But Where's the Beef?

You can get McNuggets in Moscow's Red-Square, a tasty Filet-O-Fish on the Champs Elysees in Paris, and a juicy Big Mac on the beach in Hong Kong.

But in Harvard Square, the intellectual and cultural mecca of New England, there are no Golden Arches, no Burger Kings, no Kentucky Fried Chickens.

A Cambridge zoning ordinance prohibits fast food restaurants throughout the city, unless the business can obtain a special permit.

And in Harvard Square, that's nearly impossible. The ordinance allows neighborhood coaltions to keep national fast food chains out.

Burger King, Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken and Kentucky Fried Chicken each have two restaurants located in Cambridge. McDonald's restaurants can be found in East Cambridge, Central Square and Porter Square. The Board of Zoning Appeals granted special permits to allow these restraunts after they met guidelines on litter, parking and neighborhood impact.


But powerful community organizations, such as the Harvard Square Defense Fund, consistently oppose fast food restaurants that seek to open in Harvard Square.

Last spring, Harvard Square residents successfully defeated a proposal to open a Boston Chicken franchise on Brattle St. Porter and Central Squares lack the organized neighborhood groups that can lobby against the establishment of fast food franchises.

"So much of our opinions are based on what the neighborhood opposition is," says Lisa DeLima, a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals for the last 10 years. "In my entire 10 years on the board, we have never based a decision solely on legality. We do not operate on precedent."

Speaking for much of the local community, Cambridge Mayor Alice K. Wolf insists fast food restaurants would destroy the sanctity and unique character of Harvard Square. The presence of high-profit fast food chains in the Square would drive up rents and, she argues, force the smaller, family-owned restaurants and stores out of business.

"We have a hard time keeping those businesses that don't make a high profit in the square," says Wolf. "If you have to make piles of profits to pay the rents, it's hard to have a shoemaker or a struggling artist."

Despite the mayor's position, hungry Harvard students have long clamored for the opportunity to order a Whopper, medium fries and a Coke.

But if students want a Burger King, they can take the five-minute subway ride to Central Square, says Gladys P. Gifford, one of the founders of the Harvard Square Defense Fund. "Let's have one place on the planet that doesn't have the same thing," says Gifford. National fast food chains would drive out traditional Square mainstays such as Elsie's Famous Sandwiches, Mr. and Mrs. Bartley Burger Cottage, Pinocchio's Pizza and Subs and the Tasty Sandwich Shop, she says.

"It won't be just one. If McDonald's gets in, then there is no case against Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's--and they all wind up in the Square," Gifford says.

But at least one local restauranteur says he can handle the competition. Bill Bartley, son of the original Mr. Joseph Bartley, says his 31-year-old eatery could easily survive if a McDonald's opened in the Square. "I'll go up against anything. We can beat them, but obviously we don't want them next door," says Bartley. "I wouldn't be down in town hall fighting it."

The service and quality that only family-owned businesses can provide will allow them to compete against national corporate franchises, says Bartley.