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Wage Theft

28 Feb

Managers underpaid, stole tips, threatened, Happy Lamb Hot Pot workers say at protest

 

Protesters march and hand out fliers outside Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Central Square on Wednesday. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A frigid Wednesday night threatening snow didn’t deter about 40 to 50 workers and supporters, including officials from Cambridge and Boston, from assembling outside Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Central Square to protest alleged wage theft by management.

The rally aimed “to call attention to the pervasive wage theft, retaliation and abuse [workers] have experienced since working at the popular restaurant,” according to a Chinese Progressive Association press release. A legal action seeking an eye-grabbing $800,000 was filed late last year, based on triple damages for violations of failure to pay minimum-wage workers for labor and overtime, ignored sick time mandates, tip theft and retaliation against some plaintiffs, said Bethany Li, an attorney and director of the Asian Outreach Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services representing the nine Latino and Asian workers. The claim is “just at the beginning,” but lawyers have already “begun to exchange numbers” and negotiate with Happy Lamb management, Li said.

Happy Lamb Hot Pot, which opened March 2016 and operates under the umbrella of an international chain called Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, is managed by northeast regional manager William Cheung. A second Happy Lamb Hot Pot opened in Chinatown in October. Li said it’s unclear if the restaurants are franchised, spun off or part of the bigger international organization.

Only one plaintiff still works at the Cambridge location, at 485 Massachusetts Ave., Li said.

State Rep. Mike Connolly, rear, and Boston city councilor Ed Flynn, by the restaurant’s “open” sign, join the rally. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Happy Lamb’s culinary appeal is its assortment of boiling Mongolian broths used to cook ingredients at the table. Broths come mild or spicy, and diners can choose half portions for “the best of both worlds.” The main meat offering is lamb shoulder shaved thin, like prosciutto. There’s also beef, ox tongue and chicken – and Happy Lamb has a strong  4.5 rating on Yelp.

According to Li and Chinese Progressive Association executive director Karen Chen, the wage theft came to light during a legal clinic put on by Greater Boston Legal Services at the association’s center in Chinatown. Chen said there was real fear among many of the plaintiffs. One former worker cited being threatened by a butcher knife, and others who testified at the rally said they were subject to physical abuse.

The rally – headlined by the chant, “Happy Lamb, you’re a sham, treat your workers right” – also featured a festive dragon dancer in colorful garb and several members of Jobs With Justice, who marched and chanted in an elongated oval under the watchful eyes of bundled-up Cambridge police. Adding political clout to the proceedings were Cambridge city councillors Sumbul Siddiqui and Quinton Zondervan; state Rep. Michael Connolly; and Boston city councilor Ed Flynn. 

Employees inside Happy Lamb seemed unfazed, though some early diners and passers-by seemed impressed and amenable to taking fliers calling for “justice” in English and Spanish. Attempts to reach Cheung or other management for comment were unsuccessful before and after the rally. 

Get on the Bus

28 Feb

Proposals to change four Cambridge bus lines draw concern, little enthusiasm, at a hearing

 

The prospect of longer walk times to some bus stops and longer waits at others raised eyebrows Tuesday at a “Better Bus Project” hearing with the City Council’s Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, but residents’ ability to alter MBTA plans seemed limited.

Proposed Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority changes to some bus lines were “a real concern” that held “academic implications” for children who rely on the buses, councillor Alanna Mallon said, and other councillors had other concerns, such as Dennis Carlone’s note of still unmet needs for more robust public transportation in business districts such as Kendall Square and around the Alewife T station.

State officials plan to roll out the changes Sept. 1.

As presented to the committee Tuesday at City Hall by Tegin Teich, a transportation planner with the city’s Community Development Department, Cambridge bus lines will see the removal of two Harvard Square loop stops on the Route 1 bus (down Massachusetts Avenue to Dudley Square in Boston); more Kendall Square and less University Park on the Route 64 bus(Central Square to Oak Square in Brighton), creating an all-day link between Allston-Brighton and Kendall Square along Main Street; a combining of the 70 and 70A buses to Waltham; and changes to lines between Harvard Square and Belmont that would run the 72 line to Aberdeen Avenue only at peak hours and shift 75 buses from Fresh Pond Parkway to Huron Avenue all weekdays and Saturdays. Continue reading

Wings and Yummy Things

24 Feb

Restaurants arrive on red line as destinations for diners seeking Asian, French, small plates

 

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Along the red line in each of our three northernmost squares, eateries with time-tested roots have popped up within the past month.

