The announcement last week that a trio of restaurants and bars in the Hotel Commonwealth — Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and the Hawthorne — would not reopen as a result of a longstanding dispute with their landlord, UrbanMeritage, was met with heartbreak among loyal patrons. Now, the owners of the restaurant group who operated the locations, which first formed to open Island Creek Oyster Bar in 2010, have decided to part ways.
In a note sent to their investors this week, Island Creek Oyster Bar owners Shore Gregory and chef Jeremy Sewall explained their plan to split with their partners, hospitality guru Garrett Harker and oyster maverick Skip Bennett, after a decade in business together. The foursome had been a powerful force within the city’s dining scene, helping elevate Boston’s seafood palate through the success of Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34 in Fort Point, both of which have sibling locations outside Boston.
The disbanding of the partnership was recognized as the end of an era by the various parties, who came together as part of a larger urban revitalization plan for Kenmore Square. Now, with three high-profile spaces emptied out amid the pandemic, big questions remain about the future vitality of the neighborhood and the players that helped shape it.
Harker, who is widely recognized as one of the city’s hospitality savants, worked with Boston University to open Eastern Standard 15 years ago when Kenmore Square was better known as Kenmore Scare. In 2010, he partnered with chef Sewall of Lineage, and Bennett, who owned the Island Creek oyster farm in Duxbury, to open the Island Creek Oyster Bar in the adjacent space to Eastern Standard at the hotel. Gregory, meanwhile, had worked with Bennett to help build the Island Creek oyster brand’s cult status among chefs. The restaurant drew accolades as the first wave of a burgeoning “ocean-to-table” dining scene. Harker collaborated to open the Hawthorne cocktail bar in the hotel with celebrated mixologist Jackson Cannon in 2011.
New launches soon followed: The team opened Row 34 in Fort Point in 2013 — named for the experimental oyster bed at the Duxbury farm — then opened a second location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 2015. A second Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington opened in 2016. The restaurants piled up raves from Bon Appetit, Saveur, and other publications.
The group’s foray into French fare, however, fell short. Despite solid reviews, their Harvard Square restaurant Les Sablons closed in 2018 after just over a year in business, a symptom, some said, of the city’s oversaturated restaurant scene. Meanwhile, Harker continued to launch other projects, opening Branch Line rotisserie restaurant in Watertown in 2015 and a pretzel company, Eastern Standard Provisions, in 2019.
“Although this year saw the closing of ICOB Kenmore, we couldn’t be prouder of what we accomplished together in the last 10 years,” Gregory wrote in the note. “After much discussion and reflection, Jeremy and I knew that we wanted to continue to carry the torch of the restaurants that we’ve worked so hard to build these last 10 years. While excited for our future, Garrett has many interests and opportunities that he wants to pursue outside of the restaurants. Similarly, Skip wants to focus his energy on Island Creek Oysters and the amazing things they’re working on in Duxbury. We are incredibly grateful for everything Garrett and Skip have done to get us to this point and wish them nothing but success as they move forward.”
Gregory said that as part of the agreement, he and Sewall would rebrand the Island Creek location in Burlington as a Row 34, and will begin renovations which will be completed in May. Gregory had already submitted the paperwork to the town’s select board to change the name earlier this week.
“The most enduring gratification in my 30 years in hospitality has been in service to my partners and leadership teams as they expand their success and contributions to our industry,” Harker said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to continued great things from the Row 34 team.”
One thing, however, will remain in place, said Sewall: The Row 34 restaurants will continue to serve Island Creek’s oysters. “We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with Skip Bennett and our Island Creek Oyster farm family in the years to come,” he said.
Bennett, who plans to spend more time on his 12-acre farm in Duxbury, said it was a privilege to work with the team and to see the public’s outpouring of affection at learning of the restaurants’ closure.
“I’m humbled by the overwhelming response and support that we have received at our restaurants over the past ten years, and I will look back on my time with my partners fondly,” Bennett said. “As we move on to the next chapter, I look forward to watching these talented individuals pursue their dreams, I’m certain it will be spectacular.”