Broadway Hospitality is parent to four independent restaurants and about 12 Tavern In the Square locations across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Andrew Lombardozzi

Broadway Hospitality is parent to four independent restaurants and about 12 Tavern In the Square locations across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

The Showstopping Approach of Broadway Hospitality

Broadway Hospitality finds prosperous growth in energetic, urban environments with a group of single-unit all-stars.

One of Broadway Hospitality’s greatest lessons over the years is that all restaurants aren’t created equal.

The Boston-based company started with Tavern in the Square in 2004 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, led by Irish immigrant Joey Arcari and Brazilian native Renato Valentim. Steven DeSousa, who serves as CEO, started as a bar manager but worked his way up to partner. Tavern in the Square opened one store every two or three years in the beginning. As the concept expanded, Broadway Hospitality found success going deeper into the suburbs where demographics are more family-driven and casual. At the same time, the company discovered that in urban settings, particularly Boston, customers don’t receive chain restaurants that well. They think of lesser quality, loss of independence, cookie cutter, and routine, DeSousa says.

While Tavern in the Square has multiple stores, Broadway never intended to give off this vibe. It wants guests to see it as a local restaurant group that feels familiar, comfortable, and consistent. That’s when the growth strategy shifted.

“We wanted to keep opening in the city,” says DeSousa. “We wanted to be in places that are young, inspired, innovative, tons of energy, and that’s when we decided that we needed to do an independent restaurant.”

The first, called The Broadway, came in 2017. It’s based in South Boston, an area akin to Silicon Valley, DeSousa says. The restaurant is surrounded by millennials and Gen Z customers in their early-to-mid 20s. They live there for about five to six years and go out six to seven nights per week. The Broadway is housed in a 9,000-square-foot industrial-sized space that’s filled with a lively environment and innovative drinks. The food focuses on appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and bowls, and not as much on heavier entrées since younger attendees prefer to go out and drink as opposed to eating hearty meals. There’s live music and DJs; DeSousa says one could go to The Broadway on a Saturday at noon and it’d feel like a Friday night at the club.

In 2019, Broadway Hospitality opened The Derby in Salem, Massachusetts, which DeSousa describes as a close-knit town. The restaurant reflects this culture by providing a local, low-key “hangout type” bar instead of a place to party. The Mercantile, which debuted last year in Worchester, Massachusetts, is based in a 13,000-square-foot building with two floors, including a roof deck and bar. The concept attracts diverse guests—younger consumers, families, business clients, and date nights. The Mercantile serves as a restaurant in the early evening and transforms into an energetic destination late at night.

Broadway Hospitality’s fourth independent is The Playwright, which has been around for years in South Boston. It’s currently closed for renovation, and the plan is to rebuild the location from a 3,000-square-foot space to 8,000 square feet. It’s down the street from The Broadway, but the two won’t cannibalize each other. Whereas The Broadway is trendy, sexy, and fun, The Playwright is going to be classic, mature, and darker. It’s a landmark in South Boston, and Broadway Hospitality will keep that intact.

Those independents are paired with about one dozen Tavern in the Square restaurants across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The method is working, even in the face of a global virus. DeSousa says 2022 was Broadway Hospitality’s best year, with large groups itching to get out and celebrate.

“As we move forward, we’ve followed the model, which we find really great locations, suburbs, and we say, ‘these are perfect for a Tavern in the Square,’” DeSousa says. “People are going to recognize it. They’re going to want something that they know, and we open up a Tavern. But when we get into really great cities that are highly dense with really a young, energetic demographic, we create an independent.”

“ … We just found in highly dense, urban settings, they want something that seems a little bit more unique,” he adds. “They’re looking for that different experience. That’s why they tend to go more to the independent route. That was our thought process. That was our strategy. That’s what we were thinking, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do as we move forward.”

The independents also offer Broadway Hospitality the ability to implement many tactics it couldn’t do on a larger scale. For Tavern in the Square to roll out any new food or program, it takes a lot of legwork since there are multiple locations. But with an independent, there’s freer thinking, DeSousa says. Broadway Hospitality can go to The Derby, come out with a new container for bigger drinks, and turn it around quickly.

Oftentimes Broadway Hospitality will use independents as a testing ground.

“If these things work in this younger demographic that has all this energy, and they’re testing it for us, telling us that they like it, we eventually bring it out to our suburban restaurants, which is Tavern in the Square,” DeSousa says. “So it’s almost like we call them test stores to some degree. That’s [what] makes them so fun and so different for us is that we try really wild, fun, creative things in these independents to keep it new and to keep people interested.”

In 2023, Broadway Hospitality hopes to open three Tavern in the Square restaurants and reopen The Playwright sometime in December. Going forward, Tavern in the Square will continue to be the leader in growth; none of the independents will add stores. The company is hatching more single-unit concepts for Dorchester and Quincy, Massachusetts.

The key attractor, DeSousa says, is that Broadway Hospitality isn’t “five-star anything. We’re a casual place to have fun and have a great time.”

“We have a lot of great people working for us and have been with us for a long time,” DeSousa says. “And as we continue to grow, we add new people. We pride ourselves in being very much in touch with the people that work for us. And one of the biggest things I’ve seen in the growth modes—and I’m CEO/owner and I’m there every day—is that usually in these big brands, the people making decisions are some guys sitting in an office in Dallas, Texas, who have no idea what’s actually happening in the restaurants.”

“Because we’re able to do that, we’re able to get information very quickly and make decisions very quickly and be ahead of the curve when it comes to new things and new trends and what’s working,” he adds. “I think that’s what makes us different.”