August 5, 2020 by Mona K. Pohl on behalf of the Hingham Downtown Association, HDA (images provided by Lynn Barclay, Executive Director of the HDA).
Second article in a Series on how Downtown Businesses are Striving to Thrive
If you’re craving a burger, seeking a creative fusion-inspired main course, needing a fresh salad, lunch-to-go, or a charcuterie board for a small gathering, downtown Hingham can satisfy and likely surpass your expectations.
When all you can think about for your WFH lunch or family dinner is something other than what’s in your fridge, Bloomy Rind, Brewed Awakenings, The Snug, and Square Cafe have you covered. For social distance book group -- social distance anything -- you can take out or meet up in Downtown for a cold, crisp beer, refreshing cocktail or mocktail and enjoy a delicious meal, while sitting al fresco. Even the phrase makes eating outside sound cooler, literally and figuratively.
The restaurants downtown have been working tirelessly to feed the Hingham community over the last several months through take-out and curbside, and they are working even harder to welcome everyone back to dining safely and enjoyably at their respective locations. With approved outside seating, the already beautiful Downtown scene is even more enticing. It’s like being transported to France or Italy, where you can eat outside just about anywhere and enjoy people watching or take in our town from a different vantage point.
Each restaurant has its own personality and every local has a distinct favorite. You’ll often hear someone speak dreamily about the carrot hummus and Ruben -- in addition to the glorious cheeses -- at Bloomy Rind, the Snug’s signature steak tips and burgers with a “perfect pint”, Square Café’s hard-to-pass-up crispy Brussel sprouts and other-wordly chili seared yellow noodles, and Brewed Awakening’s array of coffees and teas, made-to-order wraps, and plethora of homemade baked goods.
The owners and chefs might not be famous, but their backstories -- the passion that got them started and keeps them going through this very challenging time—are just as noteworthy. Each is invested, heart and soul, in serving our community and making the day a little easier and more pleasurable, be it for a celebration, a respite from the endless days of home cooking, or just because it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday and they want to share a great new riff on a recipe or showcase the glorious summer produce.
Owners of Bloomy Rind, Brewed Awakenings, The Snug, and Square Café graciously gave up some of their very busy schedules to share their inspirations and perspectives.
“Bloomy Rind is not only a fromagerie, but also an artisanal kitchen. We strongly believe in local sourcing of ingredients and providing the community with fresh innovative foods and service,” said Mary Sullivan Gonsalves, co-owner and fromagere.
Located in Hingham Square, Bloomy Rind has been in business for ten years. Owners Mary Sullivan Gonsalves and Chef Robert Gonsalves live in town and always dreamed of opening a local shop. “We believe this provides a great lifestyle and a chance to meet others in the community. It’s such a pleasure to have a business in the historic downtown. It’s very Americana and there are not many places like this anymore. We are really lucky to have such loyal customers, who enjoy the downtown area as much as we do. There is a lot of pride in our town.”
Celebrating their tenth anniversary in business looked quite different than they envisioned. This time brought disappointing distance from customers and quick strategic planning to start up Bloomy Home Service, where customers pre-order, pay and set up a pick-up time. It worked so well, it has now been integrated into the business moving forward.
Mary explained, “The biggest adjustment this year has been the interaction with our customers. We are a very intimate shop in this community and not being able to talk with people and ask how they are coping has been difficult.”
Looking ahead about what Downtown will be like in the near-term, she remarked, “I think Downtown will remain quiet for the next few months as people will travel on mini vacations and once school begins, people will start to flow back into routines again.”
Thinking about the impact of community, particularly during these complicated times, Mary shared a thought that would resonate with just about everyone in town: “The most cherished memories are the businesses that you grew up in and around and still today provide you with nostalgia and warm memories.”
Walk by Brewed Awakenings between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. and you’ll be captivated by the incredible aroma of something delicious baking. You’re not still asleep and dreaming. It’s John Belles, the baker and owner along with his wife of 30 years, Helen, working his magic. The next time you enjoy, with delirium, a flakey croissant adorned with delicately slivered almonds and dusted with cinnamon and sugar, a scone dappled with blueberries, a perfectly balanced sweet/tart muffin top filled with cranberries, and the soft chewy bread on your sandwich, know it was made with the passion and dedication of John and the baker that has worked alongside him even before Brewed Awakenings opened 20 years ago.
Duck into the cozy, quaint environment at Brewed Awakenings and it’s easy to linger for quite a while, sipping on a coffee or tea and nibbling on whatever calls to you from the brightly lit cases. If it’s breakfast, you can start the day with many locals’ favorite egg and cheese sandwich (prepared with fresh, not frozen eggs). Moving onto lunch, there are a variety of fresh sandwiches made to order, late afternoon treats await with a caffeinated or decaf refresher, and an early dinner is always an option.
People often find Brewed Awakenings so pleasant and welcoming, they stay all day and use it as a satellite office or a remote living room. This is part of what owner Helen Belles loves about her business, but COVID has caused that to change dramatically.
