New Kid on the Block in Boston’s North End

By Megan Turchi
BU News Service

Next to IL Villaggio and across the road from Café Paradiso on Hanover Street in Boston’s Italian North End, there’s a new kid on the block.

The Thinking Cup, which serves a Portland, Oregon brew called Stumptown Coffee, also sells sandwiches and pastries. Its tables are covered in historic Boston newspaper headlines and the smell of espresso radiates through the wood paneled walls and the handwritten menu.  But, it’s not Italian.

Despite packed tables and a line out the door any night of the week at their original location in the Boston Common on Tremont Street, the new Hanover Street location in the North End was nearly empty on a Thursday night in October.

“On the weekends we are busier than Tremont,” said Griffin Case, a Thinking Cup employee, as he cleaned the espresso machine behind the counter. “On the week, it’s like this. They are trying to figure out what to do.”

Visually the North End remains similar to if you walked down its cobblestone streets 30 years ago. The Mike’s Pastry sign is still illuminated, and feverish cannoli lovers still line up out the door even on blustery winter nights. Paul Revere’s house, with its original façade, attracts tourists daily with its historic charm. Grey-haired men in black suits smoke big cigars around tables outside of their favorite café.

Despite these outward consistencies, the North End’s demographics and openness to non-Italians seems to have changed, even if just slightly.

Population in the North End, according to the 2010 United States census data, still remains the smallest of all of Boston’s neighborhoods, but has increased across racial and ethnic groups. Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American, and Asian populations all increased by more than 50 percent, according to the 2010 census.

Can non-Italian businesses succeed in the North End?

“I would guess yes,” said Joseph, who works at Mike’s Pastry. “Not everyone in the North End is Italian. We are a more multicultural community now than we were 30 years ago.”

The Thinking Cup is attempting to break into this once exclusive world.

“I think the North End needed something a little different,” said Anna Daraz, The Thinking Cup owner’s fiancée and store manager. Not entirely different. “We have a lot of Italian pastries, like tiramisu and cannolis,” Daraz said.

Though it seems like the North End is slowly welcoming non-Italian coffee shops, restaurants, pastries and people, customers still have their Italian favorites.

“I’d probably still go to Mike’s,” said Jack Byrne, a regular Thinking Cup customer who was sipping a latte before his choir practice at the Old North Church on Thursday, when asked if he would rather get a pastry from The Thinking Cup or Mike’s.

Though the new Hanover Street location serves the same Stumptown coffee and sandwiches as the Tremont Street shop, it has had to make some adjustments to their menu.

“There are totally different crowds from the Common,” Daraz said. “It is hard to compare. On Tremont we don’t have cannolis or ricotta pie.”

Daraz explained that the North End location already has a strong fan base and regular customers – including many Italians.

“The North End needs some changes,” Daraz said. “They have existed for many years and they have a history, but the North End needs to move on and go farther.”

 

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