Venture Cafe home, three more restaurants near for Kendall, Central
There is long-awaited news for Kendall and Central squares independent of the 1.1 million-square-foot project presented Tuesday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Three new restaurants, with two filling in a stubbornly vacant showpiece site in Central, and a potential home for the long-gestating Venture Café concept championed by Tim Rowe, founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center and president of the Kendall Square Association.
“I’m working with Tim, trying to get a Venture Café right now,” said Steven C. Marsh, managing director of real estate with the MIT Investment Management Co., after a Planning Board meeting where he presented an update on the Kendall Square plan for new retail, restaurants, labs and housing.
“We’re actually hopeful to do [the Venture Café] prior to this concept. If we can make that happen sooner, we’re going to try it,” Marsh said. “I don’t want to wait.”
His language for the entire plan was distinctly Rowe-like and reminiscent of the goals of the café, with Marsh saying the current, disjointed square “is not conducive to human interaction, which we think is critically important to the creation and sustenance of an innovation cluster. We need people to interact with each other, we need places for that to happen.”
The school hopes to “create a destination gathering place,” he said, as well as “a vibrant gateway” and academic and private innovation space. The school would get another 800,000 square feet of academic space out of the project.
The café — described as a meeting place and hangout space at the nexus of the academic, high-tech, biotech, entrepreneurial and venture capital crowd in Cambridge — would be at One Broadway, apparently replacing a Domino’s Pizza franchise. Marsh said the creators are still “wrestling” with the concept, though, putting an opening still an estimated year away.
Next door, the Firebrand Saints restaurant from Gary Strack of Central Kitchen, Enormous Room and Miracle of Science should open in the spring, delayed slightly from a hoped-for opening late this year.
Marsh’s explanation fills in the gaps from a July 25 press release that announced Strack, Rowe and café manager Carrie Stalder joining forces in “the Venture Café team” but talking only about Firebrand Saints.
“I’m thrilled to be working with Gary on this exciting concept,” Rowe said in the release. “Kendall Square boasts the highest number of startup companies per square mile of any neighborhood in the world, and is the perfect place for Gary, Carrie and I to build this new institution.”
The café, closed for the holidays, is running temporarily on One Broadway’s 11th floor with a focus on bringing in people for events, presentations and “office hours” when entrepreneurs can meet with industry insiders from such companies as Microsoft. Rowe has always said the final café should be large, possibly around 3,500 square feet; open early and late; and within 100 feet of the Kendall Square T stop.
Google Maps — and Google, having offices in Cambridge, should know — puts One Broadway 0.1 miles from the Kendall T stop, or two minutes’ walk away.
Filling a Central gap
Plans Marsh spoke about publicly, namely adding 100,000 square feet of retail shops to Kendall, contrasted with the most common complaint by city councillor Ken Reeves about the Investment Management Co.: It can’t even fill 450 Massachusetts Ave., the 16,000-square-foot space next to the Central Square Theater, and has kept it empty by turning away over the course of three or four years Central Bottle, Flour, a seafood restaurant called The Daily Catch and a Middle Eastern restaurant.
(Actually, Reeves said the space was “about to have its third, maybe fourth birthday as a vacancy,” but Marsh said Tuesday it had been only two years. The truth is somewhere in between, since the theater’s opening was in July 2008 but the school had no reason not to look for tenants to open at the same time. Groundbreaking on the site came in early May 2007.)
“We needed to get some retail in what is a very difficult place, because of the configuration. We had a lot of frontage, we had a lot of backage,” Marsh explained — somewhat curiously, since it was his office that served as developer of the space. “It was the opposite of the way we’d want to design it today, but that was the historic inspiration for the building.” The site is listed as having spaces available at 11,500 and 4,500 square feet, with “large outdoor patio seating available. Prime location on Massachusetts Avenue in vibrant Central Square [next] to Central Square T stop, the 11th-busiest in MBTA Transit system, with over 11,736 riders daily.”
“We went through what was arguably the worst economic recession since the ’30s,” Marsh noted as well.
But the school has signed letters of intent with two potential tenants, Marsh said, including a Veggie Galaxy vegetarian diner by the creators of Veggie Planet in Harvard Square’s Club Passim; and a restaurant by the creators of Harvard Square’s Tibetan-themed OM restaurant and lounge.
“Both are in play,” Marsh said.