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Crema Revived

15 Feb

Revival coffee shops, in Alewife and Davis, have that sweet hint of Crema Cafe origins

 

Liza Shirazi and Steve “Nookie” Postal have brought Revival coffee shops to Alewife and Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Though Revival doesn’t have the same 02138 address of Crema Cafe, fans of the defunct Harvard Square coffee shop will enjoy spacious and attractive locations on CambridgePark Drive by the Alewife red line T station and a brand-spanking-new locale on Elm Street where the road funnels into Somerville’s Davis Square.

The folks behind Revival, Liza Shirazi and Steve “Nookie” Postal, met in 2012. Shirazi was a co-owner with Marley Brush, whose father Tom owns Flat Patties and Felipe’s Taqueria; in 2016, Postal was brought in to help run the popular eatery as Marley stepped away from the business. Then came the December 2017 sale of the historic Brattle Building where Crema was located, to North Carolina-based Asana Partners for a whopping $108 million. Shirazi and Postal, uncertain what the new lease rates would be, had already begun planning what would become the Revival Alewife location. Ultimately the rent hike forced Crema out; Asana is replacing it with New York-based coffee chain Bluestone Lane.

The Revival in Davis Square opened at the new year. (Photo: Tom Meek)

But the name “Revival” is coincidence, Shirazi said. “We didn’t know how Crema was going to go,” she said. “We came up with the name when thinking about space and community.”

The Alewife location is in the first level of an office building amid a spare and stark swath of generic corporate buildings. “It was about bringing culture and life back into a place,” Shirazi said. “Plus, coffee and food do provide energy.”

The Alewife Revival opened in June; its Elm Street sister opened just after the New Year. Neither is open as late as Crema – until 5 p.m. weekdays and 3 p.m. weekends in Alewife, and to 7 p.m. at Davis Square after a starter closing of 3 p.m. as the cafe settles in.

The interiors of the Revivals at Davis Square (top) and Alewife. (Photos: Tom Meek)

They share a menu, with breakfast served all day and a basic but creative lunch menu with a few nods to the old Harvard Square location – namely the Crema Grilled Chicken sandwich with avocado and cotija, a cheese and corn spread. There’s also an ample selection of salads, quiche, made-on-site pastries as well as a kimchi bowl and the pastrami-based “Fake News” sandwich.

The Alewife space, which Shirazi called “family friendly,” boasts a vast parking lot open to customers on weekends (during the week it’s used by tenants’ employees) and has direct access to the bike path extension from Alewife to Belmont. Shirazi commutes from Lexington, where she has a husband also in the food industry and a 2- and a 4-year-old. Postal is a longtime Porter Square resident who owns and runs the Commonwealth restaurant and market in Kendall Square.

The owners have been exploring food and beverage service options outside the traditional long-term leased storefront format: In addition to the Revivals, they run a food and coffee kiosk at One Post Office Square, in downtown Boston. At CambridgePark Drive there is another floor- level space that they plan to operate as a community beer hall called Mothership.

Banking on Banks

15 Feb

Another bank branch is under construction, East Boston Savings filling former wine shop

 

The former wine shop at 1739 Massachusetts Ave. will become an East Boston Savings Bank branch. (Photo: Google)

Coming shortly to 1739 Massachusetts Ave., formerly the University Wine Shop, is a – wait for it – bank. According to Dan Bloom of Tactical Realty Group, which leased the property, an East Boston Savings Bank branch will open its doors as soon as a remodel is complete.

The loose quarter-mile stretch of Massachusetts Avenue from Linnaean Street to the Porter Square Galleria already has five banks. East Boston Savings Bank will be the sixth.

East Boston Savings Bank, based in Peabody, has more than 40 locations, including one on the other side of Porter Square in North Cambridge at 2172 Massachusetts Ave.

University Wine Shop, seen in July 2017, has moved to 1737 Massachusetts Ave. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The space, owned by a trust managed by Myer Dana and Sons with the neighboring 1741 Massachusetts Ave., had been vacant for more than a year since rents were raised on the previous tenants. The liquor store and Nomad, a jewelry, furniture and gift shop, decided to vacate in August 2017 after decades-long tenancies because of the rent increase – doubling what other businesses along the strip were paying, wine shop owner Paul DeRuzzo told the Cambridge Chronicle. The former Nomad space remains empty and for rent.

