New café fills a niche on Savin Hill Avenue

Honeycomb Café co-owners Nicole and Lara Miele. Rowan Walrath photo

In the newly opened Honeycomb Café on Monday, Eric Hutchinson’s “OK, It’s Alright With Me” played as a group of women ordered sandwiches. A barista prepared iced coffee and tea for them while they waited. One of the restaurant’s owners, 32-year-old Lara Miele, moved quickly back and forth, speed-slicing red onions, helping a barista navigate orders on a Square-equipped iPad, and talking with customers.

“This is what my house looks like, so this is what my business looks like, too,” Miele said, responding to a woman who had praised the decor.

A sign on the wall declaring, or perhaps demanding, “COFFEE” is displayed proudly on the wall, along with an old license plate, mason jars, and artificial plants. Some real plants sit atop the storefront counters in pots inscribed with “grow” and “buzz.”

The café offers no seating, but two wooden counters at the front of the building provide space for the women to stand and eat their sandwiches. The window looks out onto Savin Hill Avenue, where the restaurant is situated just a few minutes’ walk from the MBTA station.

At the end of Monday’s lunch rush, only three people were working at the café: Miele, Joel Hitchens, and Trevor Brady. As the man behind the counter, Hitchens is the main point of contact for the customers, but the 20-year-old UMass Boston student says that Miele’s standing relationship with her neighbors has given him a leg up. “It’s kind of nice, because Lara already knows a bunch of people, so there’s already a rapport,” he said.

Only a few days old, Honeycomb Café already looks and feels like a neighborhood staple. The employees are from the area: Miele and her wife and co-owner, Nicole, live on Sudan Street. Hitchens skateboards to work. Even pieces of the café — parts of the wood panel separating the customers from the kitchen, and the wooden frame around the menu board — are taken from old houses in Savin Hill, donated by a friend of the Mieles who flips houses.

Miele seemed to know everyone on Monday, stepping out from the kitchen to hug and greet friends and neighbors, and easily conversing with customers even as she moved briskly around the kitchen. She said that the turnout so far has been “awesome. Yesterday was definitely packed,” referring to Sunday’s four-hour breakfast and lunch service. “A lot of friends and family came out to support us, and a lot of neighborhood people also.”

Honeycomb Café is the Mieles’ first business venture. Lara and Nicole, Massachusetts natives and UMass graduates, decided to open the restaurant two years ago, just after they were married. Passionate about food and passionate about Dorchester, they thought a café would be a good mix, Lara said. “My wife and I wanted to bring something like this into the neighborhood,” she added.

They try to bring in locally sourced ingredients, working with local farms and partners, including Chip-in Farm, Union Coffee Roaster, Iggy’s Bread, and North Country Smokehouse. The café’s menu so far boasts options like a 20-ounce iced coffee, a gluten-free cinnamon bun muffin, and salads and sandwiches.

Lara said she wants to keep bringing in local, seasonal items to change up the menu— but not just yet. “I want to expand the menu, but after yesterday, I’m feeling a little like, ‘Whoo!’” she said, laughing. “I would love to feature a seasonal salad once we get the ball rolling.”

For her, the most important aspect of the café is the opportunity to bring people together; not just the customers, but her staff, too. Six people are working at Honeycomb Café — “four baristas and two cooks, and then me,” said Lara, who added that her employees bring helpful insight to the running of the business.

Her greatest hope for Honeycomb Café’s future: bringing in regulars. “[We love] the people coming in and enjoying the food,” she said. “That’s why you do it. You know? It’s definitely a labor of love.”

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