Restaurant owners tune into the freelance economy — and try their hand at cafes
A computer programmer quietly writes code in the corner, while a barista grinds up artisanal coffee with a quirky name like Unicorn Blood. Out in the spacious vegetable and herb garden along the railroad tracks, writers take a break from an assignment to play a game of corn hole. It’s a weekday afternoon, and the cafe is bustling. But this is no Starbucks; Loyal Nine’s cafe in East Cambridge is just another example of a restaurant’s “third space” that’s been turned into a coffee shop.
Dan Myers and his wife, Rebecca, who co-own Loyal Nine with two other partners, always wanted to own a coffee shop. They almost took the plunge a few years back, but it was when they finally opened their Loyal Nine back in 2015 that they decided to go all in with a cafe space as well.
“As we developed Loyal Nine, the cafe idea was always part of the conversation,” says Myers. “It would be a deal breaker if we couldn’t have a community cafe as part of our project — somewhere for folks to gather, converse, and develop a small community within itself.”
Like Myers, many restaurant owners have tuned into the growing freelance economy, where those who work from home often venture out in search of coffee and a little bit of company. While they probably won’t splurge on a full service lunch on their own (and Starbucks doesn’t fit the bill), many will set up shop in a restaurant’s third space, an informal community meeting area, to get some work done.
At Loyal Nine, cafe patrons can gather between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays inside the former car dealership to answer some e-mails or grab a quick bite. Clientele ranges from the classic wealthy Cambridge hipster to tech guys looking for lunch away from the office.
In South Boston, the factory that once housed the Dahlquist Manufacturing Company has been gutted and reopened as Coppersmith. The 11,000-square-foot restaurant, which serves globally influenced comfort food, grabbed hold of the third-space concept with its coffee shop, Coppersmith Cafe.
“We liked the idea of a cafe because coffee shop culture creates that authentic, neighborhood-centric vibe. It felt like a natural addition to the restaurant and bar, especially in a tight- knit community like South Boston,” says Rachel Hinchliffe, who, with her husband, Aaron, are two of the owners of Coppersmith.
While certain attributes are more important than others to cafe dwellers (Hinchliffe says guests are constantly asking whether they offer soy, almond, and coconut milk), the most coveted quality for many is generally WiFi. But that’s not to say that WiFi is a must-have if you want to have a successful third space. Josh Lewin, who co-owns Juliet in Somerville’s Union Square, keeps his restaurant open as a cafe during the day, but prefers to maintain it as a no-WiFi zone.
“We prefer to be here to provide a little break from the workday as opposed to being an extension of the office,” says Lewin. “All that being said, a few laptops do find their way here. I like to imagine at least that they aren’t connected to the Internet and people are getting some good work done here while disconnected.”
Scott Herritt, who opened a cafe inside his restaurant the Marliave on June 1, echoes Lewin’s sentiments.
“We want the cafe to focus towards conversation, not Internet access,” says Herritt, who was inspired by the cafes of France and Italy. “A place that people can get an espresso beverage while talking to the barista and the staff. Boston is loaded with coffee shops that are more like fast food restaurants.”
Financially, it’s hard to determine quite yet whether their third spaces are very lucrative, but many restaurant owners say the larger goal is fostering a community, rather than just rolling in the dough.
“It is definitely a lower revenue, tighter margin business than the evening hours,” says Lewin. “Juliet’s cafe, in order to succeed has to be financially viable of course, but the real benefit to our overall business is that we are here for our neighbors for more than just high end dining. We get to know our neighbors by seeing them every day.”