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Meeting with owners of Diesel Café

The owners of the Diesel Cafe are opening a new space at 11 Bow St in Union Square. They hosted a community meeting yesterday (Feb 6) to discuss their plans. Here are my notes from that meeting, with a little commentary. (The Boston Globe ran an article on the project recently, with a bit of misinformation; where they differ the notes below are correct.)

The new cafe will not be named Diesel, but will have much the same menu/style as in Davis Square "although we [the owners] are treating it as a creative opportunity". No stoves/hoods, so the menu will be much the same as the Sherman. Hours of operation are likely to be mostly the same as the Sherman as well, at least at first, because the # of customers drops off precipitously at night. The idea is that getting more cafes in Union Square will make it more of a "destination location" like Davis Square currently is, which will allow them to expand hours, etc. Karyn Coughlin, one of the owners of the Sherman, was at the meeting (the red haired woman who is often behind the counter), and she was supportive of the Diesel as well: making Union into a cafe Destination will benefit everyone. The Diesel owners shared how they were initially afraid when the Starbucks opened right across the street from them in Davis, but it turned out to improve the fortunes of both, with a lot of crossover traffic.

Projected opening is May/June, although this depends on the permitting process. They've finished demolition in the space, and are waiting for permits to begin construction. The facade will be improved, using the city's facade improvement funds, but the shape of the building will remain essentially the same: it's a historic building.

The grassy space to the left of the building will initially just be landscaped, but they want eventually to add outdoor seating there. Someone asked whether it would be dog-friendly. The owners replied "we love dogs, we'll see if the city will allow it." (As far as I know, the US Food Code prohibits animals in areas where food is prepared or consumed, but if the seating area is "public space", the food code may not apply. Perhaps som|dog will someday take on the food code as was done in Florida.)

A representative for the owner of the condo building to the left of 11 Bow St was present, and grilled the owners on noise, delivery truck schedules, trash, etc. It seemed that the owners gave acceptable answers. Somerville Alderman Tom Taylor was present; he stressed that the city could give conditional permits for operation if there were any concerns. The condo representative was disappointed that the Zeitgeist owner wasn't present: apparently they are really opposed to Zeitgeist moving in upstairs, because "we've heard rumors that there were multiple noise complaints against them". Again, conditional permits were mentioned; Tom Taylor volunteered that the Zeitgeist was far from having their funding together for the site, and that the same community meeting process would be held for whoever the top floor tenant turned out to be.

The landlord for the 11 Bow St property (Ifeanyi Menkiti) showed up at the end, who was a very nice man who said he was initially approached by a money transfer firm (do we need another one?!) for the site, but he was "approaching retirement, and so we get to take on projects that are nearer to our hearts". The idea of a "literary cafe" in his building was one of those projects. He apparently dabbles in poetry. I get the idea that he'd like the top floor to be some sort of cultural thingy, whether its a gallery or an educational center or something else.

I expressed to the Union Square Main Street representative that I'd like there to be more entertainment activities in the square that are not alcohol-oriented. The current Tír na nÓg location will become a sports bar, and Tír na nÓg is looking for a new place (near Jerry's Liquors, from what I hear). I opined that the number of late-night coffee drinkers in Union Square will probably not be aided by opening more bars in the square, but a movie theater or a performing arts center probably would provide that boost. The response was that that's what the new arts overlay zoning for the square is supposed to encourage. Later, I mentioned to Tom Taylor that the Walnut Street Center would be a perfect place for a movie theater because of the high roof; he's not aware of anyone yet interested in the building.

There was also some discussion of parking availability for the cafe; the Diesel cafe owners have apparently talked to the nearby Goodyear and the bank about using their parking lots after hours, but haven't agreed on anything yet. They hope that most traffic is by foot or bike.

This led into a discussion of traffic and double-parking problems on Bow Street, and the idea of restoring Somerville Ave to two-way traffic to alleviate these. Tom Taylor's response was that traffic plans were largely out of the hands of the Aldermen, although the Somerville Ave improvement plans are considering these issues.

There seemed to be a large number of pro-Diesel partisans present, many of them apparently current or former regulars at Diesel in Davis Square. The only voice potentially opposing the project was the representative from the abutting condo.


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