University Wine Shop and Nomad relocated yards away, to 1737 and 1771 Massachusetts Ave., respectively.

The notion of a bank popping up when a local business gets bounced due to high rent is nothing new in Cambridge; a Citizens Bank is under construction in Porter Square, where it’s replacing a Potbelly Sandwich Shop, though with seven banks in around 900,000 square feet of retail space, Harvard Square may be the epitome of bank proliferation in Cambridge. Will there be more? You can bank on it. 

Korean Food Returns to Poter Square

27 Jan

 

The ok dol bibimbap with salmon, served in a sizzling hot stone bowl is a classic at Chocho’s in Porter Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s, the Korean eatery among a half-dozen Asian choices at 1815 Massachusetts Ave., reopened last month after being closed since a May electrical fire. After much remodeling and mitigation, and despite 16 years in Porter Square, the restaurant has struggled with staffing and regrowing its clientele.

In correspondence with co-owner Eunmi Cho and her son Walter, the Chos said they were greatly relieved to have their regulars back, but the costs of rebuilding and insurance process has taken its toll. Eunmi and her husband Sang also run Yotopia, the neighboring shop with bubble tea, self serve fro-yo and other treats, which stayed open during the seven months ChoCho’s was closed.

The renovated space has been enlarged some, and the menu slimmed down, but savory classics  remain, such as the ok dol bibimbap served in a sizzling hot stone bowl (rice, veggies and a choice of protein – bulgogi, chicken or salmon), the signature soondubu tofu soup that comes with banchans (little snack plates such as kimchi and seaweed salad) and marinated short ribs (kalbi) from the grill. They’ve added a popular bulgogi taco.

ChoCho’s Korean eatery has been in Porter Square for 16 years, with a seven-month gap recovering from a fire. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s is one of the few Korean eateries in Cambridge, even among the neighboring food court-style offerings. Coincidentally, on the day ChoCho’s caught fire, there was also a fire at Koreana, owned by Eunmi’s brother Jae Chung (who ran the Jae’s chain of restaurants in the 1990s); it reopened almost immediately, though.

The holiday timing, when students are away, may have contributed to a slow reboot at ChoCho’s. That said, Yume Ga Arukara Udon (from the owners of Yume Wo Katare, five minutes’ walk up Massachusetts Avenue) has been drawing long lines of udon seekers across the hall since its rave from Bon Appetit. ChoCho’s has udon too, as well as healthy menu offerings that could please people signing up at Planet Fitness downstairs, and whole the cold may keep some away, the stone bowl bibimbap is a perfectly delicious solution for it, with crispy cooked rice and sweet  and spicy gochujang (chili) sauce. But you can’t top the chill-eradicating delight of a boiling bowl of soondubu tofu soup (in vegetable, seafood, bulgogi and kimchi versions) that you drop a raw egg into and let cook. It comes in varying degrees of spice – best to go up if you can; it’s a great cold chaser and nose-clearing medley of flavors. 

“We are excited to be back up and running,” Eunmi said via an email. “It’s as if nothing happened, and I hope future customers who have never eaten at ChoCho’s come enjoy what we have to offer.”

Dope Comes to Town

27 Jan

 

Experts who gathered Jan. 17 to talk about the arrival of recreational marijuana included state Sen. Pat Jehlen, city planner Jeff Roberts, police Sgt. Lou Cherubino and David Lakeman of the state Cannabis Control Commission. Moderator Jeff Byrnes is at right. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A recreational marijuana dispensary is likely to open in Cambridge as early as this spring, officials said at a meeting last week in Porter Square where residents learned about the requirements to open one, and how laws about use would be enforced.

