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Square Aims for Warm Wagamama Welcome

Hit international noodles spot set to open Monday on JFK St.

It's only a few months old in the U.S., but Wagamama has been a hit on the international scene for years. The second location in the states—the first debuted in Boston's Quincy Market in April—is set to open in Harvard Square on Monday.
It's only a few months old in the U.S., but Wagamama has been a hit on the international scene for years. The second location in the states—the first debuted in Boston's Quincy Market in April—is set to open in Harvard Square on Monday.
By Nathan C. Strauss, Crimson Staff Writer

Wagamama, the hit British-based noodle joint whose name translates to a “willful” or “naughty child,” will open a restaurant in Harvard Square on Monday, next to Staples on JFK Street.

While the opening represents just the second Wagamama in the United States—the first location opened in Boston’s Quincy Market in April—a company representative said that further U.S. locations are already being considered.

“Right now the focus for us is on maintaining the Boston restaurant and opening the Cambridge restaurant,” said Kate J. Shamon, a publicist for the American branch of Wagamama. “But based on the success of these, I’m sure we will have more locations.”

Shamon said that Wagamama—which specializes in ramen-style noodle dishes, udon bowls, and other various stir-fried concoctions—picked the two Massachusetts locations both because of their East Coast proximity to company headquarters in London and because they had found a receptive audience.

Ryan G. Orley ’10 has been counting down the days until the new attraction opens it doors.

“I’ve always enjoyed noodles, and I have been fortunate enough to be in Europe and try it,” Orley said. “It’s just delicious.”

But even with a loyal following and moderate prices—the average meal costs about $11 at the Boston location, according to the restaurant’s Web site—Orley said it would be hard to predict Wagamama’s success.

“I feel like every restaurant that opens in the square is successful initially because its’s new and exciting,” Orley said. “But once you get past that initial ‘wow’ factor, it’s hard to say.”

Shamon said she remains confident about the branch’s chances for success, however, citing the initial research done by Wagamama in picking its first few U.S. locations.

“I know they’d received a lot of correspondence in London from people who thought this would be a good location for us,” Shamon said. “And when we came here, we found that Wagamama’s already had a following here, mainly from people who’d studied or travelled abroad.”

While students might be glad to have yet another choice of affordable food in the Square, this opening represents the third by a major chain—an occurrence that used to be an oddity—in the past year. IHOP opened on Eliot Street last November and Qdoba has sat on Mass. Avenue since March.

A 30-year-old Square staple, the Greenhouse Coffee Shop & Restaurant, closed in April, while the popular Cafe Paradiso, which opened in 1984, shut its doors in June.

“I think it’s becoming more and more difficult for all independent businesses to keep up with rents in the square,” said Karen M. Kelley, the executive director of Cambridge Local First—a grassroots campaign to preserve independent businesses in Cambridge.

“It’s very difficult to be a startup company here,” Kelley said. “You really need to be established already to be able to afford it, and I’m just happy that the independents that are here are making it and that we can keep those in place.”

Other new Wagamama openings this summer include a restaurant in Cairo, Egypt and the third location in Dubai. A Wagamama is also scheduled to debut in Cyprus this fall.

—Staff writer Nathan C. Strauss can be reached at strauss@fas.harvard.edu.

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