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Boston Restaurant Industry Veterans Discuss Neighborhood Evolutions

For Classics Week 2015, we asked longtime Boston restaurant industry veterans some survey questions about the changing industry. We'll share their answers throughout the week.

Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square
Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square
Meg Jones Wall for Eater

How have you seen certain neighborhoods evolve in terms of dining over the course of your career?

Marjorie Druker

Marjorie Druker, chef/owner of The New England Soup Factory & Modern Rotisserie:

"Kenmore Square was a virtual food wasteland. It was filled with discos and Red Sox souvenirs. Garrett Harker changed all of that and turned that neighborhood into the best place to eat and drink in Boston. Fort Point was where Jimmy’s Harborside Restaurant was. It also housed the No Name restaurant and Pier 4. There was a huge Victoria Station where we got bib BBQ beef ribs and ice cold salads from their salad bar."

Photo: Provided

Paul Maslow

Paul Maslow, owner of Strip-T’s:

"Every neighborhood has evolved — we have so many more restaurants now. Back in the 1970s there were not many good restaurants outside of the city. People also used to get dressed up to go to a nice restaurant."

Photo: Rex Dean

Steve DiFillippo

Steve DiFillippo, owner of Davio’s:

"The Waterfront, South Boston...there has been a tremendous change. The South End had only two or three restaurants back then. I think South Boston is finally becoming the next South End."

Photo: Provided

Matthew Gaudet

Matthew Gaudet, chef/owner of West Bridge:

"Cambridge is the place to be. In terms of permits, initial startup costs, and space, everything in Boston is a lot harder to do than it was maybe 10-20 years ago. I think Cambridge is a lot more freethinking and conducive to independent restaurants and their needs."

Photo: Chris Coe for Eater

Ana Sortun

Ana Sortun, chef/owner of Oleana, Sofra, and Sarma:

"All neighborhoods have flushed out, and many successful places are flourishing in small neighborhoods and off the beaten path. When we opened Oleana in 2001, there was the East Coast Grill and the B-Side Lounge in the neighborhood — now there are many places between Inman and Kendall Square. Hoping that similar growth will happen around the neighborhood where Sarma is."

Photo: Official Site

The Diamantopoulos Brothers

Kosta and Johnny Diamantopoulos, owners of All Star Sandwich Bar and All Star Pizza Bar:

Kosta: "In just this neighborhood alone, I think eleven restaurants have opened since we opened the sandwich bar."
Johnny: "I feel like Inman Square is in a resurgence — so many new places, cool places that are coming in."
Kosta: "And they’re all great! I can’t say there’s one place where I don’t eat in this neighborhood. We’re happy to eat at all of them. And obviously there's Kenmore Square; my god, eight years ago when we were taking delivery catering to Kenmore, it was desolate, and now you can’t find parking."
Johnny: "It really has become so busy there. And Davis Square, of course."
Kosta: "The next hotspot is going to be Union Square."
Johnny: "I think it’s going to take awhile."
Kosta: "We’re about 10 years away, but Union is going to be cool."

Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

Sean Newell

Sean Newell, general manager of M.J. O’Connor’s:

"Fort Point, all of the Southie waterfront. Complete transformation, all for the best!"

Photo: Provided

Richard Gordon

Richard Gordon, owner of South End Buttery:

"The South End and Fort Point Channel neighborhoods have really transformed the food scene in Boston. I remember when I was in college going to Hamersley’s Bistro in its original location on Tremont Street in the South End with my parents who were visiting me for parents weekend. They thought I was crazy to take them to what appeared to be such a dangerous neighborhood, but they loved it! Now they can’t believe how much the neighborhood has changed and how many great restaurants there are."

Photo: Provided

Chris Himmel

Chris Himmel, vice president of business development for the Himmel Hospitality Group (Grill 23, Post 390, and Harvest), from a previous interview with Eater:

"I think [Back Bay] is making a real effort to move forward. The difference, compared to a lot of the other areas where you're seeing a lot of growth, especially with independent chef-inspired restaurants — the rent is so high around here that frankly it's hard for a start-up chef to come in and get a good deal and be able to make something work. What you find here are a lot of the chains and a lot of the people that are not trying to do a four-star dining experience, but there's always been a density in terms of business.

In the last five years or so, a lot more residential buildings have begun opening up, and this is trying to become a neighborhood. This is an iconic area of the city, so it's not trying to forge its own path. In the last five years, it's trying to figure out who it is, and for better or worse, I think there are always going to be some of the chain restaurants around this area. But we have all of the guts to make it a vibrant area, beyond just business, and I hope it happens, because I actually live in the neighborhood.

When I was [in Harvard Square] in 2001 it was somewhat of a classic dining destination with UpStairs on the Square, Rialto, Harvest — those places were sort of the fixtures of Harvard Square, and everything else had sort of fallen by the wayside. There was a lull for a number of years where there weren't as many restaurants opening, and there were probably more closing.

But now I think that Cambridge may be the best restaurant area around here, and it's got some of the best chefs doing some of the most exciting things. It started, I think, over in Kendall Square, and it has certainly moved its way down. You see Alden & Harlow — I find Michael [Scelfo], on top of being a great guy, to be one of the more talented people in the city. It's really exciting to see a place like that open where somebody's taking those chances, and I think that's a reflection on Cambridge. I think that the diner who comes to Cambridge is looking for something different than what they're looking for when they come to Boston, and I think it's great. They're delivering. It's exciting to see. We're excited to be part of it at the Harvest. With Mary [Dumont, executive chef] there, it gives us the ability to really stay at the forefront of that, and so we sort of evolve the Harvest as the city evolves."

Photo: Chris Coe for Eater