Three medical marijuana dispensaries are open and three more have been approved for opening by the Planning Board. But zoning for recreational marijuana shops hasn’t taken effect – a proposed law was ordained Dec. 17 by the City Council for discussion by its Ordinance Committee and by the Planning Board, but neither body has announced meeting dates. (Dennis Carlone, who leads the Ordinance Committee with councillor Craig Kelley, said he hoped the conversation would happen in February, but it was preferable for the Planning Board to meet first.)

There was no clear rise in crime or motor vehicle accidents in states with legal recreational use of marijuana, officials said, looking at preliminary data from Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 with Washington. Some data suggest that legalization of recreational marijuana correlates with a decrease in opioid use, a yearslong urban epidemic.

The Jan. 17 event, billed as “Legal Pot: The Status and Possible Effects on All of Us” was organized by the Porter Square Neighbors Association. Panelists were David Lakeman, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission; state Sen. Pat Jehlen, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy; Jeff Roberts, director of zoning and development for the City of Cambridge; and Sgt. Lou Cherubino, of the Cambridge Police Department. Jeff Byrnes, a Somerville member of the association, moderated.

There was concern from the opening of the first recreational marijuana dispensary, Cultivate in the Central Massachusetts town of Leicester, which tied up traffic Nov. 20 and caused community anxiety, making front page news. But as one of only two marijuana retailers on the East Coast at the time, it drew customers from as far away as New Jersey, Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux was quoted as saying in the Worcester Business Journal. (The two dozen residents at the meeting were told incorrectly additional traffic was generated by a Walmart Supercenter opening at the same time.)

Good for business

Since late November, Massachusetts has seen recreational marijuana sales begin in at least two more locations – NETA in Northampton and Northeast Alternatives in Fall River – suggesting there would be less traffic impact along with a decrease in novelty and rarity. Easthampton, Salem and Wareham also had approvals for sales to begin.

Lakeman outlined ways in which retail pot would be good for business, including a requirement that all marijuana sold in Massachusetts must be produced here as well. Many of the production facilities, which require ample space and real estate, are reactivating old, shutdown industrial facilities north and west of Route 128.

Elaborate application processes include a host community agreement, with a tax of 3 percent or greater paid to offset potential traffic, education and enforcement impact, and there are social equity and economic empowerment components meant to repay damage done to people of color by the war on drugs, Lakeman and Jehlen said.

Rules and restrictions

Roberts outlined marijuana zoning rules saying facilities cannot be within 1,800 feet of each other – although there is already a zoning amendment request that an exception be made in East Cambridge – and that facilities be at least 300 feet from schools and other public recreational facilities where children gather. The state recommendation is 500 feet.

Not all residents were pleased by the lesser distance, and Jehlen said her big concern for youth was the rise of vaping and the targeting of youth as users. Other big complaints, panelists said of states with recreational marijuana use, have been the smell.

Consuming recreational marijuana in public, while decriminalized, is still an offense and can bring fines, Cherubino said. Possession of more than 10 ounces of non-medicinal marijuana is a criminal offense.

Get Luce

16 Jan

Luce prepares opening on Shepard Street, lighter without heat of wood-fired drama

 

Luce is expected to open as early as this week on Shepard Street. (Photo: Tom Meek)

After a public battle with the neighborhood and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on air purifying exhaust systems for smoke from its wood-fired grill, Shepard – an instant culinary darling for its inventive small plates menu and whole, wood-grilled chicken – closed at the end of last year. It wasn’t so much an end as a chance to reinvent the concept around a similar menu: René Becker opened Shepard with longtime area restaurateur Susan Regis in 2015; Regis bowed out, but not before installing an Italian brick pizza oven that will be key in Becker’s new endeavor.

The new eatery, in an updated facade just off Massachusetts Avenue on Shepard Street, is called Luce, after Becker’s elementary school-aged daughter, Lucy. The menu concocted with chef Scott Jones – already online – has Shepard-esque small plates, lobster salads, fava bean purée and tuna conserva. There are pizzas (fried calamari, pancetta and mushroom) and pasta dishes, half and whole sizes, and bigger plates of New York strip and sea bass. One might argue that the pizza and pasta dishes echo too much the offerings at nearby Giulia, which has lines out the door by 5 p.m., and Temple Bar, which has long offered pizza as a staple (a pizza oven fire a few years back almost shuttered the biz) and recently added homemade pasta dishes. Still, the other culinary offerings around the edges promise something new, and the mixology concoctions and wine list at Shepard were always top flight. It’s unclear how much of the interior is being resculpted; the old Chez Henri boasted a cozy bar, while Shepard was a singular open space where the bar flowed into the restaurant.

