North Tisbury Bakery Owners Abandon Well-Known Eatery

By IAN FEIN

One year after forcing out family members who ran a popular up-Island bakery there for roughly a decade, the owners of the Vineyard Foodshop in North Tisbury appear to have abandoned the business and reportedly plan to sell the landmark property.

They are also now the subject of a lawsuit, filed by the West Tisbury board of health in Dukes County Superior Court last week, that seeks to compel them to cease and desist from discharging wastewater into a failed septic system.

Listed as defendants in the case are property owner Joyce R. Duarte of Waterville, Me., her son, Michael Hoyle, and Edgartown attorney Edward (Peter) Vincent Jr., a co-executor of the estate. None returned calls for comment this week, and they have not yet answered the complaint in court.

The town board of health, which is charged with enforcing state and local health regulations, said in its complaint that the three failed systems on the property constitute a threat to the safety and welfare of the public. The town is requesting preliminary and permanent injunctive relief requiring the defendants to install new systems and pay daily fines for their failure to abide by an earlier enforcement order.

Though the bakery remains closed, Mr. Hoyle is living in the family house next door and, according to the complaint, continues to discharge wastewater into the failed system.

The town lawsuit is the latest turn in a recent saga surrounding the small family-owned bakery, which for more than five decades served as a vibrant gathering place for the up-Island community. The building is now closed, its windows covered with old bakery boxes, and the parking lot is blocked off with a row of carefully