As Jen Faigel puts it, February was a good month for CommonWealth Kitchen.
That may be an understatement. After all, Faigel finally concluded her years-long quest for CommonWealth to buy its Dorchester property, a former meat packing plant on Quincy Street. The deal was initially slated to close in December, but got delayed because of logistics related to the fast-moving Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Also last month, Faigel was surprised to learn, via a Zoom call, that the Cummings Foundation was significantly increasing its financial commitment to CommonWealth. Cummings is now pledging $1 million over 10 years for operations, essentially doubling its previous annual donation. At the same time, Cummings announced a matching grant of an additional $1 million for the property, providing another incentive for Faigel to get out there and raise more dough. Taken together, the $2 million represents the largest gift in the nonprofit’s 12-year history. (The Klarman Family Foundation also recently gave $1 million.)
CommonWealth ended up paying $7 million for its 36,000-square-foot building, which it shares with a few other tenants. The deal with Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp. was struck about a year ago, but didn’t close until February. It was made possible in part by a $2.5 million forgivable loan controlled by city officials, using leftover federal funds, and a financing package of up to $2.5 million from MassDevelopment.
“It was a big help in getting our fixed costs down,” said Faigel, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Faigel wanted better control of CommonWealth’s destiny, by stabilizing its occupancy expenses and improving its support for the roughly 50 food startups that use its shared production space. She has been raising additional funds to pay for renovations such as a manufacturing expansion and a new chilled-air recycling system. She’s also considering opening a retail shop in the building.
“We get people here three or four times a month who stop by and assume they can buy food because it’s a kitchen,” Faigel said.
When asked what she did to celebrate the deal, she simply said: “not enough.” Then she added: “I definitely had too much wine with a few others involved in it.”
For the love of words
Wordle creator Josh Wardle may have decided to sell his ubiquitous word-guessing game to the New York Times Co. But Dharmesh Shah swears his newly created Wordle practice app, dubbed WordPlay, will never leave his hands.
Shah certainly doesn’t need the money, considering he is cofounder and chief technology officer of Cambridge marketing firm HubSpot.
Shah created WordPlay solely as “a project to help others have fun — and maybe learn something,” as he puts it. There are no plans to generate revenue. And if he does “accidentally” end up making money someday, he will donate the proceeds to the Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational organization based in California.
Wordle only lets you play once a day, so Shah created WordPlay to help his family and friends get better by practicing as many times as they want. He uses the original Wordle list of five-letter words, and has also created a six-letter version of the game for his wife, Kirsten (who agreed to curate the six-letter words if he built the app). He also designed WordPlay to show definitions of words and synonyms.
He still plays Wordle every day. WordPlay, he swears, isn’t an effort to displace Wordle, but to help people enjoy it more.
But he does point out that his version won’t be owned by a major media company, unlike its famous counterpart. That’s why he describes WordPlay as “Free, not Free For Now.”
Whenever you get back to the office, ezCater still wants to take care of lunch
EzCater has stashed its water slide, but not its sense of humor.
The Boston-based business catering marketplace had launched its first TV campaign last summer, featuring a lighthearted approach. The ads showed a water slide installed in an office, to encourage workers to return after a year-plus of working remotely, and the havoc that ensued as a result. Maybe, the ads implied, they should have just used ezCater instead.
Now, the ezCater team is back, with a different twist on that theme. The tagline is “Some food just doesn’t work at work. But ezCater just does.” The spots show factory workers eating sushi off an assembly line belt, a barbecue smoker setting off fire sprinklers among office cubicles, and a hungry man whose hand is pinched by a live lobster, as he reaches into what appears to be a lobster-vending machine.
The TV spots started running last week in about 20 US markets, though not ezCater’s home city, in part because the back-to-office efforts here are behind those in most US cities.
EzCater again used its creative team, led by Pete Shamon, to write the scripts. They were also again directed by Dan Opsal, of the Hungry Man ad production company. And they were shot in Mexico City, just like the last round.
Cindy Klein Roche, ezCater’s head of brand marketing, said employees seemed to like the lobster ad the most. She said the crustaceans were fake: “No lobsters were harmed, or even used.”
She hopes these ads will be successful enough to merit another sequel. “My favorite one is the next one,” she said.
Back in Boston, briefly
Deputy US Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi considers Boston to be “sort of a second home” because she graduated from Harvard, and her dad is from Framingham and her mom is from Melrose.
So Bianchi shouldn’t have been surprised when a February snowstorm sidelined her travel plans last week. Bianchi had expected to stay for three days in the Boston area, but ended up flying in from Washington and returning all in one day, on Thursday, after it became apparent the city would be hit with a snowstorm on Friday.
She was able to visit Shawmut Corp.’s textile factory in West Bridgewater, met with chief executive James Wyner, and participated in a panel discussion about the industry’s challenges. But a trip to the New Balance headquarters in Boston was shelved, and a Harvard Business School panel discussion at which she spoke went virtual.
“I’m kind of used to this, " Bianchi said. “I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time at Logan.”
Southern cuisine in the North End?
Does it take someone from another state, or another country, to dare to open a non-Italian restaurant on Hanover Street?
That’s exactly what Charleston, S.C., restaurateur Sam Mustafa is doing, by bringing his Southern-themed Toast All Day restaurant concept to Boston’s North End. He has a contract to buy a building at 215-225 Hanover St. and expects to close on the deal within the next several weeks.
So how did this successful immigrant, who moved to the United States from Kuwait in 1987, end up expanding to Boston? He visited Massachusetts in August 2021 for an engagement party — for his friend, publicist George Regan, and Regan’s fiancée Elizabeth Akeley — and ended up falling in love with Boston and staying here for eight days. (Regan says he will be a partner in Mustafa’s Boston venture.)
Mustafa was impressed with Hanover Street’s vibrancy. He consulted with local restaurateurs Roger Berkowitz and Steve DiFillippo, both associates of Regan’s, before pulling the trigger on the deal. It could take a year or more to build out the new Toast All Day.
He’s not worried about being out of place amid all the ristorantes and trattorias.
“We could have opened another Italian restaurant and be in the mix [but] they’ll have their niche and I’ll have mine,” Mustafa said. “I’m not trying to take anyone’s business. There’s plenty for everyone.”