Friday, April 12, 2024

The food court in Lesley University’s Porter Square University Hall on Monday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Lesley University signaled last year that there would be big changes at its University Hall building in Porter Square, and what that means is starting to come into focus with news that its famed Asian food court will move.

The eight eateries won’t be going far – they’ll go into an anchor space of the same 1815 Massachusetts Ave. building that was once occupied by the Shaking Crab restaurant. Filling that prominent corner spot leaves open the central part of the former Sears building, now university-owned, for an unnamed new use.

Restaurant owners said this week that the university itself hasn’t addressed them – a formal plan is expected to be announced in September – but they have been visited by designers working for Lesley who made clear they would move to the corner space. “We were confused. They didn’t tell us for a long time,” one restaurant owner said Monday.

The square footage of the Shaking Crab, as displayed on a directory to the building and pointed out by the restaurant owner, is enough room for Cafe Mami; the Korean restaurant Chocho’s; the I Love Sushi bar; Sapporo Ramen; Tampopo; Yotopia mini-mart and bubble tea shop; Yume Ga Arukara; and Izakaya Ittoku restaurant.

University Hall in Porter Square will get a stronger sense of identity as school property in a Lesley Campus Plan.(Photo: Marc Levy)

While the “Porter Exchange” food court has been a hidden gem for nearly 30 years, the former Shaking Crab space means more street presence and immediate access from the sidewalk close to Porter Square.

Shaking Crab, a small seafood chain with locations in Newton and Quincy as well as in New York City, replaced a Tavern in the Square location in 2017. It closed in the final months of the pandemic lockdown after staying open for takeout throughout and has now been shuttered for more than a year – part of a string of closed businesses along 1815 Massachusetts Ave. that includes Bourbon Coffee, Webster Bank and Partners urgent care clinic. A Planet Fitness and All Eye Care Doctors office remain open.

Lesley cabinet members managing the project to remake University Hall are away this week, said Jan Devereux, the school’s director of government relations and university communications. The president of the Porter Square Neighbors Association, Ruth Ryals, said she didn’t know what Lesley planned for a cleared-out ground floor of University Hall.

In October, the school said it plans to remake its three Cambridge campuses over the next five years, selling property and renovating buildings with a team of architects, designers and real estate professionals after meeting with community groups. One of the main goals was to give the flagship University Hall a stronger sense of identity as school property.

“There needs to be connective kinds of experiences that let you know that you’re at Lesley,” Lesley president Janet L. Steinmayer said at the time. “When you walk into University Hall, you need to feel like you’ve arrived at Lesley. The only thing there that tells you you’re at Lesley is the staircase.”