Sunday, June 16, 2024

Christopher’s Restaurant & Bar, in Cambridge’s Porter Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Christopher’s Restaurant & Bar in Cambridge’s Porter Square won’t reopen, co-owners Charles Christopher and Holly Heslop have decided. Its attached bar, Toad, will stay open “until we turn over the keys to someone,” Heslop said Tuesday by phone.

The decision to separate Christopher’s and Toad from the couple’s Cambridge Eats and Beats business was made about a week and a half ago and will take months to figure out – maybe longer, Heslop said.

“It’s been such a painful decision,” she said. “It’s one that we we put off until the last last possible minute. We were just so reluctant to face this.”

The company is looking at either selling the two-story building, just steps from a red line T stop and across from the Porter Square Hotel, or looking for someone to buy the Christopher’s and Toad businesses, she said. The family has owned Christopher’s for 42 years.

Christopher’s opened in 1981 at 1920 Massachusetts Ave., becoming a neighborhood staple with a menu borrowing from many cuisines but leaning toward comfort food – some of it plant-based, such as Buffalo tofu. Its tiny adjoining bar with an even tinier stage, Toad, is at 1912 Massachusetts Ave. The company includes the Cambridge Common restaurant and its downstairs Lizard Lounge at 1667 Massachusetts Ave. in the Baldwin neighborhood.

The Toad bar on Feb. 11, just days after reopening from Covid lockdown. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Only Cambridge Common stayed open throughout the Covid pandemic, offering outdoor dining in the parking lot behind the building and more tables along its Massachusetts Avenue storefront. Toad reopened Feb. 3 but spent 2022 serving only Wednesdays through Saturdays. Lizard Lounge reopened Sept. 30.

“Our anticipation was that Covid would be over and we would get back to business. And here we are three years later, and we have held on probably longer than we should have,” Heslop said of Christopher’s. 

That was possible because Cambridge Eats and Beats owns the property. “We’ve spent three years pouring resources into the building,” Heslop said, not just maintaining the property but buying new walk-ins for food storage and other new equipment. “It was always our our goal to reopen it.”

Permanent changes

There are still a lot of people who aren’t ready to eat indoors, and hiring has been difficult. Cambridge Common is just now getting back to full staffing, and when Christopher’s closed with the Covid lockdown in March 2020 it had 65 or 70 employees, Heslop said. The removal of parking spaces in Porter square could be another challenge, she said, and  “at this point, it would be like starting a new restaurant and giving it two or three years to get on its feet.”

Ruth Ryals, president of the Porter Square Neighbors Association, said Tuesday that she was sorry for Christopher and Heslop, with whom she’d been talking through issues – and creative ideas for reopening – for the past couple of years, and “worried to death” about what comes next for the area. “I’m worried about the character of the avenue and what’s going to change. Whatever goes in there, it’ll have the problem of lots of customers but no parking,” Ryals said. Losing Toad would be painful as well, because the square needs more entertainment.

“I could see this coming, and we’re going to miss them,” Ryals said.

“So much loss”

The couple consulted with friends, employees and their children, she said, and finally came to a hard decision,

“I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t said ‘We would have expected this quite a while ago, and it’s kind of surprising you held onto this.’ We were tenacious,” Heslop said. “There’s just so much emotion involved, and so much loss for so many of us.”

The 5,048-square-foot property, including structures built in 1925, was assessed this year as being in excellent condition and valued at $2.6 million, according to city records.