In the last three months, two restaurants with seemingly contrasting visions for the future of food have opened in Harvard Square: Source Restaurant, a pizzeria serving Neapolitan pies and handmade pasta made from hyper-locally sourced ingredients, and Spyce, a healthy and fast-casual takeout spot specializing in bowls and salads made by robots in their Infinite Kitchen.
Across from Johnson Gate and a little ways down Church Street lies Source, which opened in November 2020.
“Sourcing local has slowly progressed over the last 10 years,” says Daniel P. Roughan, Source’s owner. “We’re trying to source hyper-local. ‘Local’ can mean within 500 miles, whereas we’re getting the majority of our meat and produce from 30 minutes away.”
Step into Source and you’ll find an atmosphere that reflects the rustic menu: exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood tables and stools, a mural of a rooster painted on the wall facing the bar, and a pizza oven manned by executive chef Brian L. Kevorkian.
At $16 for a margherita pizza, the costs of locally-sourced ingredients result in pies that don’t come cheap. But for Roughan and Kevorkian, sourcing local is worth the expense.
“When I buy my chicken, I’m supporting that farmer’s family,” Roughan says. “It costs money because he’s paying for his labor, he’s paying for all of his facilities.” And, as Kevorkian notes, food tastes better when made with higher quality ingredients.
Down the street and around the corner is another new restaurant, Spyce, whose Harvard Square location opened in January 2021. Outfitted with a superheated steamer and a carbon steel plancha, the robotic Infinite Kitchen cooks and steams ingredients to precisely fit customers’ orders. Spyce’s interior likewise reflects its concept: high ceilings, white floors and white walls, metal counters accented with light wood, and modern stations where customers can order on an iPad. Behind clear glass on the back wall, customers can watch tall metal tubes dispensing ingredients onto their bowl as it moves down a conveyor belt.
“Automation enables us to put our labor into actually procuring fresh ingredients, chopping, marinating, and seasoning in-house,” Spyce CEO and co-founder Michael Farid says. “That way we can make the food as fresh as possible as opposed to buying pre-processed or pre-done ingredients to save the labor.”
Despite their vastly different styles and atmospheres, Source and Spyce have a surprising amount in common — both restaurants are breaking in novel and eco-friendly consumer-centric models.
At Source, sustainability is implicit in the hyper-local sourcing model that supports small farms with organic growing practices. Because the food is not being shipped or driven hundreds or thousands of miles, hyper-local sourcing cuts down on vehicle emissions.
In addition to sourcing locally, Source reduces its environmental impact by minimizing ingredient waste, utilizing about 98 percent of the product they bring in. “Everything from the peels of the carrots to the ends of the garlic to the bones of the chickens is used,” Kevorkian says.
Spyce similarly cuts down on its food waste where possible. According to Farid, fast-food restaurants usually store food in hot wells to keep items warm so that they can be served immediately when a customer orders. Because health codes prohibit reheating food that has already been warmed, restaurants often end up throwing away whatever is left of their hot food at the end of the day.
With Spyce’s Infinite Kitchen model, however, all ingredients are cooked to order. “That means that whatever, say, chopped broccoli we have at the end of the day can be used tomorrow, since it never got cooked,” said Farid. “Our waste isn’t zero, but we have the opportunity to bring it pretty close to zero.”
Spyce also cuts down on waste through its packaging, which is entirely compostable except for the dressing cups. And in another effort to reduce its carbon footprint, Spyce created a menu without red meat.
Besides a commitment to the environment, the models of Source and Spyce both center around their customers and the local community.
For Source, this takes the form of philanthropy.
“In the restaurant industry, we’re all about hospitality,” Roughan says. “Being hospitable doesn’t always mean that it benefits you as a restaurant, but if you’re looking at the big picture, [hospitality] doesn’t end within the four walls of your restaurant.”
To give back to the community, Source delivers meals to the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and Y2Y Shelter in Cambridge. Roughan recalls driving through post-blizzard snow to provide meals for the homeless shelter, even though the storm caused his own restaurant to pause operations. “We have a commitment to provide meals for the homeless shelter,” he says. “No matter how bad it is for us, it’s a hell of a lot worse for a lot of other people.”
At Spyce, the menu centers around the customer; after indicating any allergies or dietary preferences, Spyce crafts a tailored menu that incorporates those restrictions. “It will show you a menu that’s perfect to you, and then we can execute it without risk of making any mistakes,” Farid says.
Some have criticized Spyce’s automated model for replacing jobs with robots. For example, in an opinion piece published earlier this month, Crimson Editorial writers expressed their “deep belief that slight improvements in efficiency are never worth denying opportunities for human flourishing means we’ll never find Spyce palatable.” But Theodora M. Skeadas ’12, Executive Director of Cambridge Local First, notes that the unique Cambridge economy meshes well with Spyce’s model.
“I’m not as concerned, because our reality is that small businesses actually have a hard time finding people to hire, so in the context of Cambridge, they’re not actually displacing employees,” Skeadas says. Because a significant majority of the workforce inCambridge is reliably employed by large employers like Harvard and MIT, Skeadas explains, there are more jobs available than people looking for jobs.
Farid also notes that although machines prepare the bowls, employees still oversee the machinery and hand off bags of food to customers, and the reduced operating costs allow Spyce to pay the employees it does have higher salaries — around 15 percent over market rate.
Restaurants are notoriously difficult businesses to run: The margins are narrow and the operating costs high. But the novel concepts of both restaurants, though risky, could boost their sticking power. According to Skeadas, restaurants like Pinnochio’s have remained for so long because they are tourist attractions in their own right. In this way, the niche angles of both Source and Spyce could help them establish themselves as landmarks of Harvard Square.
In addition, Source and Spyce’s concurrent arrivals could help each other, as they each play a distinct role in the community. “It’s a rising tide that lifts all boats, so,” Skeadas says. “It’s not like they’re competing. Rather, the businesses form more of a synergy. When you have a whole group of businesses, they all feed into each other.”
“There’s restaurants that you go to on Valentine’s Day or your birthday,” Farid says. “It’s about the experience and the servers and the interactions with everyone there. It’s all about the human. That’s never going to see automation — that’s about an experience.”
— Staff writer Sarah W. Faber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.