Doughnuts on Menu at Meeting Tonight of Oak Bluffs Board

By CHRIS BURRELL

Like a twist on the old Homer Price story, it wasn't the doughnuts that piled up this weekend at Janice Casey's bakery in downtown Oak Bluffs, but the signatures.

Under orders from Oak Bluffs selectmen, Ms. Casey shut down her back-door doughnut sales at the bakery last Thursday - and fought back by hanging a petition on the door.

Now nearing 1,000 strong, the signatures on the petition protest the selectmen's decision last week to end the popular tradition of late-night doughnuts at the back door of Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Bakery & Cafe.

The issue is slated for discussion at today's meeting of the selectmen, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging building on Wamsutta avenue. A showdown is likely.

"People are just outraged," Ms. Casey said yesterday morning as she took a break from the bakery counter.

The after-hours sales have been taking place in the parking lot behind Reliable Market. Food service licenses in town require businesses to close between 12:30 and 5 a.m. Selectmen said the parking lot is an inappropriate and dangerous place to be conducting business, even if it's before the 12:30 a.m. deadline.

But selectmen may have underestimated the pull of a hot doughnut in the wee hours. Ms. Casey and her fans aren't happy. "Old, young, people are asking me, ‘What is going on here?‚' said the bakery's co-owner.

Their petition has a preamble of sorts, a defense of late-night doughnuts, extolling the virtues of an Oak Bluffs habit that reaches back at least 18 years.

"Back-door doughnuts is an Island tradition," the petition reads. "It serves the hungry and tired. It provides an early breakfast for many. It puts food in the stomachs of some who have had one drink too many before they get in their cars. We love back-door doughnuts and want it to continue."

A quick scan of the petition shows the signers come from all over the Island and all over the country, from Georgia and Virginia to New York and Oregon.

Yesterday, Ms. Casey downplayed the number of doughnuts sold from the back door on a busy night, estimating the total sales of apple fritters, glazed doughnuts and cinnamon buns might reach 150. Last week, bakery supervisor Maria Cardoso said she has sold upwards of 500 in one night, all of them still hot from the Fryolator.

Ms. Casey plans to ask selectmen to consider amending time restrictions on restaurant licenses and allow businesses to seek permission to stay open later.

"If [they are] nuts enough to stay up working ‘til 2 in the morning, why not let them do it?" she said.

The majority of the back-door customers queue up between midnight and 1:30 a.m., many streaming over from the bar crowd. Bars stop serving alcohol at 12:30 a.m. and lock up a half hour later.

Earlier in the evening there are families and teenagers, who have grown accustomed to a summertime treat of grabbing a bag of toasty doughnuts and fritters.

Last week, while four members of his board voted to ban the doughnut selling, selectman Greg Coogan made a pitch to rescue what he viewed as a cultural tradition - and then abstained from the formal vote.

"For a lot of kids, it is something special we will be taking away from them. It's a place to congregate for teens. We need to give them these places and not shoo them away," Mr. Coogan said then.

Galen Brew, 18, of West Tisbury, was one of the last customers to indulge in a fresh back-door doughnut before the selectmen's order took hold.

"I look forward to it all winter," she said.

Ms. Cardoso said Chilmarkers call and ask if the apple fritters are ready before they take the drive from up-Island.

But selectman Richard Combra, who encouraged his board to tighten up enforcement on the bakery's sales, called it "bad practice" to sell out of a back door. He also said that other businesses in town had complained that it was unfair to other food sellers who were abiding by the town's closing time.