Bella Luna a force in the neighborhood for 15 years

December 5, 2008
By

JOHN SWAN


Courtesy Photo Staff and owners (left to right) Megan Mainzer-Ramirez, Kathie Mainzer, Carol Downs and Charlie Rose celebrate the 15th anniversary of Bela Luna Nov. 13 at their Hyde Square restaurant.

HYDE SQ.—For 15 years, Bella Luna Restaurant, which 11 years ago added Milky Way Lounge and Lanes, has been one of the anchors that supported the resurgence of Hyde Square and its business district.

But as owners and patrons celebrated that anniversary on Nov. 13, they were also planning a move to the Brewery Complex in the Brookside neighborhood at the end of March.

“We loved being part of Hyde Square and feel very sad about leaving,” said co-owner and president Kathie Mainzer, who explained, “We’re at the end of a 15-year lease and we just couldn’t afford the rent increase.

“But we also see a lot of benefits and opportunities in moving to Amory Street,” she said.

Although the new site will take up a little more than a third of the 10,000 square feet at its present location, and it won’t have bowling anymore, the business will seat the same number of diners, 100, plus another 20 at a U-shaped bar and 30 more outside on a patio, she pointed out. The newly renovated facility will be on one ground floor, making it easier to manage than the two levels it now has, will offer an adjoining function room for entertainment and private parties, and have many more parking spaces.

“The most important thing is that we will be able to continue our mission of bringing people together…and supporting local artists and community groups,” said Charlie Rose. Rose is a co-owner with Mainzer, along with his wife, general manager Carol Downs, and Florida resident Pierre Apollon. Mainzer’s daughter, Megan Mainzer-Ramierez, 27, who started helping out when she was 12, is now events director.

Rose, who described his role as “team building with the 55-member staff from 15 different countries” and “the vision end” of the business, is currently vice president and dean of the youth community service group City Year.

“We didn’t get into this just for the money,” he stressed. “It’s about contributing to the community along with being successful.”

“We’ve always used [the business] as a catalyst for having a place where everyone feels comfortable…and being responsive to needs of the neighborhood,” Downs said.

The many fund-raisers Bella Luna/Milky Way sponsored were part of that mission, she said, including the recent 15th anniversary party that collected over $2,000 for the Hyde Square Task Force. Several years ago it hosted fund-raisers for arson victim Nobel Garcia, owner of the El Oriental De Cuba café, and for the First Baptist Church following a fire there. She said many groups like Neighbors For Neighbors and the JP Men’s Group were started at the restaurant.

Mainzer noted that the business was also one of the founders eight years ago of the JP World’s Fair held in Hyde/Jackson Square.

Considering the owners’ “mission in the community,” the genesis of Bella Luna makes perfect sense. At the time, Mainzer was the founding director of Citizens For Safety, which offered after-school and jobs programs for teens and organized Boston’s first gun buy-back program.

Downs worked as her assistant, and Rose was on the group’s board of directors.

“We lived in JP and used to walk past the boarded-up building every day,” said Mainzer. “There wasn’t much business activity in Hyde Square then, and we thought a family-friendly restaurant would be a good addition to the neighborhood.

“It was a fun thing to get off the ground. We were very warmly received by the community and supported for 15 years, which I’m so grateful for,” she said.

In 1999 Bella Luna expanded into the basement, creating Milky Way Lounge and Lanes in a former troubled bar and bowling alley. “We needed more space and didn’t want to see the bowling alley taken out,” Downs said.

“That was a giant change,” said Rose. “We now had a place to host weddings, community groups and political events. It multiplied everything.

“It also allowed us to expand JP’s music scene to reflect the diversity of the community, and to showcase new talent,” Downs said. “The music brought in a wider variety of clients. That’s part of the reason we’ve be able to grow every year since we opened.”

Downs encouraged residents to support all the local shops. “Small businesses are important because they are the backbone of urban communities. They employ more residents, reinvest in their communities and help improve public safety.

“But owners also face so many challenges to keep open and stable, especially now with high rents, cost of services and lower sales.

“We were very fortunate to find a space in JP that works so well, and a landlord [Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation] that shares our mission,” she said. “Change can be good.”

Mainzer said she wants to “keep in touch” with Hyde Square colleagues after they move, but will now “focus on a vibrant” Brookside neighborhood.

“There’s a lot more communication and comraderie among JP’s business districts today because of the Main Streets program,” she said. “They are all stronger. Now I’d hope to see more events like First Thursday and the Holiday Stroll expand JP-wide,” she said.

March 21 will be its last day of business in Hyde Square. The next day the owners plan a “New Orleans style parade” to the new site, which will open to the public in early April.

“We thought a parade would be a nice way to thank everyone for 15 years of support. It’s going to be fun,” Mainzer said.

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