At senior housing nonprofit 2Life Communities, the adage that it takes a village to raise a child is adapted to demonstrate that it takes a village to build a community. Across 2Life’s six properties, building community is at the forefront of everything from planning apartment units to bringing residents together for events and meals. For 2Life’s Weinberg House in Brighton, that priority plays out exceptionally well at the In House Café, which opened on the property last September.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu was on hand to celebrate the restaurant’s opening, owned and operated by Ahmed Dairy. Dairy, a Syrian-born Muslim, is a gregarious and warm presence in his café, bringing the spirit of his native village, al-Jamiliyeh, in the Aleppo region. When Dairy was growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, al-Jamiliyeh was home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities where the elder Dairy’s restaurant was across the way from a rabbi’s home. “When I was a kid, my father sent me to help our Jewish neighbors turn on the gas and lights for them on the Sabbath,” Dairy said.
On a recent visit to the In House Café, Dairy said he intended his space to be more than an eatery where people are quickly in and out, but “a gathering place with an international feel. Everybody is welcome, and I want to serve the 2Life community and help them as much as possible.” The café’s floor-to-ceiling windows create that welcoming atmosphere, infusing the café with light.
Emily Levine, 2Life’s chief of staff, observed that Dairy’s vision of radical hospitality for the café perfectly aligned with 2Life’s vision. “In Ahmed, we found a partner who would be part of the community and made it possible for our residents, most of whom qualify as low-income, to enjoy the space and be part of the community,” she said. “In addition, Ahmed helped us find a way to offer discount food. There is a beautiful symbiotic presence that In House has had here with us. He is a genuine partner who welcomes the community in every direction and every door.”
There is a 10% discount for 2Life residents, but Dairy has instituted a sliding scale according to need. “Sometimes I see people who really cannot afford to eat here even with the discount, so I give them a 20% discount,” he said. “In some cases, I don’t charge for the food.” He welcomes patrons with a Mediterranean menu in which spiced chicken kebabs are served alongside traditional Jewish foods like latkes and kugel. Turkish delight and babka are dessert options.
Dairy pointed out he only serves halal meat in the café. “There is never any pork [in the café],” he said. “My customers’ happiness and comfort are very important to me.” Levine praised Dairy’s emphasis on running an eatery that is a place for all people. She added that In House is “a meeting spot for many cultures and faiths.”
Dairy has plans to expand his business to more 2Life Communities and the Boston area in general. In the meantime, he has befriended the neighborhood kids in Brighton. “I have all kinds of kids here,” he said. “One boy had an idea to put a soda vending machine outside the café. I told him I couldn’t have a vending machine next to the café, but I had a better deal for him.” Dairy had a lemonade cart gathering dust and offered it to his young friend.” This summer, Dairy and his entrepreneurial friend plan to operate a de facto lemonade stand in the café. “He’s the boss of the lemonade cart,” Dairy said.
Noted Levine: “We are mission-led. We drive forward with mission in everything we do to redevelop, build programs, staff our communities and invest in our staff and the residents themselves. In House Café is a perfect complement to that goal.”
2Life Communities is expanding again in the fall of 2023. In House Café will see increased foot traffic when a 142-unit building will open next to the Weinberg House on Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton. The Boston Housing Authority selected 2Life Communities to redevelop the John J. Carroll apartments. In keeping with creating a “village center” at each 2Life community, there will be accessible and flexible spaces. These spaces include a resale shop, multi-purpose room and other retail businesses oriented to the neighborhood’s needs.
Both Levine and Dairy emphasized that In House Café and all 2Life spaces are committed to making spaces enjoyable for residents and neighbors alike. Dairy and 2Life Communities have accomplished that goal, and more.