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crema cafe

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Should Cafes Ask Customers to Leave?

crema cafe harvard square

My favorite cafe asked me to leave last week. For the second time.

I’ll tell you why I feel sad: when I first found Crema Cafe two years ago, I fell in love. I spent so much time there, my sweaters absorbed its scent, an inexorable melange of lattes, carbs, and indie-pop Pandora playlists. The owners described it as a place between home and work; I took that quite literally. I proudly told my friends I was considering moving in.

Over the past two years, I’ve spent so many happy hours in that cafe. I love bringing my laptop to do work on the upstairs level. I’ve forcibly dragged friends there and bought them my favorites, just so they could be converted. I’ve blogged about them, plugged them on Serious Eats, posted photos to various food sites. When I signed up for Mint.com, I budgeted a very liberal portion for “coffee.”

If you ask me for restaurant recommendations, you’ll likely hear raves about their turkey-avocado-jicama-slaw sandwich or their baked-fresh-from-scratch pastries.

crema cafe harvard square pastry

So I disappointed when I was asked to leave during a busy Saturday afternoon to make room for other customers. I’d been there for a little over 2 hours with my laptop, and had planned on taking a seat closer to a wall outlet when one of the owners stepped in. (I had polished off a medium coffee and a chicken sandwich.) He had promised that table to another customer; since I had headphones on, I hadn’t seen the line forming behind me.

He was apologetic. As I was leaving, he apologized again. And this was the second time – a month before, a different owner had asked me to leave, but relented when I bought another sandwich. I’ve generally tried to share my table or buy another pastry during marathon study sessions, but I know I’ve overstayed my welcome in the past.

And I understand why they’re taking a more aggressive tack. Mostly. They charge reasonable prices for freshly made food. They have high labor costs and rent; they depend on table turnover and volume to pay the bills. I ended up chatting that owner for about an hour about the trials of the business world and how to solve the problem of being too popular.

I’m happy Crema has done well. It clearly has no problem attracting loyal customers and long lines. But I’m disappointed that the same place that I cheered for and championed feels that its success is dependent on asking me to leave. Are the two really at odds?

Perhaps this Seth Godin (a well-known marketer) post about “best customers” summarizes some of how I’m feeling:

If you define “best customer” as the customer who pays you the most, then I guess it’s not surprising that the reflex instinct is to charge them more. After all, they’re happy to pay.

But what if you define “best customer” as the person who brings you new customers through frequent referrals, and who sticks with you through thick and thin? That customer, I think, is worth far more than what she might pay you in any one transaction. In fact, if you think of that customer as your best marketer instead, it might change everything.

If you’re a cafe lover, do you think cafe owners should ask customers who have finished eating to leave?

Cafe owners, how do you deal with slow table turnover?

Awesome egg sandwiches, tripe-laden bowls of pho, and Lingbo in a beesuit.


This was a oozy, flaky breakfast sandwich ($3.50) from Crema Cafe, who turns out a mean breakfast sandwich (as well as zuchinni hazelnut loaf and brownie). The english muffin is homemade. I kind of regret eating it, because a Thomas english muffin will just never be the same. Maybe it is just because it’s toasted. Toasted is absolutely key.


Big bowl’o’noodles from Le’s in the Garage in Harvard Square. This was my friend’s meal, I only tasted a bit. In a very out of character move for me, I prefer my experience at Le’s to be limited to #15 on their menu: the special beef bowl of pho, complete with loveliness like tripe and tendon. Then I absolutey ANNIHILATE it with chili sauce and hoisin sauce.

The only snag in my plan was that I made my friend Ahmed taste it. He almost died. Then I thought this was hilarious, so I started laughing, which turned into a cough, which turned into FIERY SPICES UP MY NOSE.

I cried a little bit, then quietly finished the rest of my bowl, nostrils still singed. Moral of story: if you’re going to choke on something, make it mild.

See below:


glorious innards bits

glorious innards bits

And also, I made two trips down to Jamaica Plain recently for a GoodEater.org article on beekeeping. Here is a preview of me wearing a crazy beesuit:

fashion statement

fashion statement

I figured after all of this writing and reporting on local honey, I might as well buy some. Then I figured I would buy some bread  and granola too (a girl’s gotta eat). I got some nice loot from the Allandale Farms shop, including a small jar of Mike Graney‘s honey ($4.49).

granola, EatLocalHoney.com honey, and a locally made ciabatta

granola, EatLocalHoney.com honey, and a locally made ciabatta

Sadly, I did something incredibly typically stupid of me and tried to open the honey on the T ride back. Of course, I lost control of the jar and suddenly, I was covered in sticky stuff with nowhere to put it. After some feeble attempts to rip off the plastic seal, I wrapped it in a sheet torn from Stuff magazine and resigned myself to sticky fate. Until I hit Starbucks and washed up, anyway.

It’s good that I find my own klutziness hilarious.

A Brownie that Makes my Stony Heart Melt

Crema Cafe, 1.25 for half a brownie

Crema Cafe, 1.25 for half a brownie

another loving, chocolatey angle

another loving, chocolatey angle

There’s nothing quite like a good brownie to make the final paper blues go away. This decadent steal of a half-brownie ($1.25) subscribes to a more “cake” brownie rather than a fudgey one.

That means that each luscious little crumb is like the most densely velvety constellation of cake heaven in your mouth. It crumbles, it melts. It’s magical. I keep tearing off tiny little bits and eating the crumbs off my fingers. They must put crack cocaine in this stuff.

Some food porn from Harvard Square

Sometimes a foodie has to write a lot of papers (churned out 35 pages of writing, only another 20 to go by Friday!) and she just wants to post some photos… so here are some I’ve taken in the past few weeks.
$1 Oyster Mondays at Rialto in Harvard Square, best with a squeeze of lemon

$1 Oyster Mondays at Rialto in Harvard Square, best with a squeeze of lemon

I adore oysters, the aftertaste of sea, the freshness and briny goodness cut through a zingy squirt of lemon. Add some good company, and it’s a party.

A turkey/avocado sandwich from Cafe Pamplona - so so

A turkey/avocado sandwich from Cafe Pamplona - so so

A tasty cherry bourbon bread pudding from Crema Cafe (also posted to <a href=Also posted to the lovely 3 Buck Bites awhile ago.

I thought this was funny.

I thought this was funny.

Found this on the walk between Central Square and Mulan, a great Chinese restaurant I ate at recently. Apparently they make candy.

Butter in Iceland, for real.

Butter in Iceland, for real.

But of course!

Potato leek soup at Crema Cafe in Harvard Square


I love simple dinners like this, where a mere 3.50 gets you a creamy bowl of comfort food with a fresh slice of airy, homemade focaccia. I realized when I sat down that the soup had a rich dollop of sour cream in the middle and a few strips of fried onion garnish, just to make it that much more luxurious. I scraped the sides and licked my spoon clean. Mmm.

Apologies for the crappy Photobooth picture.

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Lana Lingbo Li

I'm a world traveler / enthusiastic eater who's now blogging and producing videos over at HelloLana.com. Visit me there!

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