By Lauren Diggen.
During the pandemic, the restaurant industry has seen a steep downward trend, with falling revenue a best-case scenario for many eateries. In September, CBS Boston reported that, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, 20% of all Massachusetts restaurants had permanently closed. Sadly, many more restaurants have closed since last fall. However, despite this unwelcoming outlook, some new restaurants have decided to buck the trend and open during the pandemic.
Here is a look at four new spots around the South Shore and South Coast that have safely braved the economic environment to offer area residents tasty food and tantalize their palates. While the owners’ stories differ, their collective ambitions and dreams are inspiring; and these new beginnings give us hope.
Lady C&J Café in Brockton
Offering Food for the Soul, and the Community
Cynthia Hodges has been in the catering business for more than 20 years and has owned her company, Lady C&J Soulfood, together with her husband James since 2010. In 2012, Cynthia opened a soul food restaurant in Brockton, but after a fire in the building a few years later, she decided to stick with catering out of her commissary kitchen. She didn’t miss the long hours and challenging work that is typical of the restaurant industry.
Then along came Mike Lambert, an administrator with Brockton Area Transit (BAT). He was looking for someone to open a coffee shop in a small space at the BAT bus station in downtown Brockton. Mike asked Cynthia to open a cafe there. Initially, she said no, but Mike kept asking, month after month. After she finally agreed to look at the space, Cynthia reluctantly said she’d give it a try. Even after saying yes, Cynthia was skeptical about opening during a pandemic. Her own business had been slow and Brockton was a high-risk area for the virus.
During the pandemic, Cynthia had been making and delivering free lunches to local first responders and health care workers with donations and help from area businesses, churches, and other local groups. Cynthia finally decided to go ahead with the cafe. “If I could do more than 5,300 packaged lunches safely, I felt I could beat the challenges and successfully open a coffee shop,” explained Cynthia.
Lady C&J Cafe officially opened in November. The cafe is counter service only, for now. Even so, Cynthia incurred added costs due to the pandemic from the cleaning and sanitizing of supplies, extra food packaging, and shield guards. At the time of this writing, the inside of the bus station was closed, and Cynthia served customers through a convenient and safe outside walk-up window.
Cynthia wanted to offer food that was different from the usual coffee shop fare. For breakfast, the menu includes a biscuit with sausage gravy and egg and cheese sandwiches with sausage, ham, or bacon on biscuits or croissants. Cynthia’s biscuits and croissants are both in high demand. Muffins and pastries round out the breakfast menu.
The lunch menu offers sandwiches like chicken salad, BLT, ham, and turkey, as well as hot dogs. Soups include chicken noodle, minestrone, and clam chowder. Side items are mac and cheese, rice & beans, beef empanada, and beef patty. The beef patties are a Haitian and Jamaican dish that Cynthia learned to make as a caterer.
The chicken salad sandwich, turkey sandwich, and chicken noodle soup are customer favorites for lunch. There are also daily specials, including a pulled pork sandwich, ribs, fried chicken, and chicken Philly cheesesteak egg rolls. The specials are always a hit. Cynthia plans to add ice cream for the summer.
Note: Lady C&J Cafe is currently serving a limited menu until allowed to fully open by the state. At that point, their full soul food menu will be featured. For now, see their specials for their unique options.
Lady C&J Café
10 Commercial Street
Brockton, MA 02302