An Interview with Bob Luz, CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association; and Ayr Muir, CEO and Founder of Clover Food Labs

By Joseph Winters ’20
Aside from representing the interests of the association’s 18,000 restaurants in the statehouse and the marketplace, The Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA) hosts an annual awards dinner to recognize Massachusetts’s food industry innovators. This year’s awards were hosted on February 27 at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center in Boston, and Cambridge’s own Ayr Muir, CEO and Founder of Clover Food Labs, was named Limited Service Restaurateur of the Year.
I got to speak with the MRA’s CEO, Bob Luz, about the award. And then I heard from Mr. Muir about what made him and his brand stand out.
As CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, Bob Luz helps represent the best interests of the 18,000 restaurants in the association’s directory, lobbying at the state house, providing networking opportunities for members, and facilitating group buying opportunities that would normally only be available to larger companies.
It’s a big job, one that Mr. Luz worked up to after getting a degree in hospitality management from UMass Amherst, working in traditional full-service restaurants and then in human resources for really big restaurant companies. Four years ago, he transitioned to the MRA and has since worked face-to-face with lots of smaller restaurant owners to help their businesses grow.
Luz also helps coordinate the MRA’s annual awards ceremony, in which five individuals are recognized for standing out in five categories. One award honors the Limited Service Restaurateur of the Year, who Luz described as a standout chef at“any food and beverage operation that is not a full-service restaurant.” Like a kiosk or one of those trendy “fast-casual” places that are popping up throughout Boston.
Nominations for the award are sent in by all members of the MRA, a selection committee reviews the nominations, and they release a final decision. Clover has received nominations for the past three years, but it wasn’t until the 2017 awards that Ayr Muir finally secured his title. “People saw continued passion to change the way America thinks about eating,” Luz says of Muir and his Clover empire, which has grown from a single food truck to a multi-location brick-and-mortar chain within a handful of years, also cultivating “hordes of customers that come in five, six times a week,” Luz adds.
Although customers may love Clover because the food is delicious, there are a few other factors that have put Muir in the spotlight. After reading a United Nations report on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” Muir thought he could have the biggest impact on reducing meat consumption by getting into the fast food business and offering plenty of meat-free alternatives. “To have the maximum impact we have to serve lots and lots of people,” Muir explains.
However, although you won’t find meat on any Clover menu, Muir is not necessarily in the “vegetarian” food business,. “Our goal is to help people who otherwise eat meat to change their eating habits,” Muir says. The word “vegetarian” is never used in any of Clover’s advertising or on their menus, avoiding potentially negative connotations associated with vegetarianism. As Luz saw it, “even though they don’t serve ‘normal protein,’ they don’t call themselves a vegetarian concept, and the reason they don’t is because they’ll jump to the conclusion that it’s not going to be delicious food.”
By sourcing locally and emphasizing vegetables, Clover also offers a healthier dining experience than your typical fast food joint. “Chances are, a Clover meal is going to be healthier than a meal one of our customers would have eaten otherwise,” Muir explains. And he’s probably right—in Harvard Square, at least, other nearby grab-and-go options include Shake Shack, Tasty Burger, El Jefe’s, and other red meat- and refined carb-heavy options.
But perhaps Clover’s crowning achievement is that you don’t really need to know anything about how local the produce is or how much healthier their sandwiches are. “People make their decisions about food based on value and convenience and taste,” Muir explains, not health or carbon footprint. Achieving these factors is what has given meaning to all of Muir’s behind-the-scenes grunt work on health and sustainability. The final product: a healthy, greener chickpea fritter sandwich that you can dig into in fewer than seven minutes from the time you place your order.  This is what set Muir apart, possibly enough to be named the 2017 Limited Service Restaurateur of the Year.
Muir says he was surprised to receive the award because his business model is so different from the industry norm, but the norm seems to be changing. Who knows, “Clover may just be bigger than McDonald’s some day!” Luz laughed. It’s a lofty goal, but I’d have to agree with Luz’s evaluation: at the end of the day, “it’s just good food.” I’d take the Chickpea Fritter Sandwich over a Big Mac any day.

Step Aside, There’s A New Coffee in Town

by Allison Yan ’19

There’s nothing quite like our beloved Clover. The brightly lit space. The open, airy atmosphere. And the food. Did I mention the food?

