Meet Maria Rondeau
Co-founder and owner of Celeste
An architect and producer, Maria founded Celeste in Union Square, Somerville, alongside partner JuanMa Calderón, a chef and filmmaker, as a “joint project between friends interested in creating a unique experience that brings together good food, paired with the perfect drink, set in a singular environment that celebrates provocative design, art, and music.” Maria and JuanMa see Celeste as an extension of a series of projects they have worked on together over the years, including Kriollo Real, a pop-up restaurant held at their home in Cambridge since 2013, C-41, an artist residency project founded in La Antigua, Guatemala, and the production of JuanMa’s latest film, Amores Gatos. Celeste focuses on recipes from Peru, where JuanMa grew up learning to cook.
Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A: At home! When we moved into our new home, I designed a kitchen/dining room around a 10-foot-long 18th century farm table we’d acquired. We never imagined it would lead to a series of dinners we hosted for friends, and friends-of-friends, known as Kriollo Real. My partner, JuanMa (film maker), would cook, and I (architect), would play host. We fell in love with these events – opening our doors to the public, and gathering around the joy and beauty of food. This was the inception of Celeste.
Q: What made you want to open your own restaurant? Does that still drive you?
A: We loved hosting the Kriollo Real dinners at home, which invariably turned into parties at the end of the night. After a few years of hosting these events, people would ask us about the possibility of opening a restaurant. It seemed absolutely daunting, and we never imagined it as a possibility until one day – out of curiosity, I looked into commercial spaces. We immediately fell in love with the location which is now home to Celeste. It was a tiny spot in Union Square, and suddenly it all made sense. As crazy as it sounded, we decided to go for it. As an architect, my challenge was to create a public space that still felt like home. As a film-maker who loves to cook, JuanMa’s challenge was to cook for 24 people (the same amount as our Kriollo dinners), except daily and a few times a day! To this day, we still love what we do! We’re so grateful for the amazing people we’ve met, for our staff who’s become family, and for the love that so many share with us at Celeste.
Q: How have you been keeping your team motivated through this difficult, unprecedented time?
A: On March 8th, International Women’s Day, Celeste celebrated its third anniversary. We opened in 2018 with six people, all of them still with us, and we’re fortunate to continue growing together, as a family. When the pandemic hit, we decided, as a team, to keep going as long and as hard as we could, that we would take care of each other and of our community, and that we would do everything it took to make it through. We transitioned from a tiny dine-in restaurant to a take-out and delivery outfit (literally!) overnight. Our servers became drivers. Our kitchen staff became line cooks for hospitals and front-line workers. We did not close, even for a day. We stocked up on to-go boxes, rolled up our sleeves, put our masks on, and kept going! When we were allowed to open outdoors, we built our benches and tables together. When we were able to open indoors, we devised creative ways of putting up plexiglass dividers to have at least four tables. Our love and commitment for each other, and for our loyal customers who have supported us throughout, was resolute.
Q: What does your restaurant model look like these days in terms of what you’re offering, how you’ve shifted, and how patrons can support you?
A: We continue to serve our guests in many ways – we have indoor seating which includes an updated mechanical system with UV filtration to keep guests and staff safe, outdoor seating with heaters to survive the cold nights, delivery through Doordash, and pick-up through Toast. We’ve kept going through the darkest months, and we now sense a shift in the mood and the weather that fills us with love and optimism for what’s to come. We’ve applied for outdoor seating on the public way, and hope to expand soon with more tables in front. We are filled with love and gratitude for all the support the community has shown us, and look forward to celebrating with everyone, very soon!