The restaurant group Cambridge Eats and Beats is selling two of its beloved Porter Square businesses, one of which hasn't operated since the start of the pandemic.
The plan was always to reopen Christopher’s, says Holly Heslop, co-owner of the restaurant group, which also runs the Lizard Lounge, Toad and Cambridge Common. The 42-year-old staple was the place Heslop and her husband, Charlie, had one of their first dates after he purchased it. Their kids ran around there when they were little and worked there as teens. It’s full of memories of birthday parties and private events held upstairs. Her kids asked for a final walk-through to be able to say goodbye to this place they grew up in. They made their decision to close Christopher’s two weeks ago.
“I think we just couldn't face it until then,” Heslop said. “We had of course talked about it over the almost three years, but we were so fixated on opening…we love this neighborhood. It's a big loss for all of us.”
The restaurant and bar first closed in 2020. The adjoining bar and live music venue, Toad, is also up for sale, but will remain open until the building or businesses are sold. Cambridge Common and Lizard Lounge will remain up and running.
“I love this business,” she said. “There is this incredible joy of the magic that happens when it all comes together. You get through an insanely busy night and there is this moment of, ‘Oh, people in here were happy. Everybody's got a story to tell.’ There's so much camaraderie…And you do form these incredibly strong relationships over time with both customers and staff.”
Opening Christopher’s would’ve been the equivalent of beginning a new restaurant from scratch, she said. It’s taken three years to get Cambridge Common close to pre-pandemic numbers.
“I think that what we've been able to see at Cambridge Common is that there was no jump right back into normal,” she said. “There are still folks who aren't ready to eat inside. It's a much more complicated ongoing scenario than of course we ever pictured.”
The pandemic forced the restaurant group to go from 160 employees to five and build back from there. It also introduced the business into the world of making deliveries and requiring reservations.
They turned the parking lot of Cambridge Common into a 28-table restaurant under a tent. Decisions like these helped them stay afloat during the worst of the pandemic slump along with their staff’s creativity, energy and devotion.
Heslop said they told their managers about their plans to sell and one of them mentioned a couple who had been married at Toad and had come in to celebrate their latest anniversary. It was bittersweet.
“There are a million of those stories,” she said. “We've always just loved being part of that.”