BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — One of the signature restaurants in the city’s downtown dining scene has changed hands.
The Wild Horse Cafe at 392 Cabot St. is now being run by Matt Blanchard and Sam Hunt, who are best known as the former operators of 15 Walnut Bistro in Hamilton.
The Wild Horse had been owned by chef Brenden Crocker and his wife, Milissa Oraibi, since 1999. The couple sold the restaurant to Blanchard, Hunt and investors for $650,000 last month.
“We’ve been doing this for 14 years, and this seemed like the right time to get out,” Crocker said.
Blanchard and Hunt are planning a remodeling in the spring that will open up the bar area, but they said they don’t plan to change what has been a successful formula at Wild Horse.
“Friday night was our first night, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘You’ve got big shoes to fill,’” Blanchard said. “(Crocker and Oraibi) are fantastic. They had a great product here. My tagline is we’re not trying to reinvent it, we’re trying to reinvigorate it.”
The Wild Horse is known for its cozy chairs, couches and pillows. Blanchard said his mother has reupholstered the seats and brought in new pillows.
“The feeling here is very relaxed,” he said. “You feel like you’re eating at home. We definitely want to keep that.”
Under Crocker, the Wild Horse was described as an American bistro with “grass-roots cuisine and comfort food.” Blanchard said the menu will be similar, with entrees that include wood-grilled rack of lamb and panko-crusted haddock.
And yes, Blanchard said in response to the many questions he has heard from regular customers, the Wild Horse will still serve its well-known nachos.
Blanchard, 29, and Hunt, 39, both began working in other fields before getting involved with restaurants. Blanchard, a Wenham native, graduated from Drew University and worked in finance and development. Hunt, who is from Waltham, got a degree in industrial design from Syracuse University and worked for nine years in the design industry.
Hunt started out as a line cook and has worked as a chef at West Side Lounge in Cambridge, 15 Walnut in Hamilton and Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton.
Crocker, who grew up in Manchester and lives in Beverly, is not leaving the North Shore restaurant scene entirely. He and Oraibi will continue to own and operate The Old Spot restaurant in Salem, which they bought in 2006.
Crocker said he and Oraibi would like to open a new restaurant at some point, but for now will focus on The Old Spot.
“It’s certainly a lot easier than doing two restaurants,” he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.