University Stationers to move across street, letting Darwin’s Ltd. grow with mezzanine
Two Cambridge institutions are expanding in the coming months, as the Darwin’s Ltd. sandwich and coffee shop on Massachusetts Avenue plans to expand seating by 300 percent – including onto a new loft dining area – by taking over and building in the space occupied by University Stationers.
The stationers, an 87-year-old Cambridge business at 311 Massachusetts Ave. between Central Square and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be moving across the street to 300 Massachusetts Ave., where the institute and development partner Forest City is putting up a 246,716-square-foot building to host lab and office space for Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Co. The ground floor is to be devoted to retail and restaurants.
The move is scheduled for the last week in May, owner Gail Seidman said.
“Of course we’re growing,” Seidman said, explaining that a larger space in the Millennium building will allow the family-owned store to add upscale notebooks, greeting cards and fancy fountain pens to her shelves. The current space is squeezed with goods already.
“It’s a better space,” she said, calling the move a “win-win for Darwin’s and us.”
Darwin’s Ltd. launched in 1993 and has grown to three locations. In addition to the one at 313 Massachusetts Ave., there’s the original at 148 Mount Auburn St., Harvard Square, with wines, craft beers and cider, and one at 1629 Cambridge St., in Mid-Cambridge, specializing in gluten-free crusty rolls.
The current Massachusetts Avenue location features gourmet cold brew coffee and ginger and berry probiotic kombuchas in addition to sandwiches, soups and pastry, but has had only 19 seats for diners since opening in October 2014. After expansion and construction of a mezzanine platform, the shop would have seats for 76 diners. “It’s an active business, and with the emerging population – this stretch of Mass. Ave. with the Novartis complex being completed and Millennium moving in – Mr. Darwin thinks this will be a [good] opportunity to serve the public,” attorney James Rafferty told the License Commission on Tuesday, referring to owner and co-founder Steven Darwin.
The current size and configuration leaves people who are waiting to order food lined up outside, but the expansion will let people line up inside, Darwin said. Two restrooms will be added at the same time.
Expansion “has always been his intention” in moving into that location, Rafferty said. “He’s willing to concede that he is imitating the success he’s seen at Crema Cafe and at Flat Patties, where the mezzanine at the back of the space creates a nice dining venue and creates an opportunity for additional seats.”
Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas, a License Commission member, warned Darwin of the possibility of theft if people leave their goods unwatched on the mezzanine while ordering food below. But the three-member commission approved the expansion unanimously.
In other restaurant news, Mark Romano and Marci Joy of Somerville’s Highland Kitchen confirmed that not only will they be reviving Inman Square’s East Coast Grill under its original name and with its menu intact, but also reviving the restaurant’s “Hell Nights.”
The 1271 Cambridge St. restaurant opened in 1985 and got a reputation for spice, which led to as many as four monstrously popular, reservation-only, Hell Nights a year for diners with adventurous tastes and cast-iron stomachs. (“We have thought many times of holding more Hell Nights, but have concluded that it takes months for our staff to recover. Literally,” chef Jason Heard once said.) Patrons mourned the loss of the events when the restaurant closed in January, but Romano and Joy are moving fast to revive it, hoping for a reopening by late July or early August.
They learned of its closing with the rest of the community, spotted a realtor’s listing showing the space as available and formed a company to buy it in March. The couple are reviving it in part because that’s where they met, they said Tuesday. “It’s special to us,” Joy said. “It feels like coming full circle to go back there.”
Hell Nights will be back, they vowed – “eventually,” after other aspects of the business are up and running.
Also, The Grafton Group’s Patrick Lee is reviving the restaurant space at 15 Dunster St., Harvard Square, that opened as First printer in January 2012, became Kennedy’s on the Square in September 2014 and lasted only six months, closing in March 2015. Lee plans a two-dining-room, two-bar oyster joint with the placeholder designation “Dunster” with an added seasonal patio. The gated, brick-lined space was approved Tuesday pending confirmation that the alleyway between the restaurant and Cambridge Savings Bank isn’t a “limited fire lane” that would be needed for access by fire officials in an emergency.
“He knows from experience there’s always an interest in outside seating where possible,” Rafferty said of Lee, whose group is behind such restaurants as the Grafton Street Pub & Grill, Russell House, Temple Bar and Park Restaurant & Bar.
This story was updated April 22, 2016, to note that “Dunster” isn’t the final name of an upcoming Grafton Group restaurant.