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square at what was the Korean restaurant Meju. If the name seems familiar, Jae’s was a popular pan-Asian restaurant franchise in Boston and Cambridge in the 1990s and early 2000s. It never officially went away – there’s still a Jae’s in Pittsfield, and owner Jae Chung owns Koreana in Central Square, one of the few places in town to get Korean barbecue at your table. The menu for Jae’s has traditionally been a blend of classic Thai (Pad Thai), Korean (Bibimbap) and sushi staples; on Elm Street locale, the focus is more on Korean. The rebranding comes as no surprise, though the timing is interesting, as Chung had become involved in the ownership of Meju last year after the eatery began to languish. Jae’s will face the same challenges as Meju: a heavy concentration of competition. There are seven other Asian restaurants in the area, including Sugidama Soba & Izakaya, Genki Ya Sushi and two ramen restaurants. It is, however, the only Korean venue.

243 Elm St., Davis Square.

Colette in Porter Square. (Photo: Colette via Facebook)

One T stop down, the French bistro Colette has finally opened in a long-vacant restaurant and lounge spaceon the ground level of the Porter Square Hotel. The eatery, which offers a French cafe-style breakfast as well as Francophile dinner offerings, is operated by Loic Le Garrec and Sandrine Rossi. The duo, natives of France, run sister restaurants over in Boston: Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Avenue, and Frenchie in the South End. The dinner menu features classic French Onion Soup ($11), Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent (a mushroom-filled flaky pastry for $13), Nicoise Cannelloni Coq au Vin (pasta stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and bacon for $12), Steak Frites ($32) and, aptly, a grilled Porterhouse steak you can sink your teeth into for a eye-popping, but not off-the-charts, $78. The cut is arguably named after Zachariah B. Porter, who ran a hotel and steakhouse across Massachusetts Avenue in the late 19th century, while the restaurant in part is named after the 20th century French writer and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.

1924 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square. Continue reading

Old Pop

24 Feb

Rule about soda vending machines in schools can bend for vintage item that just popped up

 

A vintage Pepsi machine is on display after being found at the Maria L. Baldwin School. (Photo: Tom Meek)

As winter set in last year, parent Christopher Lim made an unexpected discovery among the custodial tools and snow removal equipment at The Maria L. Baldwin School: a vintage Pepsi vending machine.

The inert machine is on display outside administrator offices, sparking awe from passers-by who marvel at the mechanical simplicity, time-tested craftsmanship and classic Pepsi scripture. The irony of its discovery and current station: soft drink vending machines aren’t allowed in Cambridge Public Schools.

At first, the machine was thought to date back to World War II, but close examination of an attached distributor plate shows a 1954 patent date – which doesn’t preclude it from being older, but makes the earlier estimate less likely.

The vintage machine bears a message that also feels out of date in a Cambridge elementary school. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The machine probably arrived at the Agassiz neighborhood school by the hand of a custodian who retired more than a decade ago. Joseph “Buddy” Signorelli, assistant principal John Roderick said, “liked to drive around in his pickup truck and pick things up. There’s an old oval glass table out there too.” (Attempts to reach Signorelli for comment were unsuccessful.) 

The storage locker where it was discovered, while part of the school’s main structure, is accessible only from the outside, as it houses seasonal equipment and snow melting agents – likely helping the Pepsi machine remain hidden for at least a decade. For safety reasons, Roderick said, the machine has been taped shut.

Being stashed in storage with snow removal equipment helped hide the machine for more than a decade. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Lim had thought to sell the machine to benefit Baldwin Blooms, an annual fundraiser run by parents and friends to raise money for school trips. As is, the machine could fetch a couple of hundred dollars, maybe even crest a grand – but refurbished and working, it could be worth as much as $10,000. As of now it still sits in the school hallway, a nod to the past and a curio. “How much did a soda cost back then?” a curious elementary schooler asked. “Probably a nickel,” an accompanying adult replied. “Wow,” the child said.

Perhaps the machine might be good for remedial math problems and simple economic principles – such as inflation and cost of living increases.

Oscar-palooza

24 Feb

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Looking back on a year of film reviews, here’s how I rank the Best Picture nominees critically. As far as tonight goes, it’s wide open, with “Roma,” “Green Book” and “A Star is Born” the favorites. If “Roma” wins it, it will be the first foreign language film to win Best Picture and is only one of five films nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture—“Z” (1969), “The Emigrants” (1972), “The Postman” (1995), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Amour” (2012).

