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Micro-chain restaurants going viral

There seems to be a rash expansion of local eateries that have had a single location for years. The "Upper Crust" syndrome has hit Lyndell's (Somerville (defunct?), North End, Belmont), and Comella's 9 (!) locations, 8 of which are new in the last two years. It seems like an odd time to be expanding so crazily. Are these people hoping to "go national" and become the next Boston Chicken or Bertuccis?

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Bertuccis Restaurant
6 Plaza Way, Plymouth, MA 02360

Comella's
1302 Washington St, Newton, MA 02465

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  1. You scared me with that "(defunct?)", so I took to the Intertubes:

    The Ball Sq. Lyndell's is alive and well, and having a 123rd anniversary celebration on Dec. 1. I don't know how far they're planning to expand -- you didn't mention the Cambridge locaton -- but they also bought a wholesale operation in Malden. (Info courtesy of Wicked Local.)

    I hope they're not trying to be the next Boston Chicken/Market, but I imagine they can handle a few locations without turning into Dunkin'.

    I know my niece would be crushed if the original went away; she often rhapsodizes over their half-moons, and makes a stop whenever she gets anywhere close to Somerville.

    Speaking of which, I haven't had any half-moons myself in a while.... (Or, as my family called 'em when I was a kid: Dropcakes!)

    2 Replies
    1. re: brandywiner

      Interesting you used the analogy of Dunkin. I remember a Globe article several years ago about the new owner. He also owned several Dunkin franchises but wanted to maintain Lyndell's as a strong neighborhood bakery.

      1. re: chuck s

        I can only judge by the relatively new Cambridge location, but I would call it a weak neighborhood bakery. We have only stopped in twice and found everything pretty average and unremarkable.

    2. They may be taking advantage of the good supply of empty storefronts and I am assuming lower rents. It actually may be a good time to expand and be in place for the uptick.

      7 Replies
      1. re: pemma

        Yes, but I fear for places like Comellas

        1. They are expanding VERY fast. Over the years I have watched a lot of chains do that and then die abruptly. There are many reasons for this, such as not being able to maintain quality/consistancy of staff or product, corporate structure for a small company not being able to manage a larger chain (and unwilling to make the required organizational or management changes), saturation of the market...

        2. Sometimes growth requires change that requires more growth. For example, a single restaurant probably cooks the food in-house; but at some point a chain will switch to a central commissary to be more cost-efficient. To make that investment really pay off (and do so faster), the chain may need to open more locations. See #1 above for the implications...

        In the case of Comellas, I really wonder about them. First, there are the dangers of their breakneck speed expansion. Then, to make it worse, they already have muscular competition. They are going after the same market as Olive Garden - inexpensive family dining with a focus on Italian-American food. So their niche is towns/neighborhoods that are not served by Olive Garden... yet. At some point Olive Garden will move into those areas and then what? Maybe the owners of Comellas are hoping that OG will buy them out.

        1. re: PinchOfSalt

          I tried them when they moved into Coolidge Corner. Ugh. If I had known they were on a par with OG, I never would've bothered.

          1. re: CookieLee

            It's like OG only that they are both Italian, and there is more than one location for each.

            OG's are large, in malls or parking lots of malls. Comellas are in town centers, near transportation for easy dinner pick up, and are under 400 square feet. There is no comparison between these chains. OG would have zero interest in them.

            Comellas' food is made from ingredients, not from a plastic bag, and the ingredients seem to be of a decent quality.

            It's an excellent neighborhoody place for a quick, affordable meal. And their pizzas are wicked cheap and quite tasty.

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            Comella's
            1302 Washington St, Newton, MA 02465

            1. re: L2k

              The one slated for Belmont Center is a lot bigger than 400 square feet. It is in a location that is double the size of most of the neighboring shops. I would be very surprised if there were not a fair number of tables for in-restaurant dining.

              Now, this is NOT a snide remark - but how do you know what ingredients that Comella's uses? Do you know someone who works there? Given their menu and price point, their central kitchen may make their own tomato sauce, for example, but it would be astounding if they did not start it with something out of a can.

          2. re: PinchOfSalt

            I have never been to a Commella's, but I don't see them as being in competition with Olive Garden. I see them as being more a take-out operation and competing more with local pizza and sub shops, but with more of an emphasis on pasta, which is an interesting niche. Still, as i commented in another thread, I find the whole idea of a "mess" of pasta very unappealing. But, you are right, rapid expansion can be dangerous, if not planned and financed well.

            1. re: pemma

              Yes, they do a decent takeout business, and their pizzas are ridiculously cheap ($5 for a large plain cheese, that's not bad). I think I heard that the one behind the rapid expansion is a younger family member, just out of an MBA program (pretty sure I heard the same thing about Lyndell's).

            2. re: PinchOfSalt

              There's a Comella's coming to Arlington as well.

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              Comella's
              1302 Washington St, Newton, MA 02465

          3. Boston Chicken was started with the idea that it would become a chain. I believe Joey Crugnale started Bertucci's with the same idea.

            It isn't an odd time to expand. While about 1/3 of small businesses report sales as their main problem, that means 2/3 don't, which presumably means they're doing ok. The depth of the recession shows in that 1/3 number because that is over 3 times normal, meaning 3 times as many businesses as normal are worried about sales.

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            Bertuccis Restaurant
            6 Plaza Way, Plymouth, MA 02360

            1. There is often very little income coming from a single location. One store might pay the bills, but it's not sending the kids to college.

              1. The Somerville Lyndell's is most definitely not defunct. I bike or drive by it every day and it's definitely open.