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Tasty Owners Will Not Reopen Famous Diner

Three more chains to open Square branches

By Jason M. Goins, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

In the movie "Good Will Hunting," Matt Damon, class of 1992, took Minnie Driver to the Tasty-Harvard Square's most famous 24-hour eatery-for greasy burgers and fries. The movie's portrait of Harvard life may be more enduring than the memories of current undergraduates.

The Tasty, a cramped, and usually packed 12-seat diner, was shuttered in October 1997 in anticipation of renovations to the restaurant's home, the Cambridge Savings Bank (CSB) building. At the time, it was unclear whether the Harvard Square institution would return.

And now, it seems, the Tasty is gone for good.

The diner has become the victim of an expensive construction project and its prominent location. The diner's student clientele and the University draw tourists and tourist dollars to Harvard Square, sending retail rents sky-high. These conditions have changed the face of Harvard Square-and increasingly commercial and gentrified facade will greet future generations of Harvard students.

Harvard Square landlords can charge top dollar for their retail space. Nowhere is that more true than the CSB building, arguably the city's most visible and expensive storefront.

Despite community groups' fervent lobbying, the number of chains in Harvard Square has slowly increased. The CSB building, soon to house three new chains, is a sign of these trends. Across the street, however, BankBoston proposes to accommodate small businesses in an upcoming and modest renovation of its 1414 Mass Ave. building.

CSB will soon host a mammoth branch of the casual clothing dealer Abercrombie & Fitch. Finagle-a-Bagel and Pacific Sunwear, which sells youth-oriented jeanswear, will also occupy the building's retail space.

CSB officials said they tried to accommodate the 81-year-old Tasty, but were unable to convince owner Peter Haddad to reopen. They said the obstacles to reestablishment were too much for him.

Nelson G. Goddard, a senior vice president atCSB said Haddad was offered below-market rents.But he decided "to pursue other interests, mainlybecause [coming back] would be a new opening forhim," Goddard said.

When the Tasty closed, at dawn after aHalloween night spent serving revelers dressed formasquerade, it was expected to be for a short timeonly. Haddad's wife, Stephanie Avis Haddad, saidin 1997 that the Tasty might reopen in Leo's Placeon JFK St. late at night, or even return to theCSB site.

Students who frequented the Tasty in its heydayalready miss the late-night eatery. There arecurrently no restaurants in the Square that stayopen all night.

"The burger wasn't exactly the best I've had,but it was better than the other late nightchoices, namely junk food from Store 24," KevinHassani '01 wrote in an email message.

While Hassani appreciated the warm food cookedto order, other students remember the Tasty'sunique ambiance. It was well-lighted place wherenight owls--students and wanderers--could gather.

"Nothing can replace cheeseburgers at fouro'clock in the morning," said Ian T. Simmons'98-'99. "Going to the Tasty was like walking intoa Hopper painting--not even the Fogg can replacethat."

The bank needed to find tenants that could paytop dollar in order to profit from themulti-million dollar renovation project, Goddardsaid.

The CSB building is the "most desirable andmost visible property in all of Cambridge,"according to Kristin T. Sudholz, executivedirector of the Harvard Square BusinessAssociation. Its high taxes, compound the need forhigh rents.

"We are required to make sure that any buildingis a profitable activity," Goddard said. "Our mainconcern is that we would have good-credit tenantsafter paying for the renovation of the building."

Cox said that the effort and money expended onthe project will show in the new facade.

"We have put a lot of effort into restoring itto the original look and to fit it in with thehistory of the Square," she said. The buildingwill look old on the outside, although the insidewill be anchored in the '90s.

Despite losing the Tasty, CSB has assented tothe community's desire for preservation of thebuilding's turn-of-the-century facade. Thebuilding's tenants, though, are a disappointmentto some.

"We begged them to try and find some localentrepreneurs that wanted to be in Cambridge. We'dhoped for small tenants, but [the bank] wants abig anchor and [Abercrombie and Fitch] can pay bigbucks," said G. Pebble Gifford, president of theHarvard Square Defense Fund.

Gifford was particularly critical of PacificSunwear, which she says "sounds about asappropriate for Harvard Square as Las Vegasgambling."

Several Cambridge business leaders do not sharecommunity leaders' concerns about the presence ofchains in the Square.

"I don't have this fear that chains are goingto come in and take over Harvard Square," Sudholzsays. "There is a real myth that Harvard Square isgoing to become one big mall."

The Little Guy

BankBoston is still deciding the fate of theformer Coop building, which it reclaimed lastyear. The building is across Mass. Ave from CSB,but is not nearly as old or in need of repairs.

The bank will occupy part of the space with ATMmachines, which are currently at a premium in theSquare.

The Harvard Square branch of BankBoston is thesecond busiest bank in the nation, following theCitibank in Grand Central Station, in New YorkCity, according to Edward L. Robertson II,BankBoston's regional president.

Robertson added that the branch's ten machinesprocess about 2.4 million transactions each year,well above industry norms. The heavy usage causesthe machines to break more frequently, leavingcustomers waiting in line.

