JP Business Group Stands Firm on ‘No’ to Caffè Nero

Gerry Ford, founder of Caffè Nero, makes a point during a meeting with the JP Business & Professional Assoc. on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014.

Chris Helms

Gerry Ford, founder of Caffè Nero, makes a point during a meeting with the JP Business & Professional Assoc. on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014.

Give Caffè Nero executives credit — they waded into a basement meeting room crammed with local business owners already on record as not wanting the international coffee house chain in Jamaica Plain.

But while several members of the JP Business & Professional Assoc. were complimentary of the presentation and question-and-answer session provided by the U.K.-based coffee giant, Caffè Nero didn’t change any votes.

The presentation, the family-owned chain’s third so far in JP, came Thursday during a meeting at Prudential Realty on Centre Street.

Caffè Nero has a signed lease to move into 733 Centre St., across from Blanchards. Renovations are already underway behind the craft-paper covered windows.

But opening a business in Boston, perhaps especially JP, means passing several rounds of scrutiny from neighborhood groups, including the Business and Professional Assoc., JP Neighborhood Council and the directly affected neighborhood association. In this case, that’s the Jamaica Pond Assoc., which voted overwhelmingly last week not to hinder Caffè Nero’s plans.

It’s true, however, that these approvals are not binding: Downtown boards like the Zoning Board of Appeals can choose to ignore neighborhood wishes, though that’s rare.

Just as Caffè Nero did at the Pond Assoc. meeting, they brought several key executives to Thursday’s meeting. Founder Gerry Ford appeared Thursday, along with his brother Michael Ford-Deegan and Jay Gentile, the executive in charge of the chain’s nascent effort to crack the coffee market in the Americas.

Much of what the coffee chain’s brass had to say Thursday wasn’t new: It mirrored the previous presentation before the Jamaica Pond Assoc.

One new wrinkle came as a result of pointed questions from the audience of JP business people. Pressed for what plans the family-owned chain has for the U.S., Ford said they hoped to open 10-15 coffee houses in the Greater Boston area in the next two years.

That didn’t sit well with some JP business owners, including John Maxfield, who saw the attention being lavished on JP now as fading fast once the reality of running 650-plus coffee houses worldwide settled back in.

In April, Ford told the Telegraph (U.K.) he hoped to see “several hundred branches” in the U.S.

JP restaurateur David Doyle (Tres Gatos, Centre Street Cafe), pressed the executives on how much of each dollar they bring in would stay in the neighborhood. For Doyles’ own ventures, he said the figure is close to 100 percent.

Ford acknowledged that there’s nothing he could do to change the fact that they are not a JP company.

“If you’re going to have someone who is not JP, I think we are a good choice,” said Ford, who over the last 18 years has grown the company from a single coffee house to its present reach across seven countries.

Local Realtor Ken Sazama, who strongly opposes Caffè Nero and stood against Whole Foods when that controversy roiled the neighborhood, argued that the community needs to do its best to stop the chain.

“A Gap will come. A Starbucks will come. This is a way to plug the dam,” he told the group.

Interestingly, some of the local businesses you’d think most likely to lose business to Caffè Nero have not spoken up at the community meetings held so far, noted Brad Brown. He owns the Blue Frog Bakery and would face direct competition from the European-style coffee house.

“There are a finite number of cups of coffee sold in JP each morning,” he said, noting that his volume took a hit when new, local competitors appeared, such as City Feed and 7 Pond Coffee Bar.

In the end, no association board members voted in favor of a motion to support Caffè Nero.

Previous Jamaica Plain News coverage of Caffè Nero’s bid to come to JP:

[Editor’s note: While Jamaica Plain News is a member of the JP Business & Professional Assoc., we abstain from all votes taken by the group. Thursday’s vote on Caffè Nero was for board members only.]