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Central Kitchen in Cambridge to close its doors, make room for marijuana dispensary

Mussels, white wine, butter, garlic and frites from Central Kitchen in Cambridge, shown in a 2008 file photo.
Mussels, white wine, butter, garlic and frites from Central Kitchen in Cambridge, shown in a 2008 file photo.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

Central Kitchen, the Cambridge bistro and wine bar that opened in Central Square 20 years ago, is closing its doors.

Owner Gary Strack confirmed Tuesday that the restaurant will soon shutter and a recreational marijuana facility, called Western Front, will open in the space at 567 Massachusetts Ave.

Brick & Mortar, the cocktail lounge located upstairs from Central Kitchen, will continue operating, according to Strack. “It’s still rocking and rolling,” he said.

The timeline on the opening of the marijuana dispensary is not yet clear, though Strack said the public hearings on the facility are over. Additional permitting and approvals are still required.

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Western Front takes its name from a well-known Cambridge nightclub, opened in 1967 by Marvin E. Gilmore Jr. He owned and operated the club, which drew jazz, reggae, and hip-hop performers, until closing it in 2013.

A decorated war hero, Gilmore, now in his 90s, is part of the group behind the new dispensary, along with lawyer Dennis Benzan, a former city councillor and vice-mayor of Cambridge.

Western Front LLC is an Economic Empowerment applicant, part of a state program that aims to ensure that marijuana business licenses in Massachusetts go to a diverse group of entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, less than 5 percent of companies applying for such licenses identify as minority-owned. And the hurdles for Economic Empowerment candidates can be especially challenging.

In a statement to the Globe on Tuesday, Benzan noted how tough the process of starting a marijuana business can be, even as an EE applicant:

“Despite this well-intentioned program, Western Front, like the majority of certified EE applicants in Massachusetts, has encountered countless bureaucratic and regulatory delays that have caused severe financial strain on our efforts. We hope and pray that the City of Cambridge and the CCC will work with us as we continue in the struggle to achieve social and economic justice through the legal cannabis marketplace.”

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For now, Strack has been holding special events and pop-ups in the Central Kitchen space, celebrating the restaurant’s two decade run. He opened the boite in 1998, when Central Square was a very different neighborhood. He recalled early on having to shoo away drug dealers who would station themselves near the entrance to the restaurant.

Saying that he found himself “looking for a new challenge," Strack says he has plans for a new project in Salem.




Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hayley.kaufman@globe.com.