Welcome back to On the House, a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to open a restaurant — or several. In 2013, Steve “Nookie” Postal shared weekly glimpses into his experience opening Commonwealth in Cambridge, and now he’s back as he works to open multiple cafes (Revival) and a beer hall (Mothership), all while keeping Commonwealth up and running. Keep an eye out for new installments of On the House on occasional Fridays.
What’s up, world!? I know; it’s been a while since my last confessional. But seriously, this is like my confessional. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious person; this is probably the closest thing I’ve got. Anyway, it actually has been a while, and a lot has happened. I’ll try to catch you up on it all. It might jump around a bit — but, ha, you are used to that by now. So, buckle up, hands and feet in the ride at all times, here we go…
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Crema Cafe in Harvard Square is closing. Sad. I know. Sad for all of us. A wonderful place, started by two wonderful women. Liza Shirazi and Marley Brush poured their literal blood, sweat, and so many tears. Quick version: Marley stepped away a few years ago; I stepped in. But it’s closing.
I mean, who hasn’t had a memorable experience there? Everyone. It’s Cambridge. It’s the quintessential local independent cafe. It’s awesome, and it cranks. Busy. We never wanted to leave, but it is what it is. And it’s what it’s becoming.
But here is where I am conflicted: The building that houses Crema was sold last year, $108 million dollars. Big news. It was even in the paper. People are like, “Cambridge is hot! Best place to live!” Housing prices rise; people are psyched. But that has ramifications. The company that bought the building is from North Carolina, and they could give two shits about the integrity or history of the square, about small, local, and independent businesses. They are here to make mad cash. No independent could float the numbers they were asking in rent.
The only ones that can pay it? Chains. &pizza = chain. Milk Bar = chain. Blue Bottle…they’re the only ones that can afford it anymore. There are more coming: Cava, Honeygrow, Fuku… every time you see an unmarked van and a driver with a fluorescent vest delivering packages for Amazon, one more small local independent dies.
But on the other hand, no one told them that they couldn’t spend that much. Was that rent number really that ridiculous if they were able to get it? Maybe not. And there is nothing wrong with that. When a venture capital firm funds a company to grow and gives them $20 million in funding to open between six and eight stores in Boston, and they decide to overpay for the first one to act as a billboard in a super high-traffic area, well, we can’t compete with that.
Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. I’m mad, I’m sad, I understand both sides, but I’m moving on. With Liza. We are growing in a different direction. While all of this has come as a surprise to many, we have known it’s a possibility for a couple years now, and now it’s time for the future.
So, we are open in Alewife, full force. The place cranks, especially for lunch on the weekdays. Shit gets crazy. Not Commonwealth crazy yet, but growing. That’s really exciting. It’s a cool place, and we like to have fun. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and just serve really good food with really good drinks. I tried some sort of mulled coffee today. I was like, “That sounds gross,” and they were like, “Shut up and try it.” So I did. Delish! My new jam. Love it.
So Revival Alewife is cranking. Another long story short, but we have been brought in by the owners of One Post Office Square in Boston to operate a kiosk in the lobby and an employee-only cafeteria on the 36th floor. That’s gonna be...awesome. The kiosk will be open soon slinging pastries, coffee, house-made bagels, and breakfast sandwiches Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Stop by for lunch; grab a sandwich. The 36th floor should be open sometime in February, maybe January. Hopefully not March.
As for Revival Davis, it opens two days after Crema closes. Moving the staff, moving the soul. Crema will live on through Revival. Basically, in two weeks, we have to close a cafe that’s been cranking for almost 11 years — that’s a lot of stuff accumulated — and open a new one two days later.
Ugh. OMG, sounds terrible. I’m not particularly looking forward to that. Opening Alewife hurt. I’m not as young as I used to be. I grind my teeth and find myself clenching my jaws now. Not amazing, I know; I’m working on it.
And I know, what I hear the most: When is the beer hall opening? Mothership. It used to be that Steinbones was all I heard about; now it’s Mothership. Mothership is coming. We still need to work out exactly what it is first, and then it will happen. Landlord wants it to happen; we want it to happen. It’s gonna happen.
You see? That is what the tenant/landlord relationship should be. We work together to make sure we are both okay. It doesn’t make sense to just try to get as much as you can and to deal with the turnover or the dream-crushing or any of that. Forget that. We are looking for landlords who view us as partners, view us as benefits to the community and its surroundings, and aren’t just out to make as much mad cash as they possibly can.
Anyway, enough about landlords and stuff. To the future: Revival Alewife, Davis, Post Office Square...what’s next? Not sure. Couple things on the horizon, but it’s still too early for even me to disclose. But it could be cool. I think that’s enough for today. If you’ve come this far, you deserve a special prize. I think usually only my mom reads the whole thing, so hi, Mom. I’m fine, by the way.