Monday, July 22, 2024

Dudley Cafe recently revealed its branding at 1663 Massachusetts Ave., not far from Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A name once more associated with raucous club nights in Harvard and Central squares is returning with coffee and pastry, as Solmon Chowdhury and his wife Rokeya bring a Dudley Café outpost to the former Hi-Rise Bread Co. space at 1663 Massachusetts Ave., in the Baldwin neighborhood between Harvard and Porter squares.

It will be the second Dudley Café location after one opened in 2014 on Warren Street in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood near Dudley Square.

The Cambridge cafe is on a License Commission agenda for June 29 and could open right after the Fourth of July, Solmon Chowdhury said. Cambridge diners should see a menu similar to the Dudley Café in Roxbury, with “a lot of healthy bowls,” but updated for the opening. Rokeya Chowdhury said the café would likely be in a soft-opening mode until mid-July.

The Hi-Rise branch closed in July 2021 amid Covid pandemic doldrums – one remains open on Concord Avenue on Observatory Hill – and the space has been empty since. The Chowdhurys said in a spring fundraiser on Numarket that the couple “have deep roots in Cambridge, living and working in the city for several years.”

Solmon Chowdhury had been associated with rowdy club scenes, such as at the former Om in Harvard Square, then Moksa and Naga in Central Square, those rebranded into Monroe in 2016 before being replaced in 2017 by La Fábrica Central under different ownership. The clubs had been the scene of crowds, overserved kids and nonfatal shootings, stabbings and street brawls, but by the time of the Monroe rebrand Chowdhury was described by an attorney as being in his mid-40s and turning to different kinds of eateries – including a food-only Shanti Indian restaurant in Kendall Square and Dudley Café coffee shop in Boston. Cambridge’s Shanti opened in February 2016, had a Covid closing of two and a half years, opened fitfully and closed permanently this year. “Kendall Square hasn’t really recovered the way other places have,” Rokeya Chowdhury said, with too many employees working remotely for the location to stay open.

Rokeya Chowdhury said visitors could look forward to new rice bowls with chickpea curry and chicken curry, as well as some sandwiches specific to Cambridge. She was working on some dishes “bringing in some of the Shanti influence,” including a morning treat: chicken tikka in a pastry puff topped with tikka masala sauce. “We hope people like it,” she said. “It could be one of our signature items.”

The Roxbury site is known for rice bowls, salads and what Eater calls “an outstanding breakfast sandwich,” and Rokeya Chowdhury said that breakfast sandwich would survive the leap across the Charles River.

The Roxbury location has been “more than just a coffee shop,” Eater’s Terrence Doyle said in 2019, in that it “provides internships and employment opportunities to the neighborhood’s youth – the cafe has a partnership with Madison Park Technical High School and hires students for baking and front-of-house jobs.”

Programs such as that won’t be in place for Cambridge immediately, Rokeya Chowdhury said, but “we hope to do similar things as we establish relationships.”

“Dudley Café originated out of the immense need for a community space and a community sponsor for local art, culinary desires and culture in Roxbury,” the Chowdhurys said on Numarket. “Acknowledging that immense need is everywhere and the wish to highlight the cultural diversity through the menu options and names, Dudley Café in Cambridge will be available as a space for individuals and groups to gather, to meet, converse, learn, grow and to explore a culinary journey of Indian-inspired café items.”

The location is owned by Lesley University. On Friday, president Janet Steinmayer said Lesley was pleased to be able to bring in a minority-owned business and chose the Dudley Café as a tenant “because of the way that they not only operate their business, but the way that they operate in the community.”