On a busy winter morning, the orders come fast. Greta and Andrew Platt stand on opposite sides of a wooden table packed with containers of freshly baked biscuits, homemade pimento cheese, and smoked salmon spread. Greta glides through the bakery with avocado toast in hand; Andrew tracks the inventory on a small whiteboard. In a coordinated manner, they service all the orders. Then, he reaches for his winter coat and kisses her goodbye.
For the past eight months, since the landlord issued an eviction letter asking them to vacate the property, the couple has been scouting places to relocate the Biscuit, their 15-year-old family-owned bakery on the border between Cambridge and Somerville. The landmark spot opened for the last time at 406 Washington St. on Sunday, Dec 29.
When the 10-year lease Andrew and Greta had signed for the bakery’s current location expired in 2014, the landlord, Dewire Family Trust, refused to sign a new one. So, the couple ran the bakery as tenants at will. For five years, on the first day of each month, they’d have a check ready to be collected by the landowner, not knowing if they would be able to open their business the next day.
“It’s not uncommon for this stuff to happen, but it doesn’t make sense,” Andrew said. “We have a viable business. If they wanted to hike the rent, we can pay the hiked rent. If they wanted to negotiate something … but they don’t want to negotiate anything. And they’re exercising their right to remove us from the property.”
It is not clear what the landowner intends to do with the property once is vacated. The Dewire Family Trust could not be reached for comment.
Greta and Andrew started the Biscuit back in 2004 with loans from friends and family. They bought Panini, a bakery that had been in the space for 13 years. One night, the owners of Panini closed; the next day, Greta and Andrew opened the Biscuit.
“We inherited a lot of the recipes so that the customers would still be able to get their cinnamon twists and lemon scones in the morning,” Greta said.
In time, the Biscuit expanded its menu and space. Andrew and Greta added soups and salads to the list of choices and built a deck so customers could sit on the patio.
“For a long time, we didn’t do biscuits. And people said, ‘Well, the name is the Biscuit, how come you don’t have biscuits?’ So now we have them,” Greta said.
The Biscuit was a small and cozy place. The bakery and coffee shop welcomed people at 7 am, with the smell of croissants, lemon scones, and its signature brioche bread, which Andrew bakes the same day while most people are sleeping.
One Friday morning, I saw why many acknowledged the Biscuit as part of the social fabric of the neighborhood. About 20 heads packed in the place, making it a full house, their chatter merging with reverberating sounds of steaming milk and brewing coffee. An aroma of hot chocolate filled the air. More customers line up and purchase to go. A table that regularly sat three people hosted 10 seniors, who followed through with the suggestion on the signs on some tables: “When the café is crowded please share your table. You might even make a friend.”
For the past eight months, Greta and Andrew have gone through highs and lows. They’ve also imagined themselves doing other things. But once they started hearing comments of appreciation from customers and neighbors, they decided to attempt a comeback.
“We realized that we created here something really splendid that people really caught on to and enjoyed, and it gives us tremendous satisfaction,” Andrew said, as he placed a biscuit in a red basket, ready to be served.
In the wake of the Biscuit’s closure, almost 100 people have expressed their support on Nextdoor, a social network service for neighborhoods. “I hope the landlord will reevaluate knowing that the Biscuit is an integral part of our neighborhood and community,” writes Cheryl Lebenson, a Cambridge resident.
Another entry reads: “The Biscuit was a beautiful, comfortable place to relax in and they had great food, including delicious homemade pastries, sandwiches, pizza, etc. I’m very sad to see it go.”
Suz Watz, a Cambridge resident, joined the conversation, saying, “I love Biscuit and will support any help they can get.”
Those who want to back the Biscuit will get a chance to do it. Greta and Andrew started an Indigogo campaign they’ve called ‘The Biscuit, interrupted’ to raise money with the goal of helping with the renovation costs of a new space that would host them in 2020. Each donation will be rewarded with a gift card (of greater value than the donation) redeemable at the new spot. So far, the crowdfunding campaign has raised $12,055, and more than 150 people have contributed. And they also have investors supporting a comeback.
“The outpouring of love and support has been great,” Andrew said. “We have every intention of starting another Biscuit as soon as possible, as close as we can possibly get to here so we don’t lose our customer base.”
Two days before New Year’s Eve, the company’s 12 staffers woke up unemployed. Still, in hope of reinventing their venture somewhere else, Andrew and Greta are taking everything with them: tables, chairs, mixers, and their big wooden table. Everything but the French steam oven that has been there since the early days.
“I know Greta agrees with me that there is a sense of liberation about this. As devastating as it is,” Andrew said.
“I think it’s a good thing, because every business that has been open for 15 years has to reinvent itself and figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” Greta said. “Meanwhile, we’ll be working toward this new project, building our new menu and figuring out new things.”