There’s an old school 80s movie called Summer Lovers that is so bad it’s good. It has absolutely nothing to do with CityRetail or this post. In truth, I’ve just really wanted to name a post “Summer Lovers” – it has a ring to it – and since today is the last day of Summer I’m going to run with it. Maybe it’s the same sort of reason Gary Strack named his new restaurant “Firebrand Saints” – it doesn’t really make sense (or does it?) but it does have a ring to it…
When my team’s self-help retail experiment started turning some heads in 2008 by bringing a bit of buzz to the then perceived retail wasteland that was (past tense – emphasis added) Kendall Square, we simultaneously started taking meetings with a few neighboring LLs and outlined our hands-on and grass-roots approach. One such LL we met with was MIT. MIT had a particular interest in activating 3,000 SF of vacant ground floor retail at One Broadway. The space was previously an Enterprise Car Rental office and was sandwiched between a Dunkin Donuts (still there) and a Dominos Pizza (recently closed – another exciting project coming there soon though). Our team was subsequently engaged by MIT with the goal of finding a food use that would activate said storefront for maximum hours and appeal to maximum customers; a place where faculty and professionals could have lunch at 11:30am and MIT Sloan students could have a drink(s) at 11:30pm. From the start I knew we needed somebody with vision, energy and experience.
I got in touch with Chef Gary Strack in early 2009 through my clients/friends at SOSOLIMITED, who have worked with Gary in the past and are the wizards behind the TV programming you’ll see behind the bar in Firebrand Saints. Gary was on the top of my list from day 1 for this space – he pioneered as chef/owner of Central Kitchen and Enourmous Room in Central Square and has a knack for understanding and facilitating the intersection of art, performance, tech and food… A perfect match for Kendall and it’s still developing retail scene. Gary knew it and so did I. Now, some 30+ months later, Firebrand Saints is set to open.
This deal has been a special one for me to work on. It has led to friends and collaborations that have great meaning. Further, FbS opens just as I transition my home-base to New York City, which seems fitting. As CityRetail and I expand our reach beyond Cambridge (more on this later), this deal as much as any other deal we’ve worked on over the last three years bolsters my claim that CityRetail is a unique group that can package and deliver game-changing and outside-of-the-box restaurant projects.
This project also demonstrates something that so many in the City of Cambridge (both the public and city government) have taken an interest in questioning and criticizing: MIT’s commitment to retail in Kendall Square. Let me be absolutely clear: MIT would not have done this deal – could not have done this deal – unless they cared about and were committed to the role of small, local, owner-operated businesses in Kendall Square. period.
So thanks for this MIT. And Gary, now it’s up to you to do what you do best >> create a cool and fun place with kickass food. Go get ‘em. We are all rooting for you.