It was late summer 2017 when I heard a new coffee shop was opening in Cambridge. I had just got back from Melbourne, a place famous for its Australian cafe culture, and was dying to find a reliable cafe in my hood. I remember walking in to Broadsheet one fateful Saturday morning and doing a double-take. Was I in Australia again? Sunlight streamed into the clean, bright, and airy space through the large glass panes. The modern furniture and lush plant decorations made the place look like it was straight out of a Drift magazine. Was this really Cambridge? I remember being so impressed I memorialized it in my coffee notes.
Fast forward ten months, Broadsheet has become a local favorite. It sits on a small commercial corner in a residential neighborhood of Cambridge, but it hasn’t stopped folks from making their way there. Why?
Because the quality of their coffee and food is that good. It’s as simple as that.
Everything on the menu, from the coffee, the bread, to the pastries, is roasted, cooked, baked, and prepared right in-house. The coffee used in all of Broadsheet’s drinks is roasted just five feet away on the Loring roaster towards the back of the cafe.
I sat down with Aaron MacDougall, owner and roaster, a while back because I wanted to learn about his story and how a specialty roaster ended up in Cambridge. “There were doubts Cambridge would allow a roasting operation, but they were quite supportive. A lot of work went into renovating the space, but we’re open and we’re the only coffee roaster in Cambridge!” Aaron beamed.
Aaron has a calm, collected demeanor, but when he starts talking about coffee, his expression changes and you can’t help but notice his twinkling eyes and wide grin stretching across his face. He has a genuine love and excitement for all things coffee and it shows. “I’m a super coffee nerd,” he tells me.
When I asked Aaron how he got his start in coffee, I really wasn’t expecting him to tell me that he was an investment banker, turned stay-at-home dad, turned coffee hobbyist, and eventually cafe owner. After retiring from finance, he moved to Hawaii where he started tinkering with espresso machines purchased from eBay. In 2013, he moved back to Boston, his hometown, and started getting in to coffee more seriously, taking courses at Counter Culture in Somerville, competing, volunteering at Hi-Rise Bread Company for practice, and eventually getting his Q-grader license, the highest certification in coffee similar to being a sommelier.
Attaining his Q-grader license solidified his desires to open his own shop. “Many cafes focus on service, but not on coffee…. Coffee is a culinary product, and I want to showcase that.”
Going in to it, Aaron knew food also had to be a component of the cafe. “Having coffee only is a tough business,” he acknowledged. Like his philosophy on coffee, Aaron wanted to make sure the food was also special, fresh, and of high quality. Enter Darine Hazboun, Food Director and Head Pastry Chef at Broadsheet.
Darine knew Aaron through a mutual friend, and prior to Broadsheet, she was the Head Pastry Chef at the Loading Dock in Belmont. “When Aaron and I talked at the time, Broadsheet was still an idea. I think he had just found the location. [Broadsheet] was a great opportunity, and we both shared the same vision, which was to have good, quality food from scratch.”
There’s truth to the proverb “Birds of a feather flock together” because like Aaron, Darine also had a previous career before becoming a pastry chef full-time. “I was always in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother, but I never thought about making it a professional career. I was an interior designer in Abu Dhabi and Palestine for ten years before moving to Boston.”
While adjusting to life in America, Darine quickly realized how different the food culture was. She found it hard to find healthy, decent food for her family, and naturally, found herself back in the kitchen. “I wanted to make good snacks and desserts that were better for [my kids]… not that desserts are ever healthy, but better,” she laughed.
Driving between her kids’ two schools, Darine would always pass by the Cambridge Culinary School. She decided to enroll out of casual interest, but it evolved into a professional certificate. Now at Broadsheet, she has a mostly female culinary team that cranks out egg boats, levant breakfast plates, and fresh pastries on the daily.
Broadsheet has clearly become a part of the neighborhood, but there were definitely challenges. “The menu was an experiment. There weren’t many lunch places around, so we didn’t have any reference. We had to keep track of what was popular and what wasn’t. It’s still a gamble everyday. It really does depend on who walks through, but it keeps it exciting.”
I asked Darine what were the highs of her job. “Customers being happy. I love cooking for people, and we have a lot of happy customers. We have regulars that come in every day. They come so consistently that we begin to worry about them when they don’t!” Darine joked, but being completely serious. “A cafe like Broadsheet was needed on this side of town,” Prairie chimed in.
The menu has changed over time, and so has the coffee. When I first talked to Aaron last year, he was naturally focused on running the cafe and carving out a specialty niche for his lighter roasted coffees. More recently, though, he shared that Broadsheet is now moving into wholesale and producing a roast profile more approachable for everyone. As a Cantabrigian, I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s one thing to know that you have access to quality and specialty crafted coffee down the street. It’s another to know you can potentially find a good cup anywhere in the city.