In the uncertainty around the 2020 pandemic, our eyes pointed to some of our favorite long-lasting businesses in Brighton. Before any business aid or workers
relief came to the surface, the future of some of these locally-owned neighborhood hotspots was unclear. And it was heartbreaking to hear that Cafenation,
a Brighton mainstay since 2003, would be closing indefinitely at the end of March.
As businesses began to re-open in person as part of Massachusetts’ phase 2 reopening, many a Brightonite cast a hopeful eye on the Washington Street spot, which stayed dark and empty. It seemed it was the end for Cafenation, like so many beloved businesses in the Boston area. But behind the scenes, a new chapter for Cafenation was unfolding.
Caitlin Ryan, who was scouting to open a cafe in Oak Square, was introduced to Cafenation’s original owner Alvin a short while into quarantine. She saw the opportunity to “rescue” Cafenation and seized it.
As a former customer and neighbor to Cafenation, Caitlin saw the opportunity to take what Alvin had built—knowing how important it was to the community—and put her own stamp on it. She assured Alvin he’d be leaving the business in the hands of someone who cared. So Caitlin worked with him to secure the cafe and began working on revitalizing it, including gathering personal loans from folks in her network.
“That was the wind in my sails,” she says, “to know people really wanted it if they were willing to give resources. That was special. Significant.”
Once the deal was set at the end of July, she set up a GoFundMe to cover some of the initial costs, including renovations and repairs, improvements in decor and design, and other operational costs. The GoFundMe priced out incentives based on local references, like a $57 “Bus Route Special,” granting the contributor a free bagel and cream cheese with coffee. Larger patrons could partake in the $02,135 “Brighton Zip Code” special for either one after-hours venue rental OR free drip/iced coffee for one year.
And Caitlin made her mission with Cafenation clear on the GoFundMe page: “It's been a dream of mine to own a business and provide a place of connection for people, in a city prone to feeling transient,” she says. “My desire is to cultivate a space for people to share life, where customers feel they have ownership and a place they can use in many capacities - whether it be social, professional, or for after-hours entertainment to find a place of community and creativity.”
Caitlin has lived in Boston for 15 years, and has stuck around in Brighton both in her work and her community at Antioch Community Church. Caitlin’s church family is dedicated to giving back to the community, and she hopes to continue that work through Cafenation. This was clear this holiday season, as Cafenation guests were given the opportunity to “gift” menu items to neighbors by purchasing them in advance. And the cafe’s Christmas tree was adorned with wishlist items and different opportunities to give to local nonprofits.
Moving forward, she sees Cafenation continuing to be a go-to and serving as a community space. This includes opportunities to use the cafe space after hours once Covid restrictions are lessened, focusing on questions like: How do we serve our neighbors, be a part of our community, and know their needs?
“I’ve been tracking Twelve Hours and how they feed people and do fun things,” she says. “And I’m starting to think: how do we build that into our business model to have more straight-up giving opportunities? Or building up our customer base as a vehicle for blessing other people and thinking creatively: how can we help facilitate other people giving forward in the community?”
She and the rest of the Cafenation staff are trying to be creative and pull people into what they value in the day-to-day. This drive, paired with Cafenation’s resilience, highlights the nature of community we’ve seen over and over in Brighton over the past year.
“Even though it’s weird to open a business in the middle of a pandemic, there’s this built in perspective that we and other people have, that it’s a bad time,” Caitlin says. “People really do want to be generous and are figuring out new creative ways to do that. People want these opportunities to give.”
If this story inspires you, keep this power of 10 going and show your support by giving $10. Your $10 may not feel like a big deal, but when combine with 10 of your friends and neighbor’s who join you to give $10, that starts to make an exponentially bigger impact. By working together we can do more than any of us can do alone. That’s the Power of 10.
Looking for more inspiration? Read more Power of 10 stories.