Inspired by his dining experiences at Fay and Deerfield, Albert Nichols opens Hall, a subscription-based dining hall in the Back Bay designed to build community.
When Albert Nichols ‘05 first sat down in the Fay dining room as a new seventh grader, he might not have recognized it as a business opportunity. However, almost 15 years later, Albert’s dining experiences at Fay and Deerfield have inspired Hall, the subscription-based dining hall he recently opened in Boston’s Back Bay.
Growing up in Maine, dinner at the Nichols house was an opportunity to catch up and connect with one another at the end of a busy day. That communal dining experience continued at Fay and Deerfield, where meals were served family-style, and the dining hall was a place where students could socialize, interact, and get to know one another.
But once Albert graduated college, things changed. “All these things that I had taken for granted—the socialization, seeing classmates and friends, and the opportunity to meet people—just disappeared,” he recalls. Like most of his peers, Albert suddenly found himself standing at the supermarket checkout line after work, spending considerable money on food that was less healthy, to be consumed in his apartment by him- self. He felt stuck in a cycle that was deeply inefficient and isolating. “There’s a reason why people have come together in large groups to eat for millennia,” he points out.
Albert recalled how there was always one kid’s room in the Fay dorms where everyone gathered to hang out. In that spirit, he started hosting informal dinners at his apartment every Monday night and inviting his friends to join. The offer was simple. Albert would provide a basic home-cooked meal and people could come and hang out, work, socialize, or take the food to go. “More and more people began to come, and I realized that there was value here,” says Albert. That experience became the starting point for Hall.
Located on Gloucester Street in the heart of the Back Bay, Hall is a flexible space where members can grab a healthy, home-cooked meal Sunday through Thursday. Members can eat a quick meal and leave, meet friends and socialize, or just take their dinner to go. Open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight every day, Hall is available for private parties Friday and Saturday and open for members to drop in during the day and grab a coffee, host a business meeting, or just take a break from the everyday grind. The meals offered at Hall are a far cry from the cooking repertoire of the average twenty-something. Every weeknight, Hall offers a light dinner option that is vegetarian, free of gluten, dairy, shellfish, and tree nuts. They also offer a heartier option that is made with no added salt or fat. For $69 a week, Hall members could be eating chickpea pasta primavera, farro and short ribs, or chicken tikka masala with roasted broccoli and jasmine rice.
The Hall space is decorated simply with a variety of different spaces, from work areas, to flexible social spaces, to dining areas where members can have dinner and hang out or eat and go. Albert designed Hall with intentional fluidity with a respect for the individual, a value that was nurtured in his time at Fay. “Fay encouraged me to look at people and understand where they are from and what makes them different from me,” says Albert. “At Hall, we didn’t want to make the space uniform. We didn’t want to force people into an idea of how people should eat and what the space should look like,” says Albert. “Our goal is to build spaces where individuals can come together.”