Leslie University indicated last year that there will be major changes to the University Hall building in Porter Square, and what that means is starting to come into focus with the news that the famous Asian Food Hall will be relocating.
The eight restaurants won’t go far – you’re going to anchor in the same building as 1815 Massachusetts Ave. once occupied by Shaking Crab Restaurant. Filling in that prominent corner spot leaves the central portion of the former Sears Building, now owned by the university, open for new, unnamed use.
The restaurateurs said this week that they were not approached by the university itself – an official plan is expected to be announced in September – but were visited by Leslie’s designers who made it clear they would move into the corner space. “We were confused. They haven’t told us for a long time,” one restaurant owner said on Monday.
The square footage of the Shaking Crab, as shown in the building manual and indicated by the restaurateur, is sufficient space for Cafe Mami; Chocho’s, a Korean restaurant; I Love Sushi Bar; Sapporo Ramen Tambobo. Utopia mini mart and bubble tea shop; Yom Ja Arocara and Itokyo Restaurant.
While the Porter Exchange food court has been a hidden gem for nearly 30 years, the former Shaking Crab space means more street presence and instant access from the pier near Porter Square.
Shaking Crab, a small seafood chain with locations in Newton and Quincy as well as in New York City, replaced a pub at the Square location in 2017. It closed in the final months of the pandemic lockdown after being open for dining all the time and is now closed for more than a year Part of a chain of closed businesses along 1815 Massachusetts Ave. Which includes Bourbon Coffee, Webster Bank and Partners Urgent Care Clinic. A Planet Fitness office and all ophthalmologists remain open.
Jean Devereux, the school’s head of communications and marketing and director of government relations, said Cabinet members Leslie who manage the University Hall remodeling project are absent this week. Ruth Reales, president of the Porter Square Neighbors Association, said she knows what Leslie had planned for an empty ground floor of the university hall.
In October, the school said it plans to rebuild its three campuses in Cambridge over the next five years, sell properties and renovate buildings with a team of architects, designers and property professionals after meeting with community groups. One of the main goals was to give the main university hall a stronger sense of identity as the property of the school.
“There have to be the kinds of connected experiences that let you know you’re in Leslie,” said Janet L. Steinmeier, Leslie’s boss at the time. “When you enter the University Hall, you should feel like you’ve arrived at Leslie. The only thing that tells you you’re in Leslie is the ladder.”