  1. BlacKkKlansman
  2. Roma
  3. A Star Is Born
  4. The Favourite
  5. Black Panther
  6. Green Book
  7. Vice
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody

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Crema Revived

15 Feb

Revival coffee shops, in Alewife and Davis, have that sweet hint of Crema Cafe origins

 

Liza Shirazi and Steve “Nookie” Postal have brought Revival coffee shops to Alewife and Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Though Revival doesn’t have the same 02138 address of Crema Cafe, fans of the defunct Harvard Square coffee shop will enjoy spacious and attractive locations on CambridgePark Drive by the Alewife red line T station and a brand-spanking-new locale on Elm Street where the road funnels into Somerville’s Davis Square.

The folks behind Revival, Liza Shirazi and Steve “Nookie” Postal, met in 2012. Shirazi was a co-owner with Marley Brush, whose father Tom owns Flat Patties and Felipe’s Taqueria; in 2016, Postal was brought in to help run the popular eatery as Marley stepped away from the business. Then came the December 2017 sale of the historic Brattle Building where Crema was located, to North Carolina-based Asana Partners for a whopping $108 million. Shirazi and Postal, uncertain what the new lease rates would be, had already begun planning what would become the Revival Alewife location. Ultimately the rent hike forced Crema out; Asana is replacing it with New York-based coffee chain Bluestone Lane.

The Revival in Davis Square opened at the new year. (Photo: Tom Meek)

But the name “Revival” is coincidence, Shirazi said. “We didn’t know how Crema was going to go,” she said. “We came up with the name when thinking about space and community.”

The Alewife location is in the first level of an office building amid a spare and stark swath of generic corporate buildings. “It was about bringing culture and life back into a place,” Shirazi said. “Plus, coffee and food do provide energy.”

The Alewife Revival opened in June; its Elm Street sister opened just after the New Year. Neither is open as late as Crema – until 5 p.m. weekdays and 3 p.m. weekends in Alewife, and to 7 p.m. at Davis Square after a starter closing of 3 p.m. as the cafe settles in.

The interiors of the Revivals at Davis Square (top) and Alewife. (Photos: Tom Meek)

They share a menu, with breakfast served all day and a basic but creative lunch menu with a few nods to the old Harvard Square location – namely the Crema Grilled Chicken sandwich with avocado and cotija, a cheese and corn spread. There’s also an ample selection of salads, quiche, made-on-site pastries as well as a kimchi bowl and the pastrami-based “Fake News” sandwich.

The Alewife space, which Shirazi called “family friendly,” boasts a vast parking lot open to customers on weekends (during the week it’s used by tenants’ employees) and has direct access to the bike path extension from Alewife to Belmont. Shirazi commutes from Lexington, where she has a husband also in the food industry and a 2- and a 4-year-old. Postal is a longtime Porter Square resident who owns and runs the Commonwealth restaurant and market in Kendall Square.

The owners have been exploring food and beverage service options outside the traditional long-term leased storefront format: In addition to the Revivals, they run a food and coffee kiosk at One Post Office Square, in downtown Boston. At CambridgePark Drive there is another floor- level space that they plan to operate as a community beer hall called Mothership.

Banking on Banks

15 Feb

Another bank branch is under construction, East Boston Savings filling former wine shop

 

The former wine shop at 1739 Massachusetts Ave. will become an East Boston Savings Bank branch. (Photo: Google)

Coming shortly to 1739 Massachusetts Ave., formerly the University Wine Shop, is a – wait for it – bank. According to Dan Bloom of Tactical Realty Group, which leased the property, an East Boston Savings Bank branch will open its doors as soon as a remodel is complete.

The loose quarter-mile stretch of Massachusetts Avenue from Linnaean Street to the Porter Square Galleria already has five banks. East Boston Savings Bank will be the sixth.

East Boston Savings Bank, based in Peabody, has more than 40 locations, including one on the other side of Porter Square in North Cambridge at 2172 Massachusetts Ave.

University Wine Shop, seen in July 2017, has moved to 1737 Massachusetts Ave. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The space, owned by a trust managed by Myer Dana and Sons with the neighboring 1741 Massachusetts Ave., had been vacant for more than a year since rents were raised on the previous tenants. The liquor store and Nomad, a jewelry, furniture and gift shop, decided to vacate in August 2017 after decades-long tenancies because of the rent increase – doubling what other businesses along the strip were paying, wine shop owner Paul DeRuzzo told the Cambridge Chronicle. The former Nomad space remains empty and for rent.

University Wine Shop and Nomad relocated yards away, to 1737 and 1771 Massachusetts Ave., respectively.

The notion of a bank popping up when a local business gets bounced due to high rent is nothing new in Cambridge; a Citizens Bank is under construction in Porter Square, where it’s replacing a Potbelly Sandwich Shop, though with seven banks in around 900,000 square feet of retail space, Harvard Square may be the epitome of bank proliferation in Cambridge. Will there be more? You can bank on it.