Cod Industry Threatened

New England fishermen are facing huge cuts in their catch allotments this year, cuts that might put them out of business. Deedee Sun takes us to the port city of Gloucester to see how fishermen and conservation groups are preparing.

Brookline Businesses Say Whole Foods Will Boost Sales

The new Beacon Street location for Whole Foods takes the place of Johnnie's Fresh Market and is expected to attract more customers to the neighborhood's various businesses. (Photo by Angelo Verzoni)
The new Beacon Street location for Whole Foods takes the place of Johnnie's Fresh Market and is expected to attract more customers to the neighborhood's various businesses. (Photo by Angelo Verzoni)
The new Beacon Street location for Whole Foods takes the place of Johnnie’s Fresh Market and is expected to attract more customers to the neighborhood’s various businesses. (Photo by Angelo Verzoni)

By Angelo Verzoni
BU News Service

BROOKLINE, Mass. – Whole Foods is one step closer to opening its latest Massachusetts store here on Beacon St. next month thanks to a prepared food license granted by the town last week, and local businesses say they do not fear the grocery chain will poach customers.

“It’s probably going to generate more business for me,” Nassib Lutfi, co-owner of Temptations Cafe, which sits on the block of Beacon St. between St. Mary’s St. and Carlton St. where Whole Foods will open its first Brookline location, said in an interview last Wednesday.

“I think it’s going to generate more traffic to the area. More people are going to come here because Whole Foods is here,” said Lutfi, who owns another Temptations location in Coolidge Corner and a third on Huntington Avenue in Boston. “We’ve been needing something like this for a really long time.”

The Brookline Board of Selectmen issued Whole Foods Market Inc. a license to sell prepared food items at the soon-to-open Beacon St. location last Tuesday at its regular weekly meeting.

Whole Foods announced in October its purchase of six locations from Johnnie’s Foodmaster, a Massachusetts-based chain founded in 1947. Foodmaster closed all 10 of its locations in November. Its Brookline location, called Johnnie’s Fresh Market, will re-open its doors as a Whole Foods on April 15, according to an executive present at Tuesday’s meeting. It will boast outdoor seating for 35 people and about 80 employees.

Chris Takis, who owns Busy Bee Restaurant, also on Beacon St., seconded Lutfi’s opinion. Whole Foods moving in next door will be “good for business,” he said quickly and confidently.

“The Whole Foods demographic is a higher-income demographic,” Sam Fitzpatrick, manager of Japonaise Bakery and Cafe, which also neighbors the soon-to-be Whole Foods on Beacon St., said in an interview last Thursday. “That demographic we feel we do better with … because our products are high-end, high-quality. We feel that the Whole Foods customers will appreciate that, and the traffic going there will also come here and help our business.”

Japonaise has another location in Cambridge and a third near Boston University’s West Campus on Commonwealth Ave.

Alevtina Guseva, who teaches the sociology of markets at Boston University, said in a telephone interview last Wednesday that grocery stores do not generally drive out small businesses, as, for example, the mega-chain Wal-Mart has been accused of doing.

“I think the whole area needs some revitalization. [Whole Foods is] going to spruce everything up and bring more people to that particular area,” predicted Guseva, who is also a Brookline resident.

An attorney representing Whole Foods and executives from the company appeared at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, requesting a common victualler license, which allows a business to sell prepared food items, and outdoor seating. Both requests were approved by the selectmen in a unanimous vote. There are currently 22 Whole Foods in Massachusetts with similar licensing, Whole Foods’ attorney Michael Scott said at the meeting.

“Whole Foods at this location is going to be great for the neighborhood,” said Robert Allen, who has a law office in Brookline Village and spoke at the meeting, representing the owners of land adjacent to Whole Foods’ property. “We’re very happy that Whole Foods is there.”

“We hope that the outdoor seating doesn’t create a nuisance but just adds to the vibrancy of that block,” said Sean Lynn-Jones, a Brookline Town Meeting member and resident, during Tuesday’s meeting. “There are wide sidewalks [there], and this brings people to them.”

Just before leaving the podium, Lynn-Jones called Whole Foods “a great addition to the area.”

Brookline Food Trucks Face Challenges During Snowy Months

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BROOKLINE – Thirty inches of snow and whipping, freezing winds are not ideal weather conditions for running an open-air restaurant on wheels.  Foot traffic halts and parking spaces become snow mounds, making the food truck business a tough one during the cold winter months in Massachusetts.  However, the food trucks in Brookline aren’t ready to close their doors, or windows, just yet.

“Storms are typical here in Mass.,” said Bryan Peugh, owner of the Baja Taco Truck, “But we love our customers and love the business, so we stick it out.”

The Baja Taco Truck is one of the five trucks taking part in the Brookline Mobile Food Vendor Pilot Program.  Of the nine trucks that applied for the program, the Pennypacker’s Food Truck, the Paris Creperie, the Compliments Food Truck, Renula’s Greek Kitchen, and the Baja Taco Truck were chosen.  The program, which began on April 27, 2012, was granted an extension on October 16, when the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to continue the pilot program for an additional six months. However, those six months are flying by for the owners who have seen drastically slowed sales during the winter months.

“Every day is different,” said Peugh, “On a typical winter day we maybe sell 60% of what we would in the fall or spring.”

The past few weeks in Brookline, however, have not been “typical winter days”.  With a 24-hour driving ban and a four-day parking ban caused by a major snowstorm, the food trucks in Brookline were at a standstill.

“When its really cold or extremely stormy, sales are down upwards of 75%, occasionally reaching nearly 100%,” said Peugh,  “Its really tricky, because at the beginning of each week we look at the forecast and try to plan orders based on what we see.  If we are off in our predictions, though, we can suffer big losses.”

On top of the storms, a large sewer separation project on the corner of Commonwealth Ave. and St. Mary’s St. has forced the trucks that are normally permitted to park there to shut down their grills and close their doors.  The project began in the beginning of January and is expected to continue through March.

“We were closed for seven weeks.  Between truck problems, then BU’s break, then the road construction which was pushed back even more because of the storm,” said Peugh.  “We lost two of our seven employees, but who can go seven weeks without a job? Not many.”

The Baja Taco Truck was able to reopen its doors on February 19 and is training new employees to help run the busy restaurant.

The Pennypacker’s Food truck, which also parks on St. Mary’s St., faced the same problem.

“The town basically told us sorry but you’re out of luck,” said Kevin McGuire, co-owner of the Pennypacker’s Truck sighing, “We were told two days before Christmas about the construction and we are still waiting for the second spot on the corner to be ready for our truck.”

Pennypacker’s, which also has a second truck that is located on Tide St. in South Boston, was able to open their doors a few days in various suburban towns in Massachusetts during the displacement. However, the revenue earned while open a few days a month is not comparable to the potential revenue of being open daily on the busy streets of the BU campus.

Many customers are also annoyed with the inability of the trucks to be at their usual spots around the BU campus.  Gemma Vardy, a Boston University student who often stops at the trucks to grab a “quick lunch”, was unhappy to learn about the displacement of the St. Mary’s St. vendors.

“Food trucks are such easy, on-the-go lunch spots,” said Vardy walking through campus, “So it’s unfortunate they haven’t been around because of the construction. I’m hoping once the warmer weather comes around so do the rest of the trucks.”

The extension of the pilot food vendor program ends in April of this year, but the food trucks are not ready to give up yet.

“There certainly are some challenges that we continue to face everyday,” said Peugh,” But its an awesome adventure and we love running the truck.”