When Common Ground, the unique café and restaurant in Lower Mills, closed its doors two months ago, customers and fellow merchants were not too alarmed. The Twelve Tribes religious community that has operated the Dot Ave. business for the last 17 years passed word that the shut-down was just a temporary phase as the restaurant underwent renovations.
Over the weekend, though, an ominous sign changed the mood: A “for lease” placard went up on the window of the Common Ground.
On Monday, two members of the Twelve Tribes community confirmed that Common Ground will not re-open. Instead, the group says they are now searching for a new location— possibly in Dorchester— to start a similar café and bakery.
Brian Fenster, who coordinates real estate plans for the Twelve Tribes, said that the group initially planned to convert their current space at 2247 Dorchester Ave. into a Yellow Deli, part of chain of restaurants owned by the Tennessee-based community . The Twelve Tribes group currently operates five Yellow Deli cafes in the United States and is building a sixth location now in Plymouth, MA.
“We don’t own that [Dorchester Ave.] space, we were renting it” said Fenster. “That’s peculiar for us. In most cases, we don’t like a lease situation because we make such significant improvements to the space— and then, to not own it. That is at the root of where we are right now.”
The 4,245 square foot building now occupied by Common Ground is owned by Kevin and Denise Petitti, who lists an address in Readville, MA, according to the City of Boston.
“One of things Yellow Deli needs is more seating and a two story layout,” said Fenster. “We considered whether we could do that amount of construction at Common Ground and that was our original intent, to have a smaller version of The Yellow Deli in that space. We really wanted to do that, but it just wouldn’t work in that space.”
Anthony Paciulli, president and CEO of Meetinghouse Bank, leads the Lower Mills Merchants Association. He says that the loss of Common Ground is a disappointment.
“Clearly, it’s a loss regardless of what goes there next,” said Paciulli. “It was a real nice balance in the village. It was very unique atmosphere as well. They’ve been a welcome addition to the community. I hope they don’t go far.”
In fact, Fenster indicated that the Twelve Tribes community would prefer to find a suitable new home close to the Common Ground site. Many members of their community live within steps of the restaurant and they enjoy a loyal customer base in the neighborhood.
“Thjs is bittersweet for us,” Fenster said. “We have many long, deep relationships here after 17 years.”
“We don’t want to go far from where we’re at and we’re looking around the area to see if we can find a building that would be an interesting, exciting location. That is our hope. There might be other neighborhoods as well. Looking into the future, we always want to grow.”
In the meantime, Fenster agrees that another restaurant would be the ideal fit to replace Common Ground at the corner of Richmond Street and Dot Ave.
“An incoming tenant would end up with phenomenal kitchen space,” Fenster said. “Three years ago, we totally renovated the kitchen and it’s one of most beautiful I’ve ever worked in. It is all naturally lit with sunlight.”
The signature, rough-hewn interior woodwork that gives Common Ground its rustic, cozy will not be part of the deal, however.
“The shanties, barn wood, leather— all of those will go to [a] new location,” Fenster said.
Denise Petitti, the co-owner of the Dorchester Ave. building, said that she hopes to find a tenant “equally as good” as the Common Ground.
“At this point, we’ve spoken to a number of people, but no decisions have been made. But a similar concept would fit in great with the community,” Petitti said.