Caffè Nero Wins Approval from Neighborhood Group

Rendering of interior for Caffè Nero's 733 Centre St. location showing window onto Blanchards.

Caffè Nero Americas

Rendering of interior for Caffè Nero’s 733 Centre St. location showing window onto Blanchards.

An international coffee chain’s bid to open across from Blanchards won a giant boost Tuesday night as a neighborhood committee gave the project a thumb’s up. The final decision on Caffè Nero rests with the city’s Licensing Board, but the neighborhood-level support makes it likely the city will give the coffee house the license it needs.

If the downtown board does award that license, the cafe at 733 Centre St. could be open before the holidays, said Jay Gentile, director of United States operations for Caffè Nero.

“We’re very excited about coming here,” said Gentile after Tuesday’s meeting of the Public Service Committee of the JP Neighborhood Council.

The coffee house would have 61 indoor seats and 11 sidewalk seats. Construction is already well underway. Gentile said the company is spending about a million dollars on renovations to the former Commonwealth Bank space.

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Floor plan for Caffè Nero Jamaica Plain, 733 Centre St.

Chris Helms photo of plans provided to JP Neighborhood Council by Caffè Nero

Floor plan for Caffè Nero Jamaica Plain, 733 Centre St. Centre Street is at left, showing the 11 outdoor seats.

The committee voted 6-1 to support the chain’s “common victualer” license, which is the permit it will need to serve food. The committee crafted a “good community business agreement” with Caffè Nero. It includes items like participating in and supporting local organizations and giving preference in hiring to qualified JP residents. While company officials say they’ll honor the agreement, they refused to sign it.

The cafe has gotten serious push-back from some residents over their preference for locally-owned businesses. But the cafe also has strong support from other residents. A handful of them spoke Tuesday in favor of Caffè Nero.

Residents Welcome Coffee House

Eric Herot of Amory Street said he’d seen research that some chains can actually boost local businesses. For instance, he said small business owners discover that after a Starbucks opens nearby that their business can actually jump.

JP businesspeople who would be competing with Caffè Nero for the coffee dollar might not see it that way. For instance, Brad Brown of Blue Frog Bakery told a community group at a September meeting that “there are a finite number of cups of coffee sold in JP each morning,” noting that his volume took a hit when new, local competitors appeared, such as City Feed and 7 Pond Coffee Bar.

Andrew Grace of Dunster Street said he believes there’s enough depth in JP’s coffee/cafe market to absorb the new competitor.

“We’re fooling ourselves if we think chains aren’t already in JP,” Grace said at Tuesday’s meeting, which was held at Curtis Hall. “I want to be on record for welcoming new businesses in our neighborhood.”

Committee Member Carolyn Royce made a similar point, saying neighborhood groups should have standards about what kind of business they want in JP, regardless of whether the particular business is a chain or not. She noted that just because a business is small doesn’t mean it treats its workers well and hires as much as possible from within the community.

JP Shouldn’t Become Coolidge Corner

On the opposite side, resident Rhea Becker said JP risks becoming like everywhere else by allowing chain stores.

“I don’t want to live in a place like Coolidge Corner,” the 20-year-resident of JP said. While Coolidge Corner does have local shops, it also has several chains, like Panera Bread, Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee.

Also objecting was JP resident Monica Salas. She said she often travels to England, where Caffè Neros are ubiquitous, and that her friends abroad hold the chain in low esteem.

Caffè Nero has more than 650 locations worldwide. The JP coffee house would be the privately-owned company’s second in the U.S. In April, the company’s founder told the Telegraph (U.K.) he hoped to see “several hundred branches” in the U.S.

Being able to draw on the revenue from so many locations is part of what led Committee Member Dottie Farrell to cast Tuesday’s lone “no” vote.

“I’m sure Caffè Nero is paying top dollar rent,” Farrell said, “which will jack up rents [for other businesses nearby.]”

City Licensing Board Takes Up Case

The city’s Licensing Board, which heard the case last week but deferred any decisions until after hearing the result of Tuesday’s meeting, will have a variety of community responses to take into account. That board generally makes its decisions on Thursdays.

Two JP business groups took anti-Caffè Nero positions: JP Local First and the JP Business & Professional Association. But the Jamaica Pond Association, a residential neighborhood group, gave the chain overwhelming support. One other committee of the JP Neighborhood Council, the Zoning Committee, recommended the city approve the location’s take-out license. The city has already okayed Caffè Nero to serve take-out.

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