New restaurants to bring variety, energy & evenings to Dudley Square
Tranquil piano music played over the sound system and African art adorned the warm yellow walls. Amidst the peaceful ambiance, Dudley residents sipped drinks and tasted samplings of spicy beef suya, jellof rice and flaky meat pies at Dudley Square’s new African restaurant, Suya Joint, last Friday.
Dudley Square — long served by fast food joints, sub shops and takeout restaurants, with only a smattering of restaurants serving alcohol — gains two new venues with late hours and liquor licenses.
Suya Joint, which opened last Friday at 185 Dudley St, seats 84, holds a full liquor license and will serve a variety of African dishes, according to its owner, Cecelia Lizotte. She added a special Roxbury Punch cocktail to the menu in celebration of the new location. The restaurant has six part-time employees and four full-time.
Tasty Burger, expected to open in the Bolling Building within the next few weeks, will seat 120 in its new 3,400 square-foot location and offer burgers, shakes and salads along with beer and wine, according to a representative. Only two other places in the area offer beer and wine: Dudley Dough and Dudley Café.
Up late in Dudley
Many patrons at Suya Joint’s soft opening last Friday expected the restaurant’s later hours to carry the district’s daytime liveliness into the evenings, filling an important niche.
“It doesn’t really feel like a business district when everything closes at seven o’clock,” said Jeanne Pinado, CEO of Madison Park Development Corporation, directly across the road from Suya Joint’s new spot. Visitors to MPDC’s evening cultural events have had few places to go before or after shows, Pinado said.
During the winter, Suya Joint will be open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. the rest of the week, owner Lizotte said. Tasty Burger’s locations in Fenway, Harvard Square, South Boston and Back Bay have hours that extend as late as 11 p.m. or even 4 a.m.
“[Suya] would be like a defibrillator for Dudley Square, to bring it alive after 5 p.m.,” Sophia Transtamar, project manager at MPDC, said at the soft open. Her coworker, communications manager Angel Harris, added that a late option with drinks could make the district more of a destination.
“It would be really good to have an option close to work to pop in and have a drink and have friends meet me in Dudley as opposed to going out to meet them,” Harris said.
The restaurants may spur local businesses to stay open longer by keeping customers in the area at night, Pinado said.
The build-up to nightlife in Dudley may be gradual as businesses and restaurants rely on each other to keep customers around. Owners of both restaurants said they will be testing the level of demand for late hours. David Buois, CEO of the restaurant group behind Tasty Burger, said the Dudley location will not be open until 2 a.m. yet, but will extend hours as called for. In Suya Joint’s case, a lounge with entertainment also is a possibility, if there seems to be an audience for it, Lizotte said.
In thriving commercial districts, businesses attract customers who then will visit other stores and venues in the area said Matt Wagner, vice president of Revitalization Programs for the National Main Street Center.
“When looking at overall revitalization strategy for the downtown or business district, you’re looking for businesses that provide competitive advantage for that district and complement each other, and can leverage each other in terms of like-type customers or complementary goods and services that expand the market opportunity. [They also] give you more than just one reason to come there — so you’re coming for multiple reasons and spending time there and coming perhaps for shopping and grabbing a bite to eat,” he said.
Restaurants are especially effective at drawing in customers, said Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Main Streets. Youth tend to shop online and are more likely to come to a district if there is a place to meet or a place that is seen as a gathering spot.
“You have to have some destination thing to get them into a district, whether something like an innovation center or restaurant, where they can come and meet and sit,” she said.
“[Restaurants] are a key element in attracting a variety of customer groups, whether workers in that area or residents that live around there or a tourist market,” Wagner said.
The two new venues offer sit-down locations, although Tasty Burger does not have a wait staff. They also bring more offerings to an area much in need of variety and healthy options, Stanley said. Workers in the district represent a variety of ethnicities, further creating a demand for diverse choices.
“Most of our restaurants are takeout, so it’s a lot of the same stuff,” Stanely said.
Rafael Carbonell, deputy director of the city’s Office of Business Development, said various city departments have been working to bring more restaurants in response to community demand for more options, especially ones that are sit-down and offer drinks. The result: Tasty Burger, Suya Joint, the already-opened Dudley Dough and Dudley Café and P&R Ice Cream and Restaurant, expected to open its second location at 208 Dudley St in the next few weeks. P&R is a Jamaican restaurant in Mattapan.
The new liquor licenses are a significant business boost for restaurant owners, Carbonell added.
“It’s a really important hook for them to drive customers and really drive revenue for them.”
Carbonell said restaurants bring employment options to people from diverse walks of life.
“Restaurants are unique because there are lots of opportunities for people from very, very different backgrounds — from different education attainment levels to different experience levels. [They provide] an opportunity for individuals to get jobs and create career opportunities.”
The city provided assistance to the five new restaurants, including help with permitting and licensing as well as designing the aesthetic for the storefront, menu and signage, Carbonell said. Mayor Martin Walsh has announced Dudley will be a new focus of community planning, and Carbonell expects plans to include continued work to heighten the mix of restaurants and businesses.
Suya Joint’s Lizotte held a 35-seat location in Roslindale for three years before moving to Roxbury, drawn in part for the larger space and the diversity of the residents. Lizotte, who is Nigerian, seeks to provide a taste of home to foreign-born Africans — a demographic more present in Roxbury — and offer a new culinary and cultural experience to non-Africans.
“Anyone who comes in from Africa will be able to come to Suya Joint and feel at home based on what we offer,” she said.
Lizotte’s main audience includes the older generation, college students and young professionals. The proximity to Harvard and Northeastern, the Boston Public School headquarters at the Bolling Building and the more central location in Boston were all draws, she said.
Tasty Burger’s Buois said Dudley has all the qualities a business like his seeks and that many have overlooked the district’s growing vibrancy.
“We like to try to be going into areas that have a tremendous amount of strong demographics, strong numbers, but aren’t necessarily where everyone wants to be at that moment, and Dudley fits that criteria,” he said. The company has been looking to enter Dudley for three and a half years. “This is a strong community down here with a lot of people that are underserviced and need this to be one of the hearts of the community, like it has been in the past, in such a big way. Everybody talked about it, talked about it, talked about, it but now it’s happening.”
The location has many of the kinds of customers Tasty Burger tends to serve, including college students, high school students and third-shift workers — who currently have few options, he said. The several hundred employees at the Bolling Building, along with the immediate proximity to Dudley Station and its daily commuters, make opening there even more compelling.
“The Bolling Building was a slam dunk because it’s literally put us right next to the bus station and gave us a lot of visibility on Washington Street. It put us in the heart of the Square and had the added benefit of having 300-400 city employees there for built-in lunches and having meetings down there,” Buois said “[Choosing the location] was just a no-brainer.”