An MIT grad returning to Kendall Square — as an acclaimed chef

An MIT grad returning to Kendall Square — as an acclaimed chef

By Grant Welker

Milena Pagán graduated from MIT in 2011 with a degree in chemical engineering. She’s about to return to the neighborhood — to open a bagel shop as an acclaimed chef.

Pagán spent some years in the corporate world but appears to have found her calling in restaurants.

Pagán was a semifinalist this year for best chef by the prestigious James Beard awards for her Providence restaurant, Little Sister. Pagán also runs a bagel shop in Providence’s East Side called Rebelle Bagels.

Later this year, she’ll bring Rebelle to Cambridge. The restaurant will open at 249 Third St. in the residential building Lofts at Kendall Square.

Pagán, born and raised in Puerto Rico, told the Boston Business Journal she fell in love with Cambridge while she was in college and called her four years at MIT “some of the most fun, challenging, pressure-filled and rewarding of my life.”

“I fantasized about building my business there but it was out of reach for me financially when I started Rebelle in 2017,” she said.

Pagán said she enjoyed cooking and entertaining as a teenager but determined a full scholarship to MIT to be too much to say no to. She didn’t like the corporate world, she said, and found an opportunity in the market for great bagels in Providence. Engineering took her to Providence in 2013, and she opened Rebelle four years later. The sibling restaurant Little Sister opened in 2020.

Her degree helped.

“Baking and cooking at large scale is chemical engineering, absolutely. A small batch of dough behaves differently from a large batch of dough,” she said. “A process that works at a small scale may not be feasible at high volume. The knowledge I gained at MIT helped me go from a newbie to a really skilled pastry chef in a matter of a few years, all self-taught.”

In other retail news:

  • Eastern Standard will reopen Oct. 12 in its new location just on the other side of the Massachusetts Turnpike from its old spot in the middle of Kenmore Square. It’s the second of four restaurants Garrett Harker has planned for The Bowker, a development about a block west of Fenway Park. The new Eastern Standard joins All That Fish + Oyster, which opened last month.
  • As for the old Eastern Standard location, there’s still no exact date set, but the latest Kenmore Square restaurant from Blue Ribbon Restaurants will open this fall, according to the New York-based group. Blue Ribbon Brasserie will join siblings Blue Ribbon Sushi and Pescador Coastal Grill. All three are on the ground floor of the Hotel Commonwealth building.
  • Winthrop Center, downtown Boston’s tallest building, will include some food retailers. Representatives for the tower aren’t releasing further details yet but the city’s Licensing Board approved three operating licenses for the building’s grand hall, which connects Devonshire and Federal streets. Winthrop Center opened to residents on its upper floors this spring and offices on the lower half over the summer.
  • The Bell Inn & Tavern is close to reopening this fall in Peabody. But before it accepts its first overnight guests after a renovation, its speakeasy, called The Cellar, opened for business on Friday and Saturday nights. Food service isn’t yet available, but cocktails, beer and wine are.
  • Burg Kitchens + Appliances is the latest tenant at MarketStreet in Lynnfield. The upscale seller of kitchen, bathrooms, closet and other equipment and goods is open next to AllModern, the retail store from Boston e-commerce giant Wayfair at a former Chico’s store.
  • Banh Mi Ba Le of Dorchester has opened a second location in Malden. The new location is in the 99 Asian Supermarket, which includes a series of food vendors at 60 Broadway.
  • The old Suffolk Downs has yet to open its first new building but it has already hosted a concert and is about to open up for Truck or Treat at The Track. Food trucks and kid-friendly activities are planned for Sunday, Oct. 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • MetroWest food entrepreneurs are soon to get an important new tool in their business toolkit. WSK, a shared commercial facility, will have two well-equipped and Board of Health-certified commercial kitchens available to rent by chefs and food entrepreneurs. It’ll be located at the Holliston Mill in Holliston.

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