Neighborhood Group Okays Caffè Nero By Wide Margin

Jay Gentile, director of Caffè Nero's U.S. operations, shows a rendering of the chain's proposed JP location to board members of the Pond Association on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014.

Chris Helms

Jay Gentile, director of Caffè Nero's U.S. operations, shows a rendering of the chain's proposed JP location to board members of the Pond Association on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014.

While two local business organizations — JP Local First and the JP Business & Professional Association — have come out strongly against Caffè Nero opening in JP, the first neighborhood group to hold a vote gave it strong support.

On Monday night the European coffee giant, a family-owned company that has grown to more than 650 cafes in seven countries, sought the blessing of the Jamaica Pond Association for the city licenses they’ll need.

The coffee house aims to open at 733 Centre St. That’s the former Commonwealth Bank location across from Blanchards.

London-based Caffè Nero brought significant executive firepower to Monday’s meeting, including Michael Ford-Deegan, brother of the company’s founder, Gerry. Ford-Deegan is a principal of the company and sits on its international board of directors.

Michael Ford-Deegan, principal at Caffè Nero, speaks at the Jamaica Pond Association.

Chris Helms

Michael Ford-Deegan, principal at Caffè Nero, speaks at the Jamaica Pond Association.

On hand to make the presentation to residents was Jay Gentile, director of Caffè Nero’s U.S. operations. He said all decisions about the JP location would be made out of the company’s Congress Street offices in Boston.

That’s been a concern for detractors of the plan, saying a multi-national corporation wouldn’t be as responsive to neighborhood concerns as a locally-owned outfit.

Gentile spoke directly to concerns that Caffè Nero would take business away from existing coffee outlets.

“Will we take some business from some people? Sure,” Gentile said. “Are we going to compete at the level of sit-down restaurants? No.”

He further said the hope is to attract more business to the entire marketplace than existed before.

Details about the cafe

The coffee house’s JP location would have about 48 seats, Gentile said as he showed a series of renderings. He said Caffè Nero’s model is to encourage lingering and conversation.

“We build true European coffee houses,” he said. “It’s important for us to have lots of ‘dwell space.'”

The Centre Street location would be the company’s second in the U.S. The first is in Downtown Crossing.

Gentile said part of what attracted the chain to JP is the “High Street” feel of Centre Street.

“New England is one of the last places in the U.S. that has true High Streets,” he said, referring to the name in the U.K. for a certain kind of town center.

Caffè Nero would hire 10-15 people, he said.

One of the licenses the coffee house needs is for takeout. That would account for about 35 percent of their business, Gentile said. The company estimates they’d have about 325 “guest experiences” per day, including take-out orders and people who sit in the cafe.

‘You Have the Right to Fail’

After questions from the board and audience members, the Pond Association voted 11 to 1, with two abstentions, not to oppose the coffee house’s plans. That’s standard language used by the Pond Association — they do not vote to support projects.

One of those yes votes came from Nick Balasalle, who said Caffè Nero deserves a chance.

“My feeling is you have the right to fail just like anyone,” Balasalle told the Caffè Nero team assembled Monday at a Jamaica Tower community room.

Board Member Kevin Moloney voted no.

“Jamaica Plain has prospered and is what it is because of locally-owned and locally-operated businesses,” he said.

Moloney noted there are four or five outlets in JP that compete directly in the cafe market. He said Gentile’s expected synergy won’t happen.

“Existing folks are going to suffer,” Moloney said.

After the meeting, Gentile declined to give an expected opening date. But he did have a message for the local business owners who have taken a stand against Caffè Nero.

“I don’t know if I can change minds, but I’d like to have a dialog,” said Gentile, who is originally from Newton.

Next steps for the coffee house’s bid to come to JP include coming before the JP Neighborhood Council and, ultimately, getting approval from the city of Boston boards for their common victualer’s license and take-out license.