Virtually desolate Dudley Square needed dining alternatives to deep-fried heart attacks, so in 2005, organizers with Haley House — the 43-year-old South End–based charity foundation — opened the Corner Shop Bakery Café.
Soon after, they responded to another Roxbury need, and offered the Dade Street restaurant's rustic brick walls to local artists looking to showcase prints and paintings.
Considering those milestones — and that the café has since 2006 been the lone business directly south of Melnea Cass where the blighted neighborhood's underserved multicultural niche can sit at a table and sip wine — it's no surprise that Haley recently stepped up to compensate for another socio-cultural element largely missing around Dudley: live evening entertainment.
"At first, we just wanted to bring really fresh, nutrient-rich food to this neighborhood," says Kathe McKenna, a Haley House executive director who has worked with the foundation since 1966. "The South End is filled with cafés and cool restaurants — but here there was nothing."
These days, Haley House is a dynamic network that includes the café in Dudley; the original South End soup-kitchen facility where select low-income families live, learn, and feed hungry visitors; and the organic Noonday Farm in Winchendon, which yields supplies for the Boston operations.
Following the community-driven Haley House mission, the Corner Shop has since its inception been guided by popular demand. One art show led to near-monthly openings; sporadic cooking classes evolved into weekly meet-ups; a Thursday-night performance series led to this fall's schedule, in which jazz, spoken word, and a range of musical guests keep the doors open (on Wednesday through Friday) way past the original afternoon closing time.
"People just started staying later and later," says Carol Kong, who left the last event at 10:30 pm. "If we closed at four, people would be here until five or six anyway, using the free Internet and eating dinner after work."
While Dudley has a new prime-time hangout in Haley House, McKenna adds that several other businesses have recently opened, including a butcher shop and a design studio. Their neighborly intentions might be less deliberate, but new commerce of any sort ultimately serves the same ends around the intersection of Washington and Warren Streets.
"This is where a cool café should be," says McKenna. "All of this can be considered an attempt to bring life to a neighborhood that's been left out of everything that happened in the South End."