After over a decade working in some of Boston’s most celebrated restaurants, Devin Adams was hoping to open one of his own. He started scouting out locations six or seven years ago and began the process of securing a liquor license in the city. But he kept coming up short.
In Boston, he’d find a promising location and start talking to the community, but the timeline for the license would always push things out six to nine months, he said. At that point, the building’s landlord would typically tell him they couldn’t wait that long for a new tenant. “It was always: ‘I’ve got a fro-yo guy that will come in tomorrow,’ " Adams recalled with a laugh.
But when he started looking south of the city, the pieces clicked. “I realized that Quincy has three Red Line stops and the beaches,” he said. The town was attracting many of his friends in South Boston as they started families and outgrew their condos, and they were looking for cocktails and creative fare without venturing into Boston. So instead of paying a half-million dollars for a liquor license, he paid $2,000 in Quincy — and it was easy to draw in experienced restaurant talent tired of slogging into the city as well.
“What we saw as our potential was that as people move out of the city, they still yearn for it,” he said.
Adams opened the Townshend in Quincy Center in 2015, and the New American restaurant has attracted a mix of regulars: twenty-and-thirtysomething Quincy newcomers, longtime blue-collar locals, and a mix of folks from swanky South Shore towns. Late last month, Adams opened his second location, the Latin-inspired cocktail joint Pearl & Lime, just down the street. He said that in the five years since he arrived in Quincy, the city’s restaurant scene has begun to transform its downtown, with about a dozen new dining options opening along the main thoroughfare.
That wasn’t by accident. Like many public officials, Mayor Thomas Koch sees restaurants as a way to unlock the city’s street life. “Years ago Quincy Center would die after 6 p.m.," he said. So the city undertook a massive construction project, reorienting the streets to create the Hancock Adams Common, a pedestrian promenade that links its historic buildings. It was a play to help lure in restaurants, and a key part of the city’s strategy for remaking its urban core, Koch said. Outside developers took notice, he said, and construction projects followed.
And those buildings needed retail tenants for its ground floors.
That’s part of what drew Jimmy Liang back to Quincy Center in 2017 to open an outpost of his Fuji sushi chain in the West of Chestnut apartment building. A Quincy native, he spent his adolescence hanging out downtown in the early ’90s when it was still the retail hub of the South Shore.
“I used to be that kid who would go to Woolworth’s and buy a slice of apple pie at the counter, head to the movie theater or comic stores, and go to Napoli’s and grab a slice of pizza,” he said. Eventually, most of those storefronts shuttered as locals flocked to the South Shore Plaza mall. But now, he says, “I saw how much is changing, and we’re ready for another renaissance.”
Up and down the city’s main drag, new restaurants now draw guests from throughout the South Shore, and this summer, thanks to coronavirus-related dining concerns, they’ve been pushing out onto the street.
On a recent Friday evening, locals gathered on the second-floor patio at Alba, a guitarist serenaded guests under string lights outside of 16C, and diners tucked into meals at The Fours on a new outdoor plaza outside the just-opened Nova apartment building and adjacent parking garage.
And while Koch says local residents still say they’re hoping for more retail and entertainment options in the city’s core, the idea of making a night out in Quincy Center is easier to conceive. That’s what drew Evan Harrington, a Quincy firefighter and Boston hospitality alum to open Liberty Tavern this summer.
Despite opening during the pandemic, he’s optimistic that with wood-fired pizzas and hand-crafted cocktails, he can get people to come in, have dinner, and stay for drinks to make it a night out.
“If you ask people what they do for an evening out, they say, ‘We went to Southie or the North End,’ or ‘We went to downtown Boston,’ they don’t give a specific restaurant that they went to, it’s a destination,” Harrington said. “That’s what we want to do in Quincy Center.”
Read more about Quincy and explore the full On the Street series.