The founders of Dwelltime Coffeebar and Bakeshop never thought it would come to this.
Dwelltime is the latest venture from the folks who brought us Barismo, a small-batch specialty coffee roaster in Arlington that supplies beans to many of the area’s premier cafés. The postage stamp-sized shop in Arlington is too small for tables and chairs, making it the only standing coffee bar in Boston—a fact of which its founders are notoriously proud. Now, thanks to a zoning law in Cambridge that limits seating for restaurants that do not offer off-street parking, Dwelltime’s management finds itself in the unexpected position of campaigning for more seats.
Though it’s by far the most ironic, the zoning debacle is just the latest in a long saga of unforeseen hurdles that delayed Dwelltime’s opening roughly six months. The expansive new Broadway space, which was originally slated to debut in the fall, finally opened its doors on April 17. “It was kinda one thing after another,” Dwelltime’s co-manager Pete Cannon told me when I stopped by the shop. Cannon, dressed unobtrusively in a black t-shirt and dark slacks, leaned on Dwelltime’s immense copper bar, attaching stickers to bags of coffee beans while a small gang of baristas bustled past. The actual details of the story, he said, were pretty mundane—take an old unrenovated building, factor in years of water damage to the basement, and you’ve got months of painstaking work ahead of you.
If Dwelltime’s foundations were ever crumbling beneath it, you would never know it now. The vast, high-ceilinged room boasts ornate moldings, exposed brick walls, and a creaky refurbished maple floor; sunlight streams in through big front windows and the smell of fresh paint still wafts on the air. Despite the baristas’ frantic pace, the place radiates a serenity that can only be the result of its clean, minimalist design. The shop is dominated by an enormous free-standing bar, an intentionally unconventional choice by the Dwelltime team. When customers enter, it is not immediately clear where they should place their orders—which, says Cannon, is exactly the point. At most cafés, he explains, “the person you’re ordering with… has the least amount of experience, the least amount of training, and the least amount of knowledge about the product they’re serving, which doesn’t really make sense if you’re trying to put forth a specialty product. We wanted to change the flow so that the interactions you’re having are with the people who are most knowledgeable.”
This kind of remark should assure you that the minds behind Dwelltime and Barismo have not abandoned the convictions that lead them to open Boston’s only standing coffee bar back in ‘06. Dwelltime might offer food and chairs, but the management’s all-consuming devotion to coffee has them obsessing with every conceivable detail, right down to the floor plan. And what of the seating problem? A public hearing is tentatively set for mid-June, and thanks to a petition signed by more than a thousand Dwelltime customers, co-owner Jaime van Schyndel thinks it should be easy to get a permit to add more seats.
“To be honest, we’ve been a little overwhelmed with the support.”
Right now, just six wooden tables—all but one of which were hand-crafted by Dwelltime barista Ethan Miller—line the left wall, leaving an ample swath of floor unencumbered. With any luck, by the summer Miller will have his work cut out for him.
[Dwelltime. 364 Broadway, Cambridge. @dwelltimecoffee. dwelltimecambridge.com]