If the experience of La Casa de Pedro is any indication, bringing diverse businesses to the Seaport District is a project that’s barely underway.
Just 18 months after its opening, the Venezuelan restaurant is on the verge of being forced to close. Substantial debt has played a part in that. But many people have gotten the sense that its diverse clientele is not wanted in the city’s ritzy playground.
By many accounts, it’s a valuable contribution to the neighborhood. While the Seaport is overrun with new restaurants, La Casa de Pedro has brought a different kind of cuisine. It has brought a different clientele, too — notably more black and brown than the rest of the area.
That should be a good thing, because the soulless Seaport is an extremely good example of how to build a neighborhood that many residents feel excluded from.
Essentially built over the past 20 years or so from a wasteland of parking lots — with the critical aid of at least $18 billion in public investment — the Seaport has managed to reflect none of the demographic change of the rest of Boston. (Well, it reflects one change: It’s wealthy.) People of color do not live, work, or play in the Seaport in significant numbers, a fact driven home in December in a report by the Globe Spotlight Team. One headline summed up the neighborhood this way: “Meet the new Boston, even whiter than the old.”
Opening a new restaurant is a notoriously tough proposition, and many of the challenges this restaurant has faced are not unique. Due to construction delays, it opened in November 2016 — just in time for the annual winter downturn — and immediately suffered from sluggish business. Opening a place in the Seaport is expensive — for many entrepreneurs, prohibitively expensive — and expenses were outpacing revenue from the start.
In response, owners Pedro Alarcón and his nephew, Luis Maggioli, began holding Saturday night hip-hop events and Sunday brunches. Those events, the owners say, have kept the restaurant afloat. But they also drew complaints: that its diverse patrons were too noisy, too late in the night.
Things apparently came to a head in April. A big birthday party supposedly attracted a boisterous late-night crowd that drew the attention of the State Police, though no one was arrested.
Maybe people were making noise after last call; I wasn’t there. But I have witnessed enough rowdy conduct near closing time in this town to wonder what, exactly, constitutes deal-breaking behavior. State Police spokesman David Procopio said that residents of Waterside Place “were looking out their windows at the crowd” that night.
So what if people were looking out the windows of their gilded tower?
The Seaport is so white partly because the cost of entry is so high. But I don’t think that is the whole story. The Seaport is emblematic of an economic boom that is largely passing people of color by. That’s why the presence of La Casa de Pedro matters, and its absence would be felt.
There may be another issue as well: the challenge of being a business that breaks the mold of a deeply homogeneous area. It may be subtle, even unconscious. But it’s never been clear to me that the Seaport’s lack of diversity is much of an issue to the developers who built and run it. The Seaport won’t solve its diversity problem if the powers that be simply don’t care.
The future of the restaurant appears murky. Its owners have vowed to try to save their business; meanwhile, their landlords seem equally determined to push them out. They appear to be headed to court.
But this is a dispute that transcends legal maneuvering. In a city that prattles endlessly about celebrating diversity, the Seaport stands as just the opposite. Either Boston cares about that, or the talk about inclusion is just that: a bunch of talk.Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.