Back before they moved to Portland and opened Cafe Always and went on to found Aurora Provisions and help launch El Rayo, Cheryl Lewis and Norine Kotts were part of the team that opened the Beetle’s Lunch in Allston. Professor Janice Irvine at University of Massachusetts has recorded and published this oral history interview with Kotts and Lewis about those early days.
But first there was Beetle’s Lunch! Before moving to Portland, Lewis and Kotts were two of the four lesbian co-founders of Beetle’s Lunch in 1982, a café in Allston, Massachusetts. Known as a queer-punk space also welcoming of locals, Beetle’s was named the”1983 Best Punk Restaurant” by Boston magazine. I lived a block away from Beetle’s during that time, while a graduate student at Brandeis University, and frequented the café several times. Almost four decades later, I moved to Portland from Massachusetts. Serendipitously, I met Cheryl and Norine at a dinner party. We immediately discovered, and bonded over, our shared history at Beetle’s. As a sociologist, I knew their stories would be those of a radical generation reimagining work, politics, and food. In this oral history, they recount Beetle’s origin story, and the daily pleasures and challenges of launching and running a restaurant (while in their 20s!). More broadly, their stories capture that dynamic historical moment of feminist and queer politics, a nascent food revolution, the emergence of alternative community spaces, and early ‘80s experiments in establishing collective workplaces. This oral history covers the period ca. 1981-83.