The Arsenal Sheds Project Opens in Watertown

Black Magic Coffee, Fuji Sushi, and Commonwealth are now popping up in provisional sheds outside Athenahealth.

arsenal shed

Black Magic Coffee’s new shed at the Arsenal project in Watertown. Photo by David Simon

Graffito SP, an urban advisory and investment firm located in Cambridge, has teamed up with healthcare software developer Athenahealth to transform part of their Watertown headquarters into a outdoor space dedicated to artists, retailers, and food vendors. In the open-air space, which officially opened last week, you’ll now find three, 200-square foot sheds, occupied by a rotating cast of operators serving everything from coffee to sandwiches to chicken tikka masala.

“The genesis of the project came from Athenahealth’s desire to activate their outdoor space in a meaningful way,” says Graffito founder Jesse Baerkahn. “We started working on the project in March and the shed idea developed over a series of meetings. It’s a relatively new concept and we felt a nice alternative to doing the usual suspect, shipping containers, which everyone seems to be doing nowadays. Historically, there were similar looking sheds that over the last century—when the Arsenal was actually an arsenal—served hot food. So, it made quite a bit of sense.”

Athenahealth’s 29-acre plot of land, which housed ammunition for the United States Army as far back as 1816, is now being turned into New England’s version of Googleplex, according to The Boston Globe. The company wants to add walking and bike paths, outdoor meeting spaces, a farmers market, a beer garden, new restaurants, and even an Arsenal museum. The Arsenal Sheds is just part of Athenahealth’s grand Silicon Valley-esque vision.

Currently, the sheds have already hosted local businesses such as Black Magic Coffee, Crema Cafe, Fuji Sushi, Guru the Caterer, and Nourish Your Soul Juice. The Watertown Health Department doesn’t allow for food to be prepared on-site, so restaurant vendors have to prepare meals off-site, pre-package them, then transport them to the sheds.

“It’s a retail experiment that everyone seems to be excited about,” Baerkahn says. “I think they’re synonymous with food trucks, but they’re not being looked at that way. We’re currently trying to figure out the licensing paradigm, but everyday there will be different people out here. Some vendors will have a set schedule, but most will be rotating in an out.”

The Sheds project will run through October, with rumored participants such as Nookie Postal’s Commonwealth and Allston’s FoMu ice cream. They’re currently open Monday through Friday starting at 8 a.m., but Graffito plans on adding weekend hours starting this fall.

“In my opinion, the future of retail is going to be about flexibility and doing fun, whimsical, temporal stuff,” Baerkahn says. “This is a great example of that. We don’t have anything like this in the Boston area.”

You can now follow The Arsenal Sheds on Twitter, to track which vendors are set to pop-up. Baerkahn anticipates adding up to ten new interested businesses by the end of the month, so stay tuned for an updated list of participants.