Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology just got some new campus food options. In conjunction with CommonWealth Kitchen — a Dorchester-based nonprofit incubator that helps entrepreneurs in the food industry launch their brands — the prestigious tech university recently opened a food court called the Launchpad at MIT inside its Stratton Student Center.
The Launchpad features three businesses: Bibim Box, a Korean restaurant featuring bibimbap, salads, and sandwiches; Las Palmas, which focuses on Dominican food; and Las Carolinas, a Venezuelan restaurant specializing in arepas. All three restaurants inside the Launchpad are BIPOC- and immigrant-owned.
The new restaurants replace Cafe Spice, Shawarma Shack, and Shinkansen Bullet Train, whose leases expired during the pandemic. MIT also lost its longtime Anna’s Taqueria location this year.
Each business that operates inside the Launchpad gets a turnkey kiosk (which is to say, fully operational from the jump) and signs a lease that requires them to pay a percentage of sales instead of a fixed rent. MIT licenses the space to CommonWealth Kitchen, which then licenses the space to operators, which will have gone through its incubator program.
“We think there is a ton of potential in this model of providing diverse businesses with their own turnkey retail outlet and built-in customer base,” says Bonnie Rosenbaum, CommonWealth Kitchen’s director of communications, via email. “By removing one of the biggest barriers for small immigrant-run food businesses to grow — construction, equipment purchases, fixed rent — we’re enabling talented but under-resourced owners to expand their business and create new jobs.”
CommonWealth has previously featured some of its operators at a kiosk in Kendall Square, including Jamaica Mi Hungry, which went on to open a brick-and-mortar space in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood and a pop-up restaurant in Allston in addition to its existing food truck and now-closed seasonal restaurant in New Hampshire.
Rosenbaum says that if everything goes well during the Launchpad’s first year, CommonWealth Kitchen will begin to rotate new businesses into the space going forward. “Our hope is to also replicate the model at additional colleges and institutions,” she says.
In the meantime, hungry MIT students now have much more choices come lunchtime.