Esteemed Italian restaurant Erbaluce — one of the best Italian restaurants in town — is almost definitely set to close after its upcoming New Year’s Eve dinner service. The Bay Village property that houses the 10-year-old restaurant (69 Church St., Boston) was recently purchased by developers and slated for redevelopment — the two-story building is set to get two more residential stories added on top. Erbaluce was invited to return to the space once development wraps up, but closing a business for a year — especially a restaurant — isn’t a viable option. And the new development is just one of many challenges facing Erbaluce.
“Part of this is that there are just too many restaurants,” Erbaluce co-owner Joan Johnson told Eater. “Boston has been taken over by big, corporate chains, and rents are outrageous. Something’s got to give, because you see restaurants closing all the time.”
Another major issue facing Erbaluce — and every other independent operator in the city — is a dearth of staff. (This, of course, tracks closely with the assumption that there’s a glut of restaurants in the city.)
“You literally cannot find help,” Johnson told Eater. “Every restaurant in the area is chronically posting ads trying to fill positions. Big operators are always going to win there. Independent restaurants can’t compete in terms of PR and marketing — it costs a fortune.”
Yet another issue facing Erbaluce — and one that is contributing to Johnson and chef and co-owner Charles Draghi’s hesitation to close for a year and return to the space at 69 Church St. after redevelopment — is liquor licensing. Erbaluce has a restricted beer, wine, and cordials license, and if it were to close, Johnson and Draghi would have to return the license to the city. Draghi has petitioned the city to hold onto the license for the duration of the proposed closure but isn’t optimistic about it.
“In the meantime, we’re looking for maybe another space [to operate] and all that. But the rents are just ridiculous, and there’s no way we can afford half a million bucks for [a new] liquor license,” Draghi told Boston Magazine.
Johnson echoed her partner’s sentiments.
“People like us who can’t afford half a million dollars are between a rock and a hard place,” she told Eater.
Even the current political climate plays a role. According to both Draghi and Johnson, the US President has negatively affected their business because Trump’s presence in the Oval Office has meant fewer European tourists sitting in their dining room.
“Since this yoyo got elected, tourism has disappeared,” Johnson told Eater. “We used to get boatloads of European tourists; now, fairly often, the hotels around us are empty.”
“I only saw one French couple this summer,” Draghi told Boston Magazine. “We’re usually loaded. Especially with the style of cooking I do, without butter and cream, we get a lot of Asian customers, a lot of Europeans. They get what I do. But they’re not coming over.”
All might not be lost for the Erbaluce duo, however. Johnson told Eater they’re considering opening a new restaurant — though she said it would more than likely not be in Boston proper. And Draghi told Boston Magazine that they may eventually try to open a casual, takeout-focused cafe.
For now, you’ve got until New Year’s Eve to head to Bay Village and eat some light, elegant Italian food.