Somerville, Arlington Letting Restaurants Sell Groceries

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Restaurants are known for selling cooked and prepared meals, but in a couple of Massachusetts communities, they have expanded their business model as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to selling takeout alcoholic beverages, Arlington and Somerville allow their restaurants to sell groceries if they wish. Typically, a permit to sell groceries requires a $150 fee in both places, but both communities waived their respective fees because of the emergency.

No, they have not turned into grocery stores like Market Basket, Stop & Shop, or Star Market, but they can do more than usual.

“We believe that allowing restaurants to sell groceries during this time can provide additional points of access for food,” Doug Kress, the director of health and human services for the city of Somerville, told New Boston Post in an email message. “This is an alternative for those concerned about standing in long lines outside or entering a large grocery store. We recognize that restaurants have different supply chains and may help customers obtain certain products that have limited availability in some stores.”

For example, the Dark Horse Public House in Somerville is offering what it calls “grocery boxes.” Items for sale include spices, seasonings, gloves, coffee, paper goods, baking supplies, fruits and vegetables, dry goods (rice, pasta, and beans), dairy, meats, as well as kits to assemble meals like wings, cheeseburgers, nachos, and pizza.

Similarly, Earls Kitchen + Bar, which has a location in Somerville, offers packages featuring produce, dairy products (including eggs), pantry goods, and protein as well as pre-prepared family meals, toilet paper, hand soap, and desserts, among other selections.

The city of Somerville decided to let restaurants sell groceries on Saturday, April 18, becoming the second Massachusetts community to allow it.

The town of Arlington (which borders Somerville) was the first – on Thursday, April 16.

“These are extraordinary circumstances, and with everything going on surrounding COVID-19, I am very proud of our Health Department for quickly developing a process that will help businesses and keep residents safe at the same time,” Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said in a written statement. “Arlington is a community that is built on its partnerships, and this is yet another example of that philosophy in motion.”

So what about the biggest city in the state:  Boston?

It’s not quite there yet.

The city has not made an official decision yet whether or not to let restaurants start selling groceries without paying the $110 fee associated with it and going through an application process. 

However, Lisa Timberlake, a spokesman for Boston Inspectional Services, told New Boston Post that establishments in the capital city have also been selling prepared meal kits during the pandemic.

“Boston allows restaurants to sell uncooked foods provided that they adhere to USDA raw animal product labeling,” Timberlake said in an email message. “Many businesses began selling take-home pizza kits weeks ago with no issues.”

According to The Food Lens, there are at least three restaurants in Boston selling pizza kits: Monument Restaurant & Tavern in Charlestown; and Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant and Capo, both in South Boston.