Brookline Booksmith has served as an integral part of Coolidge Corner for over 60 years as an independent and family-owned bookstore. The bookstore has now expanded into the food industry with The Novel Kitchen, offering a place for customers to sit and grab a bite to eat with friends or a good book within its store.
Booksmith’s mission is to “foster community through the written word, represent a diverse range of voices and histories, and inspire conservations that alter and enrich lives,” according to its website. In line with this mission is providing a place for customers to eat and converse.
“The store was approached by the town to consider a restaurant or bar within their establishment,” Julianne Webster, a consultant for The Novel Kitchen, said. “They were encouraged by the Brookline community which was essential since the store is extremely community focused.”
Booksmith prides itself on its commitment to the community, including welcoming customers into the comfort of the store and partnering with book clubs, teachers, librarians, seniors, and local organizations such as BLUEBikes, the Boston Public Library, and the Brookline Arts Center, according to its website.
Brookline Booksmith signed a lease in February 2020 to expand into the neighboring building at 28 Harvard St., which used to be a Verizon store. Since then, the owners have renovated the space and adapted it into an eatery.
The vibrant space is filled with top-selling books, curated gift tables, houseware items, and lively puzzles and games. As customers wander through, they’ll notice that tucked in the back, The Novel Kitchen sign hangs above a cold case along with an inspiring Julia Child quote.
While browsing for books, customers can fuel up on a selection of speciality cheeses, crackers, and beverages as well as sweet treats like cookies and chocolate. All of the food offered is pre-made and ready to eat.
“As their specialty food buyer, I essentially bring in all of these complementary, high-end, hard to find speciality grocery products,” Webster said. “We transformed the space so people now shop the area as part of an inclusive experience.”
The store works with a small number of distributors, including Provisions International Ltd. located in Vermont for various perishable goods, and Baldor to source locally made drinks, Webster said.
Webster said the original plan was for The Novel Kitchen to function as a cafe during the day and a bar at night. Within the bookstore, Webster said the space would provide sit-down meals to customers throughout the day and custom cocktails, wine, and charcuterie at night.
“We also intend to use the space for events as well,” Webster said. “Integrating the bookstore with the cafe and restaurant, we hope to host author tours and signings in the space, with customers not only attending for the event, but [also] the food and drinks.”
Once the new reality of the pandemic set in, however, the open restaurant and bar plans were set aside and a new concept emerged, Webster said. These original plans for the opening of The Novel Kitchen as a cafe and bar were adjusted to accommodate the needs and comfort of the community as a result of the pandemic, according to Webster.
“When COVID hit, we had already taken over the new space for dining and needed to figure out how to make the space useful,” Webster said. “Brookline Booksmith is so deeply rooted in tradition, and people find solace here, but many customers were unwilling to and fearful of wandering in the bookstore while others had their masks off eating.”
As Booksmith moves forward with implementing its original plan for the space, Webster said that elements from the current set up will be incorporated into the new space, combining the retail cookbook section with an expanded dining area.
Webster said it is still unclear whether the original concept will debut this September or be delayed until 2022. This depends on COVID-19 restrictions and the store’s ability to secure partnerships with local restaurants to bring in a wider food selection.
“If people haven’t been in since the renovation, we have constantly rotating themed displays and new product lines based on the cookbooks being promoted,” Webster said. “Wander around the new space and get a sense of it with the prospect and possibility of more to come.”
Featured Image by Olivia Vukelic / Heights Staff