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Gen Z Runs the World: Harvard Square Restaurant Edition

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El Jefe’s Taqueria has a new location? Kung Fu Tea has a new competitor in town? Why does Harvard Square have not one, not two, but three ramen restaurants? The capricious nature of the restaurant scene in Harvard Square has never been more hormonal than now.

In the past year, students have witnessed restaurants come and go in the blink of an eye. From the consumer’s perspective, new restaurants mean exploring new options. From the business side, however, the rapid overturning of Harvard Square restaurant staples is indicative of the competitive business landscape.

For many Harvard students, 2022 is only their second year back on campus. As a result, many businesses may have used the past in-person year as indicators of student interest. Ones that were profitable remained, while others that were less profitable left. Therefore, while restaurants such as Hokkaido Santouka Ramen have managed to stay on 1 Bow St., businesses like Pressed Juicery and Spyce have had to shut their doors. Owning a physical location in the Square is a costly endeavor due to the valuable Cambridge real estate, so businesses must perform on extremely tight margins.

On the bright side, the rapid overturning of Harvard Square restaurant staples also makes way for contemporary, more appealing competitors to conquer these “hangry” college students. College towns are inherently unique in nature, as their consumer base mostly consists of young people. In many ways, the future of Harvard Square rests in the brilliant mouths of Harvard students.

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Furthermore, Gen Z is not the most patient generation. After all, in this day and age, attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter, resulting in impatience and a desire to constantly want the next brand new, shiny thing. The lives of this fast-paced generation revolve completely around 280-character Tweets, sound bites, TikToks, and Instagram Reels.

As a generation that was exposed to technology early on, current college students are collectively seen as lacking patience and diligence. However, this shortcoming gives this specific age group a propensity to consume information and crave innovation. Consumer culture, though, does not merely apply to knowledge gained at Harvard, but also to new foods in the square!

Trends abound both online on social media and in Harvard Square itself. The recent rise of acai bowls, which originated from Brazil, have spread like wildfire across the U.S. and has even made its way to Harvard Square through Playa Bowls. Health foods and smoothies are also incessantly praised by Gen Z, resulting in Mother Juice’s fresh presence in the Smith Campus Center. Even macarons, a French speciality, are found in Cambridge at Le Macaron French Pastries.

More recently, when Gong cha launched its grand opening in Cambridge, they announced a sweet deal for college students on Instagram, {one of Gen Z’s primary social media platforms. Their 29K-follower Instagram account @gongchatea amassed over 400 likes on their Sept. 7 post announcing their buy one get one free deal from Sept. 9 to 11. Gong cha was certainly met with eager students on those three consecutive days, as their lines were out the door, spilling onto Church Street.

Harvard Square businesses have also partnered with startups such as Toppings and Snackpass to offer special discounts to students. Reaching potential consumers through their phones, with food only one tap away, is a clever business strategy that will hopefully continue to appeal to our technology-driven generation for decades to come.

This generation revolves around the internet, technology, and social media, with a trend cycle that never stops accelerating. While trends can come and go in a flash, all businesses can hope to do is remain relevant. Ultimately, the central message for current and future businesses in Harvard Square is quite loud and clear: Gen Z dictates your future.

—Staff Writer Allison S. Park can be reached at allison.park@thecrimson.com.

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