Tasty Sandwich Shop
|Tasty Sandwich Shop|
The Tasty, 1985
|Street address||2a JFK Street|
The Tasty Sandwich Shop, sometimes referred to as “The Tasty”, was located near the intersection of JFK Street and Brattle Street, at the center of Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. It was housed in the Read Block building, which was the site of the home of colonial poet Anne Bradstreet. The Tasty closed in 1997, after 81 years in business, and was later replaced by the chain stores Abercrombie & Fitch and Pacific Sunwear, then Citizens Bank and, the current occupant, a CVS Pharmacy.
The Tasty was a tiny one-room diner and lunch counter, its customer area no more than seven feet wide and thirty feet deep, with a narrow counter made of yellow linoleum. A Harvard Business School student once deemed it “the most profitable restaurant in New England per sq ft“, at 210 sq ft (20 m2). The Tasty had fourteen stools. On busy nights it would be crammed with 60-80 people (from actual head counts) at a time. On these nights between 300–400 of these burgers were served between the hours of midnight and 4.00 AM.
A large map, studded with pins, covered the back wall of the diner and claimed to pinpoint the origins of postcards from customers over the years. In keeping with the informal atmosphere of the diner — where the cooks, including Tom Sweet, who managed The Tasty on the graveyard shift until the summer of 1976, and chef Charlie Coney — were sometimes compared to bartenders and frequently chatted with customers.
By the end of its existence it attracted both long-time residents and, by virtue both of its proximity to Harvard Yard and its late opening hours, numerous students from Harvard University, and had become one of the few places where students and residents, and residents from different social and economic classes, mixed informally. According to one historian, “you could sit next to a professor on your left, and a homeless person on your right.”
The Tasty was often referred to in the press as a “local landmark” or “institution”, and was immortalized in film during a scene in Good Will Hunting. It was also used in a scene during Love Story, Harvard’s Erich Segal’s story of a privileged Harvard Law School student (Ryan O’Neal) and his plain brown wrapper girlfriend (Ali MacGraw). It is also the subject of a 2005 documentary, Touching History, by Federico Muchnik.
Despite a struggle by its owner Peter Haddad, the Tasty’s tenancy ended in November 1997. A sign in its window during the move-out process stated its lifespan: "81 years. 29,565 days. 5,913,000 people. 422,357 per stool." Its landlord, the Cambridge Savings Bank, took advantage of the increasing attractiveness of the Harvard Square neighborhood to chain store franchises, which enabled the bank to charge significantly higher rents to tenants who provided greater security. Opposition to the end of the Tasty’s tenancy was voiced by a number of groups, including the Harvard Square Defense Fund; brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, also known as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on their radio talk show, Car Talk, broadcast weekly on National Public Radio; according to Muchnik, the Tasty became a cause célèbre and a symbol of the transitions the neighborhood was undergoing.
Although the Cambridge Saving Bank often referred to “our community” when speaking about their effort to change the Square in such a fashion, none of the involved executives at the bank actually lived in Cambridge at the time. Despite having brought considerable evidence attesting to the historical value of the diner and the important social role it played in Harvard Square, the supporters of the Tasty did not prevail; however, the Cambridge City Council required that the distinctive entrance to the Tasty be preserved, giving it “landmark” status, and it remains unmodified today. The attention paid to the closing of the Tasty by the Cambridge City Council in the Winter of 1997 occasioned a rebuke from the Harvard Square Business Association, who criticized the council for becoming involved in a private, contractual matter. 
For a time, an Abercrombie & Fitch store operated in the building on the site formerly occupied by the Tasty. Later this store was eventually succeeded by a branch office of Citizens Bank, and the actual space in which the Tasty once operated became occupied by a row of Citizens Bank ATMs. As Muchnik remarks, “if you look at the bank in the Read Block today, you have one door too many” — the extraneous door, a second entrance to the small ATM lobby, being that of the former diner. Following a relocation of Citizens Bank to Brattle Square, a CVS Pharmacy since opened in its place.
The end of the Tasty’s tenure in the Square is considered a side effect of gentrification; the small, confined space of the Tasty, its prices (far lower than any other restaurant in the Square at the time of its closing) and friendly “neighborhood” atmosphere attracted patrons from all socio-economic strata and contrasted, in many ways, with the more upscale stores and restaurants emerging — and transforming — the Harvard Square community.
- "The Tasty", Culinary Cambridge
- Harvard Crimson article on the diner’s closing, "A Fond Farewell"
- Crimson article: "A Night in Cambridge, a day at the Tasty".
- Touching History; Harvard Square, The Bank, and the Tasty Diner
- "Then & Now" - Boston.com