DeLuca’s Market’s plans to offer table service that would include serving beer and wine at its Charles Street location were met with strong opposition during a city-sponsored meeting held virtually on July 14, where many of the around 25 abutters and neighbors in attendance objected to the proposal based on the long history of violations and complaints against the longstanding family business.
Virgil Aiello, owner of the market at 11 Charles St., which currently has an all-alcohol “off-premises” license, said the business is seeking an “on premises” beer-and-wine license that would allow them to offer these beverages, along with prepared foods, to a total of 20 patrons seated at a few tables located near the existing self-serve coffee machines on the right-hand side of the store when facing the building.
For the table service, DeLuca’s would have a very limited menu focusing largely on the specialty cheeses, sandwiches, and charcuterie boards that the market already sells, said Aiello, while two current employees would expand their duties to also work as servers, as well as to ensure that tables are bused in a timely manner after patrons have finished and left. The proposed hours of operation for the table service would be noon to 9 p.m. daily, he added.
“We’ve been here for over 100 years and have evolved over time, and at this point in time, we’d like to offer an additional service to customers, that is to serve them a glass of beer or wine with their food,” said Aiello. “We’re not attempting to be a full-service restaurant. We’re just serving sandwiches and prepared food, cheese, and charcuterie.”
The on-site store manager, who would be Aiello himself most days, he said, would also manage the table-service operations. Aiello’s two daughters also both plan to join him soon to help him run the business, he added.
Aiello said he believes that the market currently has sufficient refrigerator space to accommodate the proposed expanded operation, since the beer wouldn’t require much space, while the wine would need to kelp cool but not refrigerated.
Asked about the plan to offer charcuterie products on its menu despite the recent opening of Kured, a business devoted solely to charcuterie at 83 Charles St., Aiello responded that the market has already been selling charcuterie boards for some time now, and that DeLuca’s welcomes the competition.
Meanwhile, Aiello said he has received permission from the city to set up two tables on the sidewalk outside the market, and if his pending application is approved, table service would be offered there as well.
After hearing Aiello make his case for expanding the market’s services, Brad Malt, a 42-year resident of Beacon Hill, said, “Virgil, I’m sorry to say, but there is no business on Charles Street, I would less like to see with a liquor license than DeLuca’s.”
Among the reasons why Malt said he is opposed to DeLuca’s plans are the “decrepit” building on Charles Street that is home to the market, along with the business’s history of illegally storing trash, the rubbish and debris that commonly litters its sidewalk, and a truck reportedly owned by the business that’s regularly parked illegally outside the store.
Additionally, the market, which has frequent employee turnover, said Malt, previously sold food products past their expiration dates and improperly stored wine.
“I and everyone I know is strongly opposed to this,” Malt said of DeLuca’s latest plan.
Gordon Burnes, an abutter, was among those to echo Malt’s sentiments, saying he believes the city should oppose the application “because the business can’t be trusted.”
Charles River Square resident Diana Coldren expressed concern that Aiello’s proposal lacked detail, including a plan for trash pick-up, as well as a seating diagram.
“There are no details to your plan,” said Coldren. “I would oppose it without more information.”
Aiello agreed to meet with the Beacon Hill Civic Association and provide them with a seating diagram, as well as sample menu, at the request of Keeta Gilmore, a longtime board member and former chair and president of the organization.
Meghan Awe, president of the Civic Association, also indicated that any good neighbor agreement between the organization and the market would likely stipulate that beer and wine only be served with food during table service.
Joan Doucette of Mount Vernon Street was the only attendee at the meeting to express her support for the proposal and said she believes that Aiello has continually faced unfair criticism, as well unnecessary resistance, every time he has tried to expand the market’s operations.
“Neighbors have always been unneighborly to DeLuca’s, and I don’t think there’s any need for it,” she said. “I don’t think neighbors should have control over a business.”
Doucette added that DeLuca’s has consistently served the community throughout the pandemic, and as the city recovers from this public health crisis, it now needs to do everything it can to help all businesses on Charles Street, including DeLuca’s, recover.
“We have all these empty storefronts on Charles Street, and we need these businesses open,” Doucette said.
Margaux Bolte, a seven-year resident of Beacon Hill, also wrote a letter to the city in support of the DeLuca’s plan.
“I’m delighted that an establishment with rich, local history would take on a new initiative to offer more to the community and expand the scope of their operations,” Bolte’s letter read in part. “In fact, it seems like a very natural complement to their existing services. I believe this new venture would continue to add to the vibrant culture that is Beacon Hill’s Charles Street, without disrupting the neighborhood, and give people – residents, customers and visitors alike – a refreshed place of interest.”
Despite the support for the plan from Bolte and Doucette, George Huynh of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services, which sponsored the meeting, said based on the strong opposition voiced there, in addition to the numerous letters against the proposal they have received, the city would likely schedule another abutters meeting to further explore the matter.
The public can submit their comments on DeLuca’s plan to George Huynh via email at [email protected]