Blank Street Coffee, known for bland efficiency, to open in a former Harvard Square Starbucks
Coffee is coming back to the Harvard Square location that Starbucks left a year ago – but in place of that two-story space with lots of room for studying and first dates is the coming of a chain known for being no place at all: Blank Street Coffee.
The location at 1380 Massachusetts Ave. is in its final steps before opening, asking permission from the City Council on Monday to install a projecting sign, despite a location at the stairwell of an MBTA red line station in the heart of one of Cambridge’s most visited destinations.
The New York-based chain launched in the summer of 2020 in a wheeled cart and seems to have annoyed every food writer that’s encountered it during a rapid expansion to more than 40 locations. “The Oppressive Blah-ness of the Blank Street Coffee Chain” was the Eater New York headline in August; it’s an “intentionally uncomfortable” space serving coffees with “an unpleasantly funky aroma [and] acid bite,” Time Out’s Amber Sutherland-Namako wrote the next month, awarding it one out of five stars. The New York Times had plenty more skepticism in its summer report that “Blank Street Coffee Is Suddenly Inescapable.”
Early response locally has been just as unenthusiastic.
“Just when I thought Harvard Square couldn’t get worse,” said a Twitter user called Soccer Daddy on Nov. 9.
Blank Street’s founders are Issam Freiha, 27, and Vinay Menda, 29, who met during high school at the American School of Dubai, according to the Times. They moved to New York to attend college and worked at the same venture capital fund in Manhattan while forming the chain, which focuses on few employees running small spaces that are largely automated and allow for lower-cost coffee.
“Our automated espresso machines pull consistent coffee each time and allow baristas to be more interactive and build relationships,” according to Blank Street’s website, which features the same pastel-mint green coloration and sans-serif typography that makes the chain’s locations a bit … blank.
It’ll be Harvard Square’s third large chain after Starbucks (expected to reopen this month in a smaller space in The Abbot building around the corner) and Dunkin’ Donuts. The square also offers caffeinated drinks by larger companies such as Blue Bottle, Bluestone Lane and Peet’s and locally grown chains including Tatte, Flour and Pavement. Independents include Black Sheep Bagel Cafe, Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe and Blackbird Doughnuts. Blank Street has three locations in Boston, all in its Back Bay and Beacon Hill neighborhoods.