BOSTON — Historic Boston Inc., the nonprofit preservation organization, the restaurant Comfort Kitchen, and the Upham’s Corner community joined Boston Mayor Michelle Wu at noon Monday to celebrate restoration of the old and a grand opening of the new, as they snipped the ribbon on the revitalized former MBTA trolley system Comfort Station and the new occupant, Comfort Kitchen.
Historic Boston purchased, re-envisioned, and oversaw redevelopment of the abandoned structure at 611 Columbia Rd. in Dorchester into the Comfort Kitchen restaurant, which has been serving a growing number of customers for breakfast, lunch and dinner since an initial opening earlier this year.
“Historic Boston’s objective was to preserve and reuse a local historic building, support an entrepreneur, and help to strengthen the Upham’s Corner commercial district,” said Kathy Kottaridis, Executive Director of Historic Boston, Inc. “This project checks all those boxes besides just being a great new place to eat.”
Comfort Kitchen is owned and operated by local food entrepreneurs Biplaw Rai and Nyacko Pearl Perry of Dorchester alongside chef partner Kwasi Kwaa and branding partner Rita Ferreira, who joined Historic Boston in 2019, as the Comfort Station renovation process got under way, committing to install a neighborhood restaurant at the Columbia Road historic site.
“The Upham’s Corner Comfort Station blends our rich past with opportunity — for small business growth, for stronger neighborhoods, and for a healthier future for our city,” said Wu. “I want to congratulate Historic Boston for this achievement and encourage everyone to come and enjoy the flavors of Comfort Kitchen.”
The crowd of more than 200 mingled in the new restaurant space and sampled fare from a creative menu drawn from cultures around the world.
Rai, a Dorchester resident, was co-founder of Dudley Café in Roxbury. Focusing on food justice and sustainability, he also sits on the board of directors of Commonwealth Kitchen, a collaborative community providing kitchens with business assistance. Perry, Rai’s spouse, is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant and coach.
Kwaa launched the Chop Bar pop-up in 2016 with now Chef de Cuisine Shelley Nason to explore global street fare. It was hosted in multiple restaurants in Boston, including Dudley Cafe in Roxbury, where Rai and Kwaa again crossed paths after working together at Hi-Rise Cafe & Bakery.
Ferreira is a designer and art director with over a decade of brand design experience. Her portfolio includes work for hospitality, real estate, cultural, and nonprofit organizations.
While the opening date was delayed due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team took the extended timeline as an opportunity to refine their menu, business strategy and began sharing their food and story through pop-ups and other collaborations around the city of Boston and beyond from 2020 to 2022.
Since opening in January 2023, Comfort Kitchen has received terrific review from guests and local media alike. It operates as a cafe by day and restaurant by night with a full bar. The menu is a celebration of the ingredients and flavors of the African diaspora — global comfort food — connected from Asia to the Americas. Comfort Kitchen is proud to be a Black-owned, immigrant-owned, and woman-owned business.
The leadership team also includes Kyisha Davenport, Bar Director and General Manager. Davenport is an acclaimed mixologist and community activist. Nason brings 10-plus years of experience working in catering and fine-dining restaurants.
With this collaboration, Comfort Kitchen was created as a place for the local community, fair employment for nearly 20 people and locally sourced food in order to fulfill that commitment. “We use food as a mechanism for building community,” said Perry.
The neglected and dilapidated 1912 Comfort Station building underwent a $1.9 million renovation after HBI obtained the property from a competitive selection process with the City of Boston, and launched the project in 2015.
“The new Comfort Kitchen continues our goals of introducing a locally owned enterprise with focus on healthy, locally sourced food to the Upham’s Corner neighborhood,” Kottaridis said.
The Upham’s Corner Comfort Station historically served Boston’s streetcar system and is near the MBTA’s Fairmount commuter rail line, as well as being within the City of Boston’s Upham’s Corner Main Street District.
The Comfort Station is a one-story stucco and tile “mission style” building, constructed in 1912 as a convenience station to support the expanding streetcar system in Boston. It was designed by Dorchester architect William H. Besarick, who also designed the nearby municipal building at the corner of Columbia Road and Bird Street, as well as many triple-decker residences in the area.
The Comfort Station lies on what was once part of the Dorchester North Burying Ground, and is listed in the State and National Register of Historic Places and within the cemetery’s Boston Landmark designation.
“Rehabilitation of the Comfort Station helps tell the story of the City of Boston’s 19th century expansion and the Dorchester neighborhood’s urbanization and related transportation growth into the 20th century,” said Kottaridis. “The building is a remnant of a time of growth and transportation innovation, and its rehabilitation and reuse will help to preserve and express that story.”
Kottaridis said the renovation and reuse not only preserve a historic building but also support and advance the work of a locally owned business that will enhance the overall Upham’s Corner business district.
Charitable fundraising totaling $1.3 million were raised by Historic Boston and Comfort Kitchen, including a $365,000 grant from City of Boston Community Preservation funds helped to make this unusual rehabilitation project possible
Historic Boston Inc. deployed $176,000 in proceeds from the sale of Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Historic Boston also secured permanent debt of $250,000 from the Architectural Heritage Foundation The loan is one of several Boston-based community projects benefitting from proceeds of AHF’s sale of Boston’s Old City Hall with favorable loan terms.
The architects for the development was Utile, Inc. Architecture + Planning and Supernormal. The contractor was MJ Mawn, Inc.