Compiled by Deb Mandel, 2022
Approx. 1938 – 1970
1326 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square
Samuel Longley Bickford (1885–1959) began his restaurant career in 1902. In the 1910s, he was a vice president at the Waldorf System lunchroom chain in New England and, in 1921, he established his own “quick-lunch” Bickford’s restaurants in New York. Bickford’s lunchrooms offered modestly priced fare and extended hours. During the 1920s, the Bickford’s chain expanded rapidly with twenty four lunchrooms in the New York area and others around Boston. It also acquired Travelers’ Lunch, which had been established by Bickford’s brother Harold, the White Lunch System on the West Coast, and the Hayes Lunch System in Boston, which was renamed Hayes-Bickford. “The lunchrooms operated are of the self-service type and serve a limited bill of fare, which makes possible the maximum use of equipment and a rapid turnover. Emphasis is placed on serving meals of high quality at moderate cost.”
In 1930, there was a Hayes-Bickford on 310 Main St. in Central Square; its Harvard Square location, which opened in 1938, was frequented by notables such as John Updike and Susan Sontag and a hangout for musicians. The 24/7 Harvard Square outlet was an informal headquarters of student radicals until 1967, when the landlord forced it to close between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m.
Along with others like Waldorf Cafeteria, (in this location from 1913-1938), and Hazen’s, “The Bick” was one of the greasy spoons of choice for hungry students, city workers, musicians, and all walks of late night coffee drinkers. Woolworth’s wasn’t the only diner to encounter the racial tensions of the sixties. In 1964 Hayes-Bickford was picketed against for its “negro hiring policy,” with the CORE-sponsored demonstration eventually leading to the arrest of 27 people. Furthermore, a discrimination lawsuit was filed but thrown out the same year by two Nigerian students who were treated disrespectfully as patrons. In 1970, a Shakespearean-themed eatery named As You Like It, replete with servers in period uniforms, took over 1326 Mass Ave. The popular Yenching was in this location from 1975-2015.
Clover Food Lab moved in in 2017 after an extensive renovation that revealed significant elements of the building’s history.
Lotman, Mo. Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950. New York, Stewart, Tabori & Chang. 2009.
O’ Rourke, Sean. A Brief History of Harvard Eateries and Watering Holes: Algiers to Zum Zum, Circa 1940-Present. Unlimited Publishing, 2011.
Beyer, R. Andrew. “Judge Dismisses Case Of Bick Demonstrators.” The Harvard Crimson. 31 July 1964.
Chiorazzi, Anthony. “Uncovering Harvard Square’s Past.” The Harvard Gazette. 24 March 2017.
Irving, Bruce and LJ Baptiste. “A Clover in Time.” The Cambridge Historian: a Newsletter of the Cambridge Historical Commission. Spring 2017. Volume XVII: Number 111, p.6.-7 (A graphic story about the restaurant and its discriminatory hiring practices.)
Wikipedia contributors. “Bickford’s.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed March 28, 2022.
Sullivan, Charles. “Radical Events (and Bad Behavior) in Cambridge, 1819-2000.” Cambridge, MA, Cambridge Historical Commission, July 20, 2017.