Thursday, July 18, 2024

A former Starbucks in Cambridge’s Central Square could be filled by a Dunkin’ Donuts. (Photo: Beantown Donuts)

Dunkin’ Donuts is seizing ground ceded by Starbucks in Cambridge’s Central Square, seeking a special permit to move into the 655 Massachusetts Ave. storefront that’s been empty since Starbucks left in November 2022.

Starbucks closed after 25 years, with counter staff and a corporate spokesperson saying crime in the area was a major factor in the decision. But Dunkin’, founded in Quincy in 1950, has a franchisee saying it’s looking forward to opening “in the vibrant heart of Central Square.”

It’s a vote of confidence in an area that also saw a Dunkin’ Donuts close steps away at 616 Massachusetts Ave. in 2022. It “represents a unique opportunity to enrich the local community by reintroducing a Dunkin’ Donuts at this pivotal site,” said an Oct. 9 letter from Bridget Sweet, representing Beantown Donuts.

Beantown and owner Mark Pesce, with his wife Megan Pesce, own more than 40 Dunkin’ franchises in Massachusetts, including Cambridge locations at 1 Broadway, Kendall Square; 808 Memorial Drive, Cambridgeport; 1001 Massachusetts Ave., Mid-Cambridge; and two in Harvard Square at 61 Church St. and 65 JFK St., which is branded as the “Eliot Street Cafe,” a sort of stealth Dunkin’ that opened in 1996 with a design meant to assuage opponents.

Something similar will be done in Central Square, which will be under the direct management of Mark Pesce, according to Sweet’s letter.

“In our commitment to harmonize with the distinct character of Central Square, we propose a unique approach to branding and design,” Sweet said. “Moving away from the traditional orange and pink color scheme, we aim to adopt a more subdued and locally inspired aesthetic. This design philosophy, focusing on natural materials, muted tones and understated signage, will not only blend seamlessly with the existing architecture but also pay homage to the historical and cultural essence of the area.” The franchisee has taken similar low-key approaches in Acton, Belmont, Concord and Lexington, she said.

Still, Eliot Street Cafe management drew a rebuke from the Harvard Square Advisory Committee at an Aug. 16 meeting, shortly after Beantown took over, for leaving up promotional signs and ads that went against the attempt to blend in to the neighborhood. “There’s been something of a slippery slope over the years that I’ve definitely noticed,” committee member Frank Kramer said.

Plans for Dunkin’ to fill the Starbucks site have already passed muster with the Community Development Department and Central Square Advisory Committee, where Sweet noted that no objections were raised. To the contrary – at the Oct. 4 advisory committee meeting, a member remarked “It will be great to have Dunkin’ back in Central Square.”

Beantown Donuts appears before the Planning Board on Tuesday because it needs a special permit to open, being a “formula business” – identifiable as a chain with trademarked logos and a standardized color scheme. In this case, it will just be replacing another formula business.