A Harvard staple, Clover is well-known for its carefully made food and top-quality coffees. Friday was a special day for Clover, as the restaurant introduced Four Barrel Coffee to their wonderful drinks lineup. I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Clover manager, Lynn, about their new coffee (coming all the way from Ethiopia!) over a delicious complimentary cider donut.

Full disclosure: I’m not by any means a coffee aficionado. Fortunately, Lynn gave me a very helpful rundown of Four Barrel Coffee and what Clover looks for in its coffee roasters. I’ve compiled her advice in a list that will hopefully be helpful to my fellow Clover addicts.

  • Clover selects its roasters very deliberately.

It’s not just a random selection, or whichever roaster is the most affordable. Clover doesn’t feature any type of coffee unless someone has personally visited the roastery. They consider how the roaster treats their beans, the equipment, and the staff before deciding whether to bring it back to its Boston-area restaurants.

  • Four Barrel Coffee was hand-picked by Clover’s owner!

Ayn himself endorsed this coffee.

  • African coffees are distinctively different from Latin American coffees.

African coffees tend to be fruitier in nature, with a mix of multiple flavors, while Latin American coffees tend to have a smokier taste.

  • Four Barrel’s beans hail from Biftu Gudina, Ethiopia.

These beans really are special. The flavor of this coffee is described as “lemony, earthy, with a thick body.” Just enough fruitiness to make you nostalgic of warmer days, and more than enough satisfying earthiness to warm you up.

  • Light or medium roast is the way to go.

Four Barrel beans are delicate and have a uniquely lovely taste. It would be a shame if a dark roast was used and all you tasted was the burn of the roast. Light or medium roast will best allow the flavors to sink in.

  • Four Barrel Coffee has been a Clover staff favorite since it arrived.

It’s even made using the pour-over method! Therefore, it’s good. Trust me.


I know I’ll be back to try Clover’s new coffee as well as my old favorites. In any case, move aside, large coffee chains. Clover is making a name for itself as a seller of some of the best coffee in the world.

Through the Gates with Cambridge Eats

by Emily Brother ’19

A couple of weeks ago, the Freshman Dean’s Office organized a food walking tour that took students to a variety of Cambridge’s best cafes, restaurants, and markets. Below is a list of the places that the group visited followed by a brief description of the food that is served so that when your palate is wanting something different and delicious, you know where to go:

Clover (7 Holyoke St.): Known for using locally grown produce to create delicious vegetarian dishes, Clover is the best place to grab a quick and healthy sandwich on the cheap.


Broadway Market (468 Broadway): Across the street from the Harvard Art Museum, one of the most affordable markets near the Yard. It has everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, cheeses, sushi, and more.


Savenor’s Market (92 Kirkland St.): A butcher shop that was supposedly a favorite of Julia Child, Savenor’s sells a plethora of meats. If you’re feeling adventurous, my most exotic finds were Pheasant, alligator, foie gras, rabbit, and buffalo.


The Biscuit (406 Washington St, Somerville, MA): Just a few blocks from Annenberg, The Biscuit is a great café to go to for a nice cup of coffee and a delicious baked treat that is off the beaten trail.


Shiso Kitchen (374 Washington St., Somerville, MA): For those who weren’t able to take Harvard’s Science and Cooking course this semester, you can go to Shiso Kitchen and learn how to prepare foods from places like France, Thailand, and Italy for a variety of occasions. A typical class is anywhere from $50-$100.


Reliable Market (45 Union Square, Somerville, MA): A wonderful Asian food market that sells an endless amount of ingredients commonly used in the preparation of Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese dishes.


Capone Foods (14 Bow St., Somerville): A charming store that specializes in selling fine Italian wines, homemade cheeses, meats, and pasta sheets! This is also the place to get cannolis when you tire of Mike’s Pastry!

Union Square Donuts (20 Bow St., Somerville, MA): A gourmet donut shop that sells delicious donuts including flavors like: Brown Butter Hazelnut Crunch, Sea-Salted Bourbon Caramel, and Boston Cream. You can visit their store (address above) or catch them at the weekly farmer’s market on campus!


Bloc 11 (11 Bow St., Somerville, MA): Not only does Bloc 11 brew amazing fair-trade coffee, it also pays its employees a living wage and benefits while providing them with a comprehensive training program that will prepare them to work in any position in the restaurant.