Becker is also owner of two nearby Hi-Rise bakeries. One classic at those eat-in, grab-out spots is the sweet and salty butter – unique and luscious in so many ways – made onsite. It was served with bread and dinner crackers at Shepard. One can only hope it returns at Luce. 

Luce is slated to open as early as this week.

How Big is Too Big

16 Jan

Groups’ rankings set climate as top priority, but forum discussion still turns to housing

 

Upward of 150 people gathered Saturday for a citizen-run community forum at the Citywide Senior Center. (Photo: Charlie Teague)

Though affordable housing was the most talked-about topic at Saturday’s “How Big is Too Big” public forum, it was climate issues – the environment, trees and parks – that were identified as Cambridge’s top priority by vote of participating neighborhood groups.

Close behind, tied with seven votes each from neighborhood group, were the topics of “sustainable planning/development” (including zoning and questions of the pace and size of development) and “quality of life” (seeing some overlap with climate issues, this covered concerns over parks and open spaces, light and noise, garbage, street drugs, homelessness and a diminished arts scene).

Housing, as its own topic, was officially third tier – tied with the topics of “city responsiveness” and “neighborhoods” (referring to preservation and civic engagement issues) with five votes each. Advance publicity for the event suggested housing might be key, as organizers noted concerns about figures estimates from the citywide planning process Envision Cambridge that under current zoning there will be 20,800 more Cantabrigians by 2030, and certain zoning changes could raise that to 24,300. That bigger figure is a 21.5 percent increase over the current 113,000 population, and its 12,300 residential units added to the current 44,000 is growth of 28 percent.

Also participating were citywide organizations focused on housing, including A Better Cambridge, which circulated a pamphlet about the city’s “Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay” with data about equitable distribution of affordable housing units throughout the neighborhoods. The Port has the highest amount of the city’s affordable housing units at 34.5 percent, the group noted, while West Cambridge has the least at 1.3 percent.  

The two-hour forum, held at the Citywide Senior Center across from City Hall, drew upward of 150 people – including five city councillors – as drawn together by the the Livable Cambridge discussion group and organizers shared with the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, including Suzanne Preston Blier. Ahead of the forum, Blier said its key moments would be when participating groups presented three to four issues each considers vital for a more livable Cambridge, which could be used to prioritize politically. 

“We all share many of the same concerns,” Blier said, “and we believe that by working together not only will our citizens have a stronger voice, but Cambridge itself will be stronger.”

Big event

The forum was laid out job-fair fashion, with neighborhood associations hosting tables with fliers boosting causes – groups from the Cambridge Highlands and East Cambridge, for instance, served up a stark flier opposing a proposed Eversource power substation at Fulkerson Street. Refreshments were close by.

The meeting kicked off with HSNA member Nicola A. Williams speaking briefly to the desire for socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural and age diversity in the city and asking all to join her in the mantra that “all opinions are valued” and a reminder to “respect differences.” Blier, a preservation activist and architectural historian, ran through a slideshowilluminating the surveyed goals for a “Livable Cambridge” from the approximately dozen neighborhood associations in attendance. Affordability, sustainability and the need for more green open space were highlights.

Comedian and former candidate for lieutenant governor Jimmy Tingle spoke to close the Saturday event. (Photo: Tom Meek)

About an hour in, representatives from the neighborhood associations were summoned to talk about their organizations and goals; the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association seized the opportunity to announce that its Thursday meeting would discuss congestion and noise from the Boston University Bridge rotary, which worsened with completion of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge project in August.

