Local restaurateurs bringing new concepts to Dudley Square
When news that Dudley Dough was closing hit the streets in October, some in Roxbury expressed frustration at the slow pace of development in Dudley Square, which now seemed to be moving backward.
Rumors that Tasty Burger would not renew its lease further fueled a sense that recent investments in Roxbury’s commercial hub have fallen flat.
But the silver lining on the cloud of restaurant closings is a bigger story: four new restaurants are in the works, promising to further enliven the square.
“Having more life on the streets at night will help Dudley,” said Dudley Square Main Streets Executive Director Joyce Stanley. “People don’t like to come here at night because there’s not enough life on the streets at night.”
The biggest light in the square, the large restaurant space at the intersection of Washington and Warren streets, may soon be the brightest light in the square. A City Hall source confirmed that the Office of Small Business Development is in talks with a local restaurateur who is looking to open an eatery with live music in the space, which has remained vacant since the Bolling Building opened in 2015.
While the Banner has no details on that development, Stanley said the business could greatly enhance the cultural offerings in the square.
Meanwhile, plans for these restaurants are underway now. »
The Tasty Burger spot will likely go dark at the beginning of 2018, but not for long. Restaurateur Cheryl Straughter has plans to open a restaurant in the space, called Soleil, after her granddaughter. She plans to offer food “with a Southern flavor” as well as sandwiches and salads.
“This area is in need of a full-service restaurant,” Straughter said. “A place where people can bring their family or have a business meeting.”
Straughter’s first restaurant business, “Keith’s Place,” opened in a renovated space in Grove Hall in the 1990s, and proved to be popular in the then-down-on-its-heels business district. She’s looking to bring healthy fare to the Bolling Building location, which has considerably more foot traffic, at least during daylight hours.
“There’s a good customer base here,” she said of Dudley Square. “We have to give them a reason to come in.”
Straughter is planning to renovate the space before opening next year. »
Roxbury businessman J.D. Nelson plans to open a pizza shop in the space vacated last week by Dudley Dough. The new venture will feature expanded menu offerings, including soups and salads, and will have a full liquor license. The 119 name takes its cue from the Roxbury ZIP code, 02119.
Former Dudley Dough manager Luther Pinckney will step into the same role in 119, which may open as soon as February.
“The concept is a meeting space for the neighborhood,” Pinkney said. “It’s a place where people can gather together. We need more social outlets in this neighborhood. In Dudley, we need to have basic services that take care of the people who live here.”
Pinkney said the menu will feature rotating specials at night.
“It won’t be soul food, not heavy food, but enough to fill your belly,” he said. »
At the corner of Shawmut Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, restaurateur Befekadu Defar is planning to open a coffee shop with healthy lunch foods, including vegetarian and vegan options, sandwiches and salads.
Defar started in the restaurant business with a Jamaica Plain eatery called Fasika. Fourteen years ago, he moved his restaurant to Somerville. While he plans to keep that restaurant open, he says he had always wanted to come back to Boston.
“I see a future in Dudley,” he said. “It’s one of the most rapidly changing districts. It has great potential.”
A major draw to his restaurant will be fresh roasted Ethiopian coffee.
“We use the best Ethiopian coffees, which are known for their flavor,” he said. “We get them directly from Ethiopia. We will roast and grind the coffee there.” »
A new Dudley?
Stanley says the new restaurant offerings will help bring more vibrancy and, importantly, more foot traffic to the business district. The live music at the large restaurant space will add to the growing number of cultural offerings in the district.
“There’s a lot going on,” Stanley said, referring to live music and art exhibits at the Haley House Bakery Café and plays, musical performances and other cultural events at Hibernian. “There’s just not a lot of coordination.”
Stanley said coordinating a schedule of cultural events in the Dudley Square area and creating a web page to promote them are important next steps for the Roxbury Cultural District, a group representing the area’s artistic and cultural sites. The Cultural District, which includes Dudley and Eliot Squares, was designated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council earlier this year and is intended to highlight Roxbury’s cultural assets and boost tourism and economic activity.
“We have the pieces of a really good cultural district here,” Stanley said. n