Sandwich shop struggling on Boston Common

Outdoor seating and seasonal opening make rough go for chain

THE EARL OF SANDWICH is struggling financially at its Boston Common restaurant location, with losses mounting and revenues declining.

The city of Boston hasn’t taken a hit—rental payments to the city are a flat $50,000 a year, not a percentage of sales—but the deteriorating financial situation raises concerns about whether the restaurant chain will stick it out for the entire 15-year lease. The Earl of Sandwich kiosk on the Boston Common has lost close to $800,000 over the last three years.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I was concerned about the economic viability of the operation,” says Christopher Cook, the commissioner of Boston Parks and Recreation, which leases the property to the Earl of Sandwich.

Amy Sadowsky, a spokeswoman for the Florida-based restaurant chain, blames the losses on the weather and the $1 million cost of restoring the rundown, 660-square-foot former men’s restroom in the middle of the Common. The crumbling toilet, built in the 1920s, was known as the Pink Palace because of its pink-hued stony masonry.

“We invested a lot of money in the restoration of the Pink Palace,” says Sadowsky. “And it’s a very seasonal business, given the Boston weather.  We remain committed to being on the Boston Common and growing the business.”

The rehabilitation of the long-closed Pink Palace grew partly out of a trip by former Boston city councilor Michael Ross to New York City in 2008 to explore creative uses of public park spaces. He says he appreciates the money the Earl of Sandwich invested in the site, but doesn’t know whether the sandwich chain is a good fit for Boston Common.

“It might not be the right concept for what is America’s first public park,” Ross says. “What I think needs to happen on the Common is for something of great originality and great interest to people be put there. And that just will never be a chain restaurant. There needs to be some rethinking of the type of use that should go there. Mark my words, one day this will be a destination that no trip to Boston will be complete without.”

The Earl of Sandwich took a risk locating in the middle of Boston Common, which had been somewhat of a food desert. The company promised to restore the Pink Palace and pay annual rent of $50,000. Another chain that showed interest in the site, the b.good restaurant company, proposed a total rent of $117,695 over the life of the lease, and the firm didn’t want to start payments until year 12 of the 15-year lease.

The Earl of Sandwich opened on the Common in 2012, serving food out of the kiosk and offering outdoor seating. According to financial documents filed with the city, gross revenue was $465,793 in 2013, but has been declining steadily ever since, falling to $337,283 last year.

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The restaurant reported a net loss of $255,965 in its first full year on the Common, reduced that number to $209,898 in 2014, and then saw its losses rise to $332,002 last year.

The chain has also been late paying its annual $50,000 rent for the past four years. This year, for example, the company’s rent was paid two months late. Sadowsky says that won’t happen again. “Going forward, we will be sending in the rent on time,” she says.