BankBoston is eager to avoid a fiasco similarto Cambridge Savings Bank, which haggled over itsproposed renovations for years.

"We understand [the CSB undertaking] was amajor mistake," Robertson said.

To avoid the conflict with local leaders,Robertson said the bank will search for smallerlocal tenants and will carefully examine thecommunity's retail needs.

"Change is inevitable, we just want to managethe change in a way that is practicable," saysRobertson. "The Gap is a chain that I thinkoperates fairly unobtrusively in Harvard Square.We want to do the right thing."

Because of a host of laws regarding foodestablishments, both community and businessrepresentatives said that the likelihood ofMcDonalds or another fast food eatery coming tothe Square is slim.CrimsonSeth H. PerlmanREINVENTING READ BLOCK: The Tastywill not return to Harvard Square, soon to hostAbercrombie and Fitch.

Nelson G. Goddard, a senior vice president atCSB said Haddad was offered below-market rents.But he decided "to pursue other interests, mainlybecause [coming back] would be a new opening forhim," Goddard said.

When the Tasty closed, at dawn after aHalloween night spent serving revelers dressed formasquerade, it was expected to be for a short timeonly. Haddad's wife, Stephanie Avis Haddad, saidin 1997 that the Tasty might reopen in Leo's Placeon JFK St. late at night, or even return to theCSB site.

Students who frequented the Tasty in its heydayalready miss the late-night eatery. There arecurrently no restaurants in the Square that stayopen all night.

"The burger wasn't exactly the best I've had,but it was better than the other late nightchoices, namely junk food from Store 24," KevinHassani '01 wrote in an email message.

While Hassani appreciated the warm food cookedto order, other students remember the Tasty'sunique ambiance. It was well-lighted place wherenight owls--students and wanderers--could gather.

"Nothing can replace cheeseburgers at fouro'clock in the morning," said Ian T. Simmons'98-'99. "Going to the Tasty was like walking intoa Hopper painting--not even the Fogg can replacethat."

The bank needed to find tenants that could paytop dollar in order to profit from themulti-million dollar renovation project, Goddardsaid.

The CSB building is the "most desirable andmost visible property in all of Cambridge,"according to Kristin T. Sudholz, executivedirector of the Harvard Square BusinessAssociation. Its high taxes, compound the need forhigh rents.

"We are required to make sure that any buildingis a profitable activity," Goddard said. "Our mainconcern is that we would have good-credit tenantsafter paying for the renovation of the building."

Cox said that the effort and money expended onthe project will show in the new facade.

"We have put a lot of effort into restoring itto the original look and to fit it in with thehistory of the Square," she said. The buildingwill look old on the outside, although the insidewill be anchored in the '90s.

Despite losing the Tasty, CSB has assented tothe community's desire for preservation of thebuilding's turn-of-the-century facade. Thebuilding's tenants, though, are a disappointmentto some.

"We begged them to try and find some localentrepreneurs that wanted to be in Cambridge. We'dhoped for small tenants, but [the bank] wants abig anchor and [Abercrombie and Fitch] can pay bigbucks," said G. Pebble Gifford, president of theHarvard Square Defense Fund.

Gifford was particularly critical of PacificSunwear, which she says "sounds about asappropriate for Harvard Square as Las Vegasgambling."

Several Cambridge business leaders do not sharecommunity leaders' concerns about the presence ofchains in the Square.

"I don't have this fear that chains are goingto come in and take over Harvard Square," Sudholzsays. "There is a real myth that Harvard Square isgoing to become one big mall."

The Little Guy

BankBoston is still deciding the fate of theformer Coop building, which it reclaimed lastyear. The building is across Mass. Ave from CSB,but is not nearly as old or in need of repairs.

The bank will occupy part of the space with ATMmachines, which are currently at a premium in theSquare.

The Harvard Square branch of BankBoston is thesecond busiest bank in the nation, following theCitibank in Grand Central Station, in New YorkCity, according to Edward L. Robertson II,BankBoston's regional president.

Robertson added that the branch's ten machinesprocess about 2.4 million transactions each year,well above industry norms. The heavy usage causesthe machines to break more frequently, leavingcustomers waiting in line.

BankBoston is eager to avoid a fiasco similarto Cambridge Savings Bank, which haggled over itsproposed renovations for years.

"We understand [the CSB undertaking] was amajor mistake," Robertson said.

To avoid the conflict with local leaders,Robertson said the bank will search for smallerlocal tenants and will carefully examine thecommunity's retail needs.

"Change is inevitable, we just want to managethe change in a way that is practicable," saysRobertson. "The Gap is a chain that I thinkoperates fairly unobtrusively in Harvard Square.We want to do the right thing."

Because of a host of laws regarding foodestablishments, both community and businessrepresentatives said that the likelihood ofMcDonalds or another fast food eatery coming tothe Square is slim.CrimsonSeth H. PerlmanREINVENTING READ BLOCK: The Tastywill not return to Harvard Square, soon to hostAbercrombie and Fitch.

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