Tavern in the Square: Moving to the Fast Track

November 2013

In 2004, the first "upscale casual" Tavern in the Square restaurant opened in Central Square in Cambridge. From there, the company took a steady approach to growth, launching locations in Porter Square, Cambridge in 2006, Salem and Allston in 2009, and Burlington in 2012.

According to Joey Arcari, president and CEO of the group, and a co-founder with partners Stephen DeSousa and Renato Valentin, the expansion has been in keeping with their original plans. "In 2004, we were focused on making sure the first Tavern in the Square was running well," he says. "We didn't want to look too far ahead and take our eyes off the prize, but we did have this type of growth in mind."

After years of steady, measured growth, the team announced plans to shift the company into a decidedly higher gear: They'll be opening four new locations within the next year. The upcoming locations are planned for Boston's South Station; across from North Station in the new Victor apartment building; on Main St. in Northborough; and at The Point, a new shopping center in Littleton.

Striking while the iron is hot

Clearly, the faster-track expansion represents a different approach for the team. So why put the pedal to the metal now? In the past, the group used partner investments and existing profits to grow, which meant having to expand a single unit at a time. "But now we have longevity and a track record, and the sales to back it up," Arcari explains. "Landlords and developers are coming to us with opportunities. It all means we can now use bank financing. Doing it on our own limited us to opening one unit every 18 months or so. The five-year commercial loan and credit lines we've secured from Salem Five will let us launch the first three of our new locations in just nine months. The difference is that the financing gives us the opportunity to grow in a way we hadn't before."

That growth brings its own challenges. Chief among them, notes Arcari, is bringing in the right staff. It's not a small problem, given that the restaurant group's ranks will likely swell from about 600 to 750 by the time all the new locations are open. "There has been such an explosion in the restaurant industry in the past years, and staffing has become ultra-competitive," he adds. The company has had to increase payroll by approximately 20 percent during the last couple of years, as salaries and minimum wages have increased. "We're meeting the talent challenge head-on, by hiring good people as far in advance of the openings as we can," Arcari says.

This current surge doesn't mean that Tavern in the Square restaurants will experience explosive growth. "We saw some opportunities to expand right now, but we'll continue to do so carefully," Arcari states. "For example, we don't plan on franchising, as we want to stay local and because each restaurant has its own, unique feel. I can't tell you how many stores we'll open, but, as owners, we want to stay involved and be there for our customers and our staff. If we get too big, we'll miss that part of it."

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