Before Café Martin West Street was a real-life restaurant, it was a porch.
It all began in 2016 when John Martin was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). John was a husband, father of two daughters, little league coach, and a longtime cameraman for NESN – a TV station that broadcasts and covers New England sports. After a long career in the Boston sports scene, including years shooting Celtics, Patriots, Bruins, and Red Sox games, he had amassed a large network of close friends and colleagues.
As John’s disease progressed, leaving his home became difficult, and those friends started coming over to his home to spend time with him. He and his wife, Adrienne, established an open-door policy – people would come and go, hanging out, eating, and drinking. The presence of so many friends and supporters brought the family a great deal of relief as they navigated ALS – and engendered a deep sense of community.
“One of the things people always said was, ‘this is such a sad thing, and I get very nervous thinking about coming to your house,’” remembers Adrienne. “But then they’d say, we come to your house and it’s so filled with happiness and joy and I feel great when I leave. So that was wonderful. Somewhere along the way, somebody nicknamed our front little patio area where we'd always hang out Café Martin, because we were always eating and drinking out there.”
Café Martin became a symbol of John’s friends and family. They created a logo and made shirts, hats, and hoodies that they sold to raise money. Soon, the logo could be seen all over Boston sports venues, including Fenway Park, on hats and shirts on NESN cameramen, fans in the stands, and even players in the locker room.
“We were like, wow, really this Café Martin thing isn't just for us,” says Adrienne. “It's representing community and people coming together to support each other. We talked about how could we take this forward? What can we do? So, we eventually about me creating a Café Martin and what that might look like.”
They continued to discuss ideas for what a Café Martin beyond their porch in the months that followed – but when John passed away in 2018, Adrienne still wasn’t sure what form it would take. She just knew that she wanted to pay tribute to John’s spirit, and the community that had come together around him.
“I was like, ‘will there be a cafe? Will it be a bar? Will it be a food truck? Will it be a nonprofit?’” she remembers. “So, I started looking for space because I knew the space would dictate what could happen there.”
When she thought about what Café Martin could be, she was inspired by a neighborhood bar she grew up with called West Street, in Newton. She wanted a place where the local community could come and feel at home – a place to stop in for a drink or a meal and be with neighbors and friends. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic came along – interrupting her search as the country went into lockdown. She decided she would wait and see what happened, and if the Café was meant to be, an opportunity would arise. Then, in the summer of 2021, that opportunity came.
“One day, my daughter and our dog and I were walking in our neighborhood,” she says, “and we walked by West Street. And there was a big sign that said ‘for lease.’ I couldn't believe it. So, I went on a journey to get the lease. And here we are.”
Café Martin, the restaurant, opened in February of 2022, serving a menu of what Adrienne describes as “elevated pub food.” It quickly began to gather a loyal following. The regulars of the bar it replaced were happy to see another local establishment take over the space. The friends who made up the original Café Martin community, back when it was just a nickname for the Martins’ porch, were happy to have a place to gather with each other.
“It's like exactly the kind of place John loved and his type of place to just go hang out and go grab a beer,” she says. “You have a burger, you hang out, you have a great meal. You can take your kids, you can have a dude’s night, or have a date night. It hits all the points. No pretense.”
Adrienne is also working hard to give back to the community through the restaurant, and to support the fight to end ALS. She has held fundraisers for ALS organizations including the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) – opening her space for a successful event on Lou Gehrig day this past June. On August 28th, 2022 the Café will host an afterparty for participants in ALS TDI’s Walk for Research. She also makes sure to share John’s story and information about ALS through the Café’s social media and – and with patrons who are interested to learn more.
The goal of Café Martin is ultimately to recreate the feeling of community that John and Adrienne originally felt on their porch. So far, Adrienne says, that’s been a resounding success.
“I just got a Google review from a stranger,” she says, “and it said: ‘the food's great. The staff is great. It feels like home.’ I almost burst into tears because that's exactly what we would want a stranger to say. Our Cafe Martin community feels that way, and the Newton community feels that way. And the community’s growing every day.”
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