Dorchester’s Juice and Jazz Cafe provides nurturing meals and culture
When you start up a business you just have to be aware that the way you think it’s going to go in your head is definitely not going to happen that way."- Kajaal Cupid
Codman Square’s Juice and Jazz Cafe is approaching its one-year anniversary of serving freshly made sandwiches, salads, juices, coffee and smoothies in the neighborhood.
Co-owner Kajaal Cupid, a resident in the area, got the idea for a cafe when she noticed that as people walked out of the Dorchester District Courthouse directly across the street, they had nowhere to sit down for lunch. Or when she wanted to grab a bite to eat while she washed her clothes at the nearby laundromat, there were only unhealthy options.
“There was a need for just a cup of coffee, and I have friends close by, and we wanted a place to sit down and hang out,” she says.
At the time, Cupid was working as an operations manager for WEL Capital Construction LLC, owned by Lionel Wood.
Longtime neighborhood friends, Wood knew about Cupid’s idea and decided to help invest in it, using revenue from his construction business.
The two friends made an offer to the landlord for the retail space at 501B Washington Street, pitching their cafe idea. “I stayed up that night putting together a menu and we submitted it to the landlord,” Cupid says.
The space had previously been occupied by an eyebrow threading place, which only lasted about six months, according to Cupid. With her and Wood’s experience in the construction industry, they were able to remodel the retail space from scratch, with their own hands.
The co-owners had to invest in new kitchen equipment, although there was no need for a full kitchen for the type of food products they make.
“It was a big green empty box when we got here,” she says. But now, the cafe is outfitted with works of art by local artists on the wall, cozy reclining seats and tables, an open-concept kitchen in the lower level and a prepping station on the main level with refrigerators, blenders, panini press and, most recently, a new rice cooker.
“Our old one [rice cooker] was too huge,” says Cupid. “If you look in our display fridge, there are only a couple items because we try to make our food as fresh as possible.”
She continues, “We got a smaller rice cooker so we can cook in smaller batches and maintain the consistency and freshness of the rice.”
With four part-time workers, the coffee, juices, smoothies and sandwiches are made in-house. The pastries are from bakeries in Malden and West Roxbury, the coffee is sourced from the Cape, the cold brew and nitro from New Hampshire, and during the summer, the kale, carrots and spinach for the smoothies are sourced from the Urban Farming Institute in Roxbury.
“We both don’t come from culinary backgrounds so we had to learn on the fly,” says Wood. “We’re foodies, we eat a lot of different food, but we had to learn how to operate a kitchen, make it flow, prep food, label … getting down to the details.”
Wood says the permitting process took a long time to complete.
“When you start up a business you just have to be aware that the way you think it’s going to go in your head is definitely not going to happen that way,” says Cupid.
The cafe’s new rice cooker will be used to make an upcoming menu item: soul bowls. Suggested by a customer, they will consist of steamed rice and vegetables with creative spices.
Wood and Cupid say they try to incorporate customer input as much as they can, from the menu to hosting community events and down to the background music selection.
“We really listen to our community and linked that to the structure of our business and how it operates and how we build it,” says Cupid.
If fresh healthy food options are the hook, then community events are the soul of the Juice and Jazz business.
“We have the coolest events ever,” says Cupid. “One of our favorite customers gave a workshop on currency trading here, we have a book club that meets four times a year and poetry nights. A lot of fun stuff happens here.”
Wood says, “We’re trying to focus on having more community events because it’s not our cafe, it’s the community’s cafe. The people can be involved in it as much as possible.”
For Cupid, hosting events at the cafe gives her and her 7-year-old son something to do in the neighborhood too. “There’s not a lot that happens around here and when we had our paint party on Sunday, it was a great idea for a rainy Sunday afternoon where you didn’t have to go so far for,” she says.
Wood and Cupid say they don’t have a particular target market, and that they get customers by word of mouth and from all over the Greater Boston area.
“Sometimes we get an entire jury on their break, or it’s two in the afternoon and it’s jam packed with people from the community,” says Cupid.
Serving healthier food options has no doubt had an effect on the co-owners’ diets as well. Wood says he has been a vegetarian for eight months now.
“Since we taste everything before we sell it, we decided to eat more like a vegetarian so we would know what a typical person on a plant-based diet would enjoy,” says Cupid. “Because your palate changes when you switch your diet.”
She jokes, “So we would have been back here, throwing way too much salt on everything.” Luckily, customers won’t have to worry about this when they walk into Juice and Jazz.