Over the five years Villa Mexico Cafe has been on Cambridge Street, it's earned a devoted clientele, many of whom were skeptical that one of the city's best burritos could be found in the back of a gas station.
Adam Conrad was among the dubious. "But then I was actually brought here. I had one bite and it changed my mind."
Finding a New Home
But as of the end of this month, the gas-station burrito will be gone. And whether Villa Mexico finds a new home on Beacon Hill is uncertain. A major factor will be whether the Beacon Hill Civic Association approves a zoning variance Wednesday night.
Villa Mexico has been asked to leave Grampy's by the end of this month. The gas station itself will be vacating the space next year to make room for the construction of an office building.
A Rush to Move
Julie King, a Stoneham resident and owner of Villa Mexico, said that she was originally given until next June to move but that date was unexpectedly moved up to December. "I wasn't ready for this change. I thought it was going to happen next year," she said.
Customers Help Search For New Business Site
A few of her customers got wind of the move and offered ideas for new locations. One had a building on Tremont and Shawmut, another had a place in the business district, but each spot came with limitations that made a move difficult.
"I was just thinking, 'Oh my God, what am I going to do? Then my third angel came up," King said of the third offer.
Customers Mitch and Carrie Wilson, of Beacon Hill, had bought a building at 12 Grove St., King said, and offered her a lease on the ground level.
"It was like a dream to me, you know. It's a nice place, it's not very big, but it's cute," King said. "At the moment I put my feet on the door I just feel it. I say 'this is going to be my place."
Steps in the Process
But 12 Grove St. is not permitted for restaurant use. At Wednesday night's zoning committee meeting, King and her lawyer will make an appeal to the board to grant a variance. If the committee approves it, King's next stop will be City Hall for the official decision. The Beacon Hill committee acts only as an advocacy group on behalf of the neighborhood but its decisions hold significant sway over whether City Hall grants approvals.
If all the permitting goes through, King faces another hurdle: although Wilson would help pay to equip the kitchen (with repayments built into the rent), King still needs a significant cash infusion to pay for the legal fees and permitting process. King estimates that relocation will cost upwards of $30,000.
Kickstarting a fundraiser
To help meet these expense, King and her daughter, Bessie King, of Stoneham, launched a Kickstarter campaign in October. As part of the campaign, Villa Mexico needs to raise $5,000 by Jan. 9 at 3:39 p.m.; if it fails to reach this goal, all the money is returned to donors. As of Tuesday, the campaign has raised $1,515.
"I am pretty confident that God is going to help us," King said. "If everything goes well, we'll be [at 12 Grove St.] in January." If not, King will have to scramble for a new plan. "I cannot stop working because, honestly, I'm not a rich woman."