Garden at the Cellar was a popular Cambridge gastropub–a neighborhood restaurant that sourced from Massachusetts farms and fishermen for a menu that also included tater tots. The restaurant closed suddenly last Tuesday, after failing to negotiate a new agreement with its landlord–not for the rent, but for the liquor.
Garden at the Cellar carried on eight years without earning a drop of revenue from its beer and wine list or its cocktail program. Beverage sales went to the landlord, Stephen Kapsalis, who operates The Cellar bar downstairs and Cellar Wine & Spirits next door. Kapsalis paid the bartenders at Garden at the Cellar, supplied the liquids and reaped 100% of the revenue.
“They are holding the business’s property (food inventory, plates, equipment, computer) and won’t let him retrieve it.”
Any restaurant lucky enough to have a beer and wine license in the Boston area relies on liqour sales to boost its profits. That would be especially critical at a restaurant with a farm-to-table emphasis, where you can’t cut costs by ordering from Sysco.
According to one former manager, Garden at the Cellar shut its doors last Tuesday abruptly after failing to renegotiate that partnership. After that, the relationship between the two parties soured quickly.
“They are holding the business’s property (food inventory, plates, equipment, computer) and won’t let him (Chef/Owner Brandon Arms) retrieve it,” the former manager wrote me in a Twitter DM.
Arms has run Garden at the Cellar since 2011, but his relationship with the restaurant goes back further than that. The original chef-owner, Will Gilson, hired Arms in 2009 as his sous-chef. Wilson’s now the chef-owner at Puritan & Co. in Inman Square.
What Arms will do next is anybody’s guess. According to my source, he was escorted from the restaurant by police when it shut down last Tuesday.
Kapsalis didn’t respond as quickly–but an employee at Cellar Wine & Spirits told me Garden at the Cellar will re-open in a matter of days. Kapsalis may have no choice about that. Cambridge officials do frown upon bars that operate without a food-service program.
In any case, neighboring business owners are catching wind of the story and venting their frustration. “Chef Brandon & Team MADE that place shine while they sucked up liquor profits,” one neighboring shop owner wrote in a Facebook comment. It’s not the first time Kapsalis has clashed with other business owners.
As I detailed in a post earlier Sunday on the restaurant’s closing, Kapsalis is reported to have blocked the liquor-license petition filed by entrepreneurs who would have opened a wine-and-cheese bar nearby.
I’ll update this post if I hear back from him.