harry and then his three sons, Joe, Louis and Bernard.

Silverstein, his brother David and cousin Jay eventually owned the store before it closed in 1998. The business was famous for its personalized customer service, he said. 

“I learned how to take care of people, how to make people happy,’’ he said.

Based on the crowds, he is doing just that with his newest venture, Cisco Brewers New Bedford, which opened earlier this year at the site of the former Davy’s Locker, and later The Edge, along the South End waterfront in New Bedford.

The physical location may be New Bedford, but the mood says Caribbean island. The site includes plenty of sand, a beach, a dock and outdoor dining, along with a restaurant with both indoor and rooftop seating.

Silverstein said the eatery has a deliberately chill vibe: Dogs are welcome outside — “if you can bring your dog, that’s cool,’’ he said — and live music plays daily during the summer. 

“You feel like you’re on vacation,’’ when you visit, he said. 

Even small details such as the color scheme and the bright umbrellas add to the ambiance, he said.

“This is a very historical area people love,’’ Silverstein said, noting the past restaurants at the site and Smuggler’s Den nightclub. “We added some imagination. It’s all about tapping into a feeling.’’

He had great faith that the restaurant, which is a collaboration with Cisco Brewers, would succeed in New Bedford with support from the greater New Bedford community. 

“This is a misunderstood area and an underestimated area,’’ he said. “We believe in New Bedford. We believe in Dartmouth.’’

His next venture will be in Dartmouth. He plans to relaunch the Sail Loft restaurant in Padanaram this winter.

“We want to keep it as a village tavern,’’ but with a “modern, enlightened’’ feel. “We want to bring it to a new level,’’ he said. 

As Silverstein adds to his portfolio, he credits a dedicated staff for much of his success. 

“We have our aces in place,’’ he said. “We are very dependent on talented people.’’

Determination and hard work are the keys to success, he said, overshadowing other more traditional elements such as education or financial means.

“You don’t need money, you don’t have to be super smart, but you have to have vision, courage, perseverance,’’ he said. 

You also have to be willing to work hard, he said.

“I’ve worked 80 hours a week for 40 years,’’ Silverstein said. “If you’re going to work, you might as well work for yourself.”

By putting in the hard work, “you’re building equity in yourself.’’ 

As for future business openings, he closes no doors.  

“I’m always up for opportunities,’’ Silverstein said. “I can’t help myself.’’