Formaggio Kitchen officially opens inside its new space at 360 Huron Ave. in Cambridge’s Huron Village today. The beloved shop, best known for its selection of cheese, wine, and specialty groceries, operated at its original location at 244 Huron Ave. — just blocks away from its new space — for 42 years.
Owners Valerie and Ihsan Gurdal said that the move is bittersweet — they met and courted at the original location, after all — but that they’d been thinking about expanding to a larger space for quite a while. So when the former Fresh Pond Market space became available, they jumped at the opportunity.
“There’s never really anything around,” said Valerie. “And when this came up, it was a few blocks away from our original spot. And it’s like, ‘Well, when is that going to happen again?’”
The initial plan was to open sooner, but the pandemic and a number of different hurdles — including having to pause extensive construction and renovation projects — pushed the timeline back.
“We lost about five months of construction because Cambridge banned construction [during the pandemic],” said Ihsan. “And you’re paying the mortgage, but you’re not making any progress. So I mean, those things really kind of put us under pressure.”
But the delays meant that Valerie and Ihsan could be more methodical about planning what their new store would — and more importantly could — be. The new space is twice the size of their old space, which means they were able to design a store that wasn’t constantly overcrowded for their customers and their workers — an important feature of any store at any time, but especially during a pandemic.
“This gave us a clean slate to really design according to our needs, instead of shoving people in one room and making it work,” said Ihsan.
Valerie and Ihsan acknowledge that the new shop might not have the exact same warm and cozy feeling as the old shop, but they tried to retain as much of that vibe as they could. They removed the old Fresh Pond Market’s linoleum floors, and found that the original floors —made of yellow pine — from the early 1900s were still roughly intact. So they restored them (with patchwork, in Valerie’s words). They also kept some old farmhouse tables, and restored some old butcher blocks, which they plan to use as displays.
“We wanted to keep some of the old elements,” said Valerie. “I mean, who doesn’t love a crisp, clean place? But I wanted it to have some flaws. You know what I mean? Like, the funky, antique thing that doesn’t work perfectly, but looks great, you know?”
When Valerie and Ihsan originally began thinking about expanding, they figured they’d open a more simple country market. But the pandemic forced their hand.
“Basically, we were learning a new game,” said Ihsan. “Curbside pick-up, answering the phones, delivering to private homes.”
“And people were asking us to carry toilet paper and laundry detergent and all those things that we normally didn’t carry, because they didn’t want to go to a larger format store,” added Valerie. “So we started carrying them anyway.”
Eventually, it just made sense to move the entire operation to the new space. Which is where things stand now. Valerie and Ihsan don’t expect to please everyone, but they hope the new space serves their beloved Huron Village neighborhood in the same manner the old space did.
“Neighbors were constantly coming to us and asking, ‘When are you opening? What are you going to have?’” said Ihsan. “And what I tell them is that we’re probably not going to satisfy everyone’s needs, but we’re very open to listening and doing what needs to be done. I’m sure we’re going to miss something. If it’s a certain battery or a toothpaste — we’re going to have to work together [with the neighborhood], and we’re flexible. We flex and bend all the time anyway, in this age.”