Yearning for more DIY space in Greater Boston, one restaurant guy takes the plunge
Ian McGregor has worked in the restaurant industry for more than 15 years and started booking shows six years ago with Eye Design, which he founded. With the recent surge in Boston venue closures and artist displacement, McGregor sees an opportunity to fill the void with a new venture, Deep Cuts Deli, expected to open in spring 2019 with hopes for a location in Allston.
His concept: an all-ages deli, community arts space, practice space, and music venue.
“Combining my love of music and food is a dream of mine,” said McGregor, who plans on working as the owner/manager. “Boston has so many great bands, artists, comedians, and not enough places where they feel comfortable and can call home. Deep Cuts Deli can and will be that place.”
In July, McGregor launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 for Deep Cuts Deli to fund basic operating costs, hourly practice rooms, build-out/renovation, kitchen equipment, dining area, and licenses/permits. With less than $2,000 on that platform at the time of this writing, McGregor also said he is considering other fundraising mechanisms, including investors, events, and shows.
“Working at restaurants around Boston led me to booking my first show at one of my favorite venues in Boston, Great Scott. I got to meet a lot of awesome people in the industry and a lot of aspiring, or already established, artists,” McGregor said. “I worked at restaurants that also served as venues like Firebrand Saints and the Automatic that let me take over to host shows, fundraising events, and markets. They also proved that a mix of quality food and fun events is something that the Boston community thrives on and we need more of. Deep Cuts will help fill that void.”
With the closure of music and art-friendly destinations like Out of the Blue and Firebrand Saints, to name a few, it can seem that artists are being squeezed out of Greater Boston. It’s not just venues that have been affected, as galleries, practice spaces, and studios have also suffered with so much development and skyrocketing rents.
“The development in Boston is going the wrong way,” said Wiley, owner of store High Energy Vintage in Somerville. Wiley’s motivations are in line with those behind Deep Cuts. He continued: “It’s not just displacing lower-income people, even medium-income people. It’s going to become a city of condos and like, coffee shops. That sucks. People are going to look around one day and realize that everything that’s cool about Boston isn’t even there anymore.”
“Because there’s less venues, whether they’re an actual venue or a DIY venue, there needs to be more,” Wiley added. “[You] can’t just take away venues and not add any.”
Ben Potrykus, a musician who’s played in bands since he was 16, knows McGregor from the DIY show scene and looks forward to a space like Deep Cuts that provides an all-ages place for artists to practice.
“It’s important to have spaces where people can hone their talent, where people can take influence by seeing bands and seeing what people are doing, start conversations with people in their community who are doing things they’re interested in,” Potrykus added. “Having a space like Deep Cuts that would be all ages and have something other than bar or drinking culture as the central point … would be really beneficial for the city and for the arts scene to foster more creativity among a younger group of people.”
According to Christopher Muller, a professor at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration, McGregor faces an uphill battle to open a space like Deep Cuts, which would combine an eatery and a music venue. The reality, Muller notes, is that real estate is motivated by money, which make it hard for art spaces to survive in Boston.
“The reason there’s less venues in general [is that] music venues just don’t have enough income,” Muller said. “The unfortunate thing about capitalist incentives is people that have real estate want to capitalize. Rents have gone up in everything, not just for housing, but also retail space. The last 10 years, a storefront in Boston went from $20 per square foot. Now it’s as much as $75 to $100 per square foot.”
Muller nonetheless acknowledged the importance of such spaces.
“The [Rathskeller] was a significant place for rising talent to play,” the professor says of the iconic Kenmore Square haunt that closed in 1997. “Boston bands like the Cars all played there and became legendary for that. You need to have a place to play. I can understand that desire; the problem is it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a successful business.”
While arts spaces suffer, Muller added, the restaurant scene has grown significantly, with fast casual spots like Clover and Life Alive driving the growth.
“I think [Deep Cuts Deli is] a noble idea,” the professor said. “I think it’s a really great concept. I do think if he does it right, it can support itself.”
Olivia Deng is an arts and culture writer who also covers politics and social movements. Her work has appeared in DigBoston, WBUR, Boston Magazine, The Atlantic, Boston Art Review and more. She is also an illustrator and painter.