Neighborhood Group Won’t OK Caffè Nero Without Written Deal

Michael Ford-Deegan, principal at Caffè Nero, speaks at a JP Neighborhood Council committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.

Chris Helms

Michael Ford-Deegan, principal at Caffè Nero, speaks at a JP Neighborhood Council committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014.

A neighborhood advisory group won’t give its blessing for Caffè Nero to open in JP until the international coffee house chain crafts a “memorandum of understanding” with it.

The Public Service Committee of the JP Neighborhood Council voted 7-5 on Tuesday to delay up to two weeks before taking an up-or-down vote on Caffè Nero‘s bid to open at 733 Centre St. During that time, members of the committee and interested residents can help craft the elements that might go into the written deal.

“Memorandums of Understanding” are common when new businesses open, but they are usually between the business and abutters and focus on issues like noise or delivery schedules. Several residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting at Curtis Hall Community Center argued for a wider-reaching “Community Benefits Agreement.”

One of those was Helen Matthews, who is widely known as Homefries.

“There’s an inherent difference between a locally-owned business and a multinational chain,” Matthews said, as she urged committee members to demand certain benefits for the community.

Among items discussed Tuesday were: That Caffè Nero should hire employees with a racial mix reflective of Jamaica Plain and that the local manager be empowered to make decisions about which charities the coffee shop would support.

City Feed v. Caffè Nero

David Warner, right, co-owner of City Feed & Supply,  asks a question at the Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 meeting of the Public Service Committee of the JP Neighborhood Council.

Chris Helms

David Warner, right, co-owner of City Feed & Supply, asks a question at the Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 meeting of the Public Service Committee of the JP Neighborhood Council.

David Warner, co-owner of City Feed & Supply, pressed Caffè Nero executive Michael Ford-Deegan on how much, specifically, Caffè Nero would contribute to local charities versus how much it would spend on planned growth. In April, Ford-Deegan’s brother, Gerry said the company hoped to open hundreds of cafes in the United States.

Ford-Deegan and Warner, whose companies would be competing against one another for residents’ coffee dollars, held a long exchange. Ford-Deegan, in the end, declined to cite a specific percent of revenues the coffee house might give to local charities. Ford-Deegan and his brother own about 90 percent of the privately-held Caffè Nero. The chain’s 600-plus locations worldwide are known for hosting local musicians.

“Right or wrong, we’ve chosen to focus on artists,” Ford-Deegan said.

Voices For and Against Caffe Nero

No one in the audience Tuesday spoke in favor of the new coffee house. But Constance Cervone, a committee member and local Realtor, stuck up for them. She said that while JP has a lot of places to get a cup of coffee, it has only two “true coffee houses”: Canto 6 Bakery and 7 Pond Coffee Bar.

“I think we have a need here that has not been filled,” she said.

Gayhead Street’s Carolyn Nikkal had a different perspective.

“When a store is owned locally, a large portion of the money stays in the community,” she said, contrasting that with large corporations who take money out of the neighborhood “like a vacuum cleaner.”

Ken Sazama, also a JP Realtor, urged committee members to vote against Caffè Nero. He cited Harvard Square’s change from a lineup of locally-owned businesses to a mix that is heavy on national chains. He said that’s an example he doesn’t want JP to follow.

“When I go to Prague, when I go to London, it all just looks the same,” he said.

Martha Rodríguez, a JP Neighborhood Council member, said she has seen JP change dramatically in the last few years — and to the detriment of people of color like herself.

“They’re not part of our neighborhood,” she said, motioning to Ford-Deegan and the three other people from Caffè Nero who attended the meeting. “They haven’t put in the work to make this the wonderful place that it is.”

The Scorecard So Far

The international chain’s planned second U.S. location has a mixed record so far with JP neighborhood groups. While the Jamaica Pond Assoc. voted to support the new coffee house, arguing the company “has a right to fail,” the JP Business & Professional Assoc. rejected it on grounds that JP should support locally-owned ventures. JP Local First also issued a formal letter opposing Caffè Nero.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals downtown heard Caffè Nero’s argument to change the occupancy at 733 Centre St. from a bank/dental office to include a restaurant/cafe. Jay Gentile, director of Caffè Nero’s U.S. operations, told the crowd at Tuesday’s JPNC committee meeting that their zoning change had been approved. Jamaica Plain News has not confirmed that with the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Next Steps

Michael Reiskind, chairperson of the Public Service Committee, said once the next meeting time and place are set, he will let the community know. Jamaica Plain News will publicize it as soon as we hear it.

Caffè Nero still must win approval from the city’s Licensing Board. That downtown board isn’t bound by the recommendations of neighborhood groups like the JP Neighborhood Council or JP Business & Professional Assoc., but it often listens when those groups say “no” to projects.

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