A brief audience Q&A focused on affordability, inclusion and high rents, residential and commercial, with the tripling of rent that shuttered Crema Cafe in Harvard Square still a raw wound.“Development can’t be market driven,” speakers said several times. Transportation was another major topic of conversation; trees and the diminishing tree canopy – the top polled priority of the neighborhood groups – registered a distant third in the conversation.

Not quite the end

Comedian and former candidate for lieutenant governor Jimmy Tingle spoke to close the event, and people filed out abuzz, with some wondering what had been accomplished. (Organizers referred to the Saturday forum as “setting the table for more interaction and discussion.”)

The event’s meaning remained somewhat open to interpretation. In a follow-up discussion online Sunday, Blier underlined that there was “a big message [in] this input and insight from current residents in our different neighborhoods” – but where some heard a conversation still dominated by the need for affordable housing that suggests the need for more development, she saw an answer to “the city … moving willy-nilly in the Envision effort to upzone to add more and higher developments for commerce and for housing.”

“Note climate and overdevelopment are at the top,” she said, pointing to the formal tallies of issues from neighborhood groups.

Remembering a solid citizen

12 Jan

Paul Wilson: Big guy with an even bigger heart whose memory will outlast headlines’ violence

The life of Paul Wilson, 60, will be celebrated Jan. 26 in Danvers. (Photos courtesy of Cindy Amor)

Last week a brutal crime took from our city one of its kindest, gentlest souls. Paul Wilson, 60, was a stand-up human: generous, respectful, friendly and imbued with a deep sense of humor.

I knew Paul on and off for two decades but didn’t know of his death until the day after the Jan. 2 assault on him in Danehy Park, which has yet to be solved. I was in New York on a business trip when my wife texted and told me to check the news back home. The thing that struck me in all the reports was the prominent underscoring of Paul’s appearance – 6-foot-6, and wearing shorts and a red winter jacket in the dreary cold of the New England winter.

Anyone who ever met Paul knew that wearing shorts in the dead of winter was his thing. I never asked Paul why he did it, because as a guy who wore shorts well into November and slapped them on after the first thaw, I got it. And it was shorts and not our mutual employment at Lotus/IBM that brought us together. I was playing Ultimate Frisbee at Danehy Park, where Paul was on his usual evening walk, and he paused to take in our game. He approached to ask about the rules and I said, “Hey, you’re the only guy in the office who wears shorts more than me.” We learned that we lived close by and, when IBM shipped us both 30 miles west to Littleton, sometimes commuted together. I’m a talker, and so was Paul – we talked some politics, and at the time of our commutes we were both going through the loss of our parents. He also loved good food and off-the-beaten path establishments that stood the test of time. The Out of the Blue restaurant in Davis Square was a favorite of his, and we often had a post-commute snack at the under-the-radar Italian eatery Gran Gusto, across from his apartment, or a beer at Paddy’s Lunch just up the street. 

Paul Wilson in a Danvers High School yearbook.

In reaching out to other people for this piece, including Carla Bekeritis and Cindy Amor, who went to Danvers High with Paul, the unanimous sentiment was that he was a deeply loved and valued member of the community. Paul attended the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and studied music, but like many from that era with creative leanings and sharp minds, he found his way into software and worked for IBM for nearly 30 years.

I last saw Paul three days before the new year on Massachusetts Avenue outside Changsho restaurant – it was 20-something degrees out, but he was wearing shorts and telling me proudly that he was now a card-carrying member of the Blue Bikes share; IBM had landed him back in Cambridge for work, and that was his new means of commuting. We made a pledge to get together soon. Soon would obviously not be soon enough.

Paul was a big guy, with an even bigger heart. Justice and closure on the mystery of his death can’t come soon enough. Still, though the nature of the crime may be what seizes headlines, in time that will fade and his memory will carry on in the hearts of those he touched. 

A celebration of Paul’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 26 at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church, 323 Locust St., Danvers. Expressions of sympathy may be made in Paul’s memory to Doctors Without Borders.

A community meeting about the homicide investigation and safety concerns is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Peabody School, 70 Rindge Ave., North Cambridge. Representatives of the City Manager’s Office, Cambridge Police Department, and the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office will be on hand for questions.