There are a number of details East Cambridge residents might call upon to describe their neighborhood. There’s the sweeping views of the Charles from North Point Park, the piercing squeal of the ungreased Green Line cars looping around to finish their routes at Lechmere. And the scent of Curio Coffee’s waffles wafting down Cambridge Street.
Three years ago, husband-and-wife team Justin and Rachel Pronovost opened Curio at 411 Cambridge St. The coffee shop became a neighborhood staple against all odds. Justin remembers dealing with an initial chorus of naysayers who were doubtful of the petite, then-remote storefront.
“Everyone except my wife, Rachel, told me to run away from this small space … but we had a good feeling about the neighborhood and our business plan,” Justin penned on Instagram last year in honor of the cafe’s third anniversary. “Countless regular customers and almost 100,000 waffles later, I’m glad we followed our gut.”
Despite the shop’s limited hours and simple menu—a variety of straightforward coffee drinks, with nothing but waffles to accompany them—Curio has received serious accolades since its opening. The shop has earned shout-outs from the Boston Globe, Thrillist, Zagat, and many a coffee blog, and it’s ranked among the top coffee shops in Greater Boston on Yelp. The Improper Bostonian also declared that Curio’s waffles are “quite possibly the best caffeine companion in town.”
However, Curio Coffee was never meant to be the Pronovosts’ sole venture.
“The goal was to have a cafe be the first step into a larger hospitality plan,” Justin says.
So, with their first operation enjoying a reliable fan base and substantial name recognition, the Pronovosts felt ready to expand. Enter: Curio Wine Bar, the team’s latest concept that debuted in the same space as Curio Coffee earlier this month.
With the notoriously high cost of real estate all over the city, the Pronovosts knew it would be most cost effective to have the space they already had do double-duty. There was just one catch: It’s a 500-square-foot, 15-seat storefront, without much room for additional equipment.
That makes a table-service wine bar with a limited snack menu an ideal fit.
Like its coffee counterpart, Curio Wine Bar is starting small. The wine flows from 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursday through Sunday nights for now, and there are about a dozen bottles to choose from. Everything is available by the glass and by the bottle, and tasting around is highly encouraged.
“If you want to geek out and talk natural fermentations and aging processes, we have the knowledge, and those things informed our decisions about what we’re carrying,” Justin says. “But there’s a lot of great wine out there that we can offer people that you don’t really need to think about too hard. We want it to be casual; we don’t want it to be intimidating.”
The food menu heightens the spot’s casual vibe. There are three items to choose from: olive tapenade, grilled cheese, and hot dogs.
“The hot dog really seemed like a great wine bar snack,” Justin says. “It’s playing off the idea of the cured meats and breads and pickles and mustards that people like on a charcuterie board, but in an easy-to-eat format that’s also easy for us to prepare on the fly.”
As Curio gets into its groove, this food menu may grow and change. The wine list will be even more dynamic, as natural wines are harder to find and made in smaller quantities.
Pronovost anticipates that the wine list will shift seasonally. Coming up as the temperatures rise? More rosés and sparkling wines.
“There’s really no barrier to entry,” Justin says. “You can come in and have a taste of whatever we have and then come back in a week or two, and it might be totally different.”
“We want it to feel like you’re coming into our home,” he adds. “Where we can just be like, ‘Hey, try this, it’s really cool.’”