This past week’s unseasonable snowstorm couldn’t have been better advertising for Boston Blankets, a new business started by two Wellesley women in an effort to encourage people to support local restaurants offering outdoor dining into late fall. The meals and outings will be worth the effort, but you’ll want to bundle up.
Friends Sue English and Susan Mathews came up with the idea when out for a birthday dinner with their husbands in the North End.
“As we sat with our husbands on [Forcella’s] amazing patio area we were discussing how it would be so awesome if we could keep doing this somehow. How they have outdoor cafes all over Europe but in Boston we are not big on it due to the weather. We thought of blankets, and joked that we wouldn’t care how we looked in January as long as we could be out dining with our friends,” says Mathews, who moved to Wellesley in 2010 and has 3 children.
They asked the waitress what she thought, and she loved the idea. She brought over the owner, and they had their first customer. “Then all we needed was a company,” says Mathews, who is British and had a career in financial PR in England and Australia before coming to the United States and working as an admissions reader for MIT Sloan.
The Susans joined forces with family and friends to come up with a logo, business cards, and a website. Blankets were ordered and they set out to find local customers that would rent them.
“Dave [Becker] at Juniper couldn’t sign up fast enough. He loved the sense of community we were trying to foster,” English says.
“That was such a great idea!” says Becker, who pledges to keep offering outdoor dining as long as customers demand it.
The Boston Blankets business partners say their idea also “met with big smiles” at Smith & Wollensky.
For $3 a blanket, a table of four can be snuggling up at their meal. The Wellesley women aren’t looking to make a fortune with this venture, but rather are just trying to be good neighbors and help restaurants stay open as long as they can. They might seek funding from the town, state or individuals to help expand the program, which could also address other outside events.
Blankets are delivered to restaurants individually wrapped, then collected and washed after being used, with Centers for Disease Control guidelines being followed throughout the process. The women are hoping to align with local dry cleaners to toss them some business, too, in light of so many people dressing down as they work from home and cutting back on their dry cleaning.
Quite a bit of thought went into choosing the blankets. English, who lives in Wellesley with her husband Francisco and daughter Katie, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in textiles with a minor in chemistry and has had a lifelong career in the industry. She was awarded a patent for her technical contributions on the Next Generation First Responder Uniform designed for the Department of Homeland Security.
“So when it came to selecting the blankets, she had a wealth of material knowledge,” Mathews says.
They went for a synthetic blend, in a lofty knitted form. “This allowed us to get a high thermal insulate value without the weight,” English says. “It also allowed for easy care under stringent washing conditions. We thought about possible food stains, comfort, warmth, and cleanliness.”
Some blankets will be donated to a shelter in Boston once the outside dining season is over.
“We are so excited to help the restaurants that helped us,” English says. “It was hard to be stuck inside. Outside dining has been a gift, and we would like to keep it happening in town for as long as possible.”
Mathews says they hope Boston Blankets will be around for years to come: “Not because we have to eat outside, but maybe because we want to eat outside.”