Thursday, February 29, 2024

One of the few T tokens hung onto by Steven Beaucher of WardMaps since selling most to the Life Alive cafe chain. Behind it is a commemorative, gold-plated token. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Those old MBTA tokens you thought were worthless are spiking in value – briefly.

Until the summer of 2012, when they were replaced by CharlieCard or CharlieTicket, the little brass-and-zinc discs were worth one bus or subway ride, or about $1.25; for a week starting June 28, they’re worth a meal at the new Life Alive restaurant in Kendall Square, or about $11 – an economic phenomenon due to repeat in August for a week at the new Life Alive in Somerville’s Davis Square.

On June 28-29, Life Alive workers will greet travelers at the Kendall Square T stop with a card with an actual T token attached to it that can be brought to the nearby, 100-seat restaurant at 415 Main St. (but on the Ames Street side) for any of its warm grain bowls, broth bowls or salads. The collected tokens will be used again at the 75-seat Davis location, 20-40 Holland St., for a similar promotion in August, said Bryan Timko, Life Alive’s chief executive, in a Tuesday call.

Longtime residents who kept their tokens, as well as younger residents who may have never touched a vintage token, will have an opportunity to use them, he said.

Both restaurants, of course, are right by red line T stops. With the openings this summer, the small, vegetarian chain will have locations at Kendall Square (June 28), Central Square (the first locally, which opened in 2010), Harvard Square (opened in March) and Davis Square (coming in August) as well as in Boston, Brookline, Lowell and Salem.

The Life Alive cafe due to open in Kendall Square in late June. (Photo: Brian Samuels for Life Alive)

“When you step back and think about it, the T, in particular the red line, is one big piece of the connective tissue in the communities in which Life Alive is opening its new cafes,” Timko said. “And we found that this year is actually the 10-year anniversary of the retirement of the use of the T token and the move to the CharlieCard.”

The last T token was sold Dec. 6, 2006, after being in use for 55 years, and the last token accepted and redeemed was July 20, 2012, Life Alive found in researching the idea.

Though the T said in 2012 that it planned to sell most of its 3.4 million tokens for scrap, there have always been some floating around, kept for reasons of sentiment or laziness. When Life Alive came calling in early June to find enough tokens to make the promotion workable, Cambridge’s WardMaps had 1,300 to offer – items the store at 1735 Massachusetts Ave., near Porter Square, had been selling as souvenirs for $2 each.

There had always been a cookie jar full of the tokens on the counter, sometimes replenished by people wandering in with discovered caches to clear away. “We’ve been selling them for at least a decade,” said Steven Beaucher, owner of WardMaps.

“We scrounged and pulled all the ones we could find from the back,” Beaucher said. “This was our last big batch. The cookie jar is off the counter.”

The tokens will indeed be harder to find, Timko said. The company went beyond WardMaps to gather some from other collectors in New England and the Northeast. “It was it was a lot of fun kind of pulling this all together,” Timko said, putting the promotion’s final number of tokens at “somewhere north of 1,500.”

After the events are over in Kendall and Davis squares, Life Alive plans to gather the recollected tokens for small art pieces to hang on the walls in Kendall and Davis to memorialize the restaurant grand openings “for years and years to come,” Timko said.

“It’s really about the nostalgia related to these T tokens and the history of these very vibrant communities that Life Alive is in and serves. We’re just very excited to be expanding to serve people in these communities,” he said.