“We are dealing with a very concerning situation and we just want to make sure we help get everyone through this safely,” explained Helen. “We are very grateful to our customers who continue to support our business and for being patient and understanding. We know it’s uncomfortable to wear a mask in warm weather while waiting for orders. Our dedicated staff works very hard to serve everyone in the most efficient, attentive manner and give them consistently fresh product. We’re fortunate the appreciation goes both ways with our staff and customers.”
Recently, the town of Hingham gave Brewed Awakenings approval to set tables out in front. This offers a comfortable place for customers to wait for their orders. “Though our business isn’t back to half of what it usually is, we don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way by having them sit inside, even with tables six feet apart, because some people tend to sit here for a long time. We need to be very cautious with every step we take. We are very grateful to everyone in the Selectmen’s and Zoning offices for helping us get the special permit for the outdoor seating. This effort reminded us we take nothing for granted.”
When asked how she envisions downtown Hingham in the next few months, Helen said, “Hingham will always shine because of the people, how they take care of the town and the unity of people to keep it safe. Also, where can you go and have all this history and, unlike in large malls, find the little shops we have that always carry something unique that isn’t mass produced. I don’t think Hingham needs to worry about going downhill. It will always hold its charm and people know that. We love Hingham and couldn’t fathom being anywhere else.”
A Hingham fixture for seventeen years, the Snug is a family style restaurant and pub known for its award-winning steak tips, being a beloved gathering place to grab a beer and hear traditional Irish music, classic rock and acoustic, and sometimes for special guest appearances from a bride and groom behind the bar after their wedding at St. Paul’s.
Snug Owner Ed Brown and his wife Ellen, Hingham native and owner of Hingham Greenery, were big skiers and had planned to open an Irish pub in Vermont. An opportunity to purchase a business in Hingham came up and they took it because they knew the community was so supportive of local establishments.
“Hingham is an exceptional place, the diamond of the South Shore -- also known among friends here at the Snug as the Emerald City,” said Ed. “The outpouring of support from our community and the demonstration of loyalty from our longtime customers during this time has been very encouraging. They have consistently come down for takeout and called for deliveries. We are now open for outdoor seating and look forward to having everyone join us for lunch Thursday through Sunday and dinner every day from 4:00 p.m. on the tunnel cap patio directly behind our building.”
Ed and his staff took advantage of the hiatus to evaluate the business and make some permanent changes such as renovating guest bathrooms, installing a new floor, painting the interior, upgrading refrigeration, and refinishing tables. “We made lemonade out of lemons and took advantage of the time.”
“Most of my staff has been with me for 10-12 years. Maria Malpha has been here for 17 years -- since the beginning. She runs day-to-day operations, is in tune to what we had to do operate in a different environment, and was key in getting acquainted with new rules, regulations and protocols and making sure they were followed.”
He added, “Having seasoned staff helped quite a bit. They all stepped up to the plate to accommodate just takeout. Everyone in this business has had to sharpen their game a little. Now we have to be more efficient from an operational standpoint and adjust to our new hours.”
When asked what downtown Hingham will look like over the next few months, Ed commented, “We’ll see some turnover of some businesses, but there will be new people moving in. The new Lincoln building will have new residents and the old Settles Glass building is a big improvement. People I’ve spoken to in in the restaurant community see this as sustainable and their businesses are strong. At the same time, the new businesses will bring new ideas and fresh faces. Rolling into fall, I’m hoping to see promising movement toward a COVID vaccine, which will lead to more normalcy and routine in people’s lives.”
“Everyone is cautiously optimistic. Let’s look at the positive and remember we live in a great community, which helps keep everyone working together toward success.”
The Square Café, owned by Carol Hamza and Luke Draheim, is a much-adored destination for locals and visitors to the Hingham community. Defining their food as a modern interpretation of American and European classics, Square, as it is often referred to, offers both creative and relied upon menu staples that evoke lengthy discussions about how delicious they are and instill comradery surrounding certain favorites. It’s common to hear enthusiastic talk about their crispy hot and sour calamari, roasted beet and arugula salad, Thai Spiced Maine Mussels, Molten Lava Cake -- in addition to the items mentioned earlier.
Of late, the already charming exterior of Square Café turns passerby’s heads with tables in front of the long café windows, attractive planters and its proximity to Le Petite Maison’s beautifully adorned windows.
A go-to for celebratory lunches and dinners, Square Cafe often makes just going out feel like a celebration with its chic casual ambiance, creative dishes and enticing cocktails. Throughout the last several months, co-owners Carol and Luke have remained laser-focused on the quality of their food, service and the community.
“We purchased Square Café (established in 2001) almost a year ago because we love the customers and the beautiful location in and surrounding the heart of downtown Hingham,” said Carol. “The uncertainty of this time has presented challenges, but the overwhelming support of our customers along with the hard work, team mentality and dedication of our staff has carried us through.”
“This period of time has demonstrated Downtown is and will continue to be a very desirable destination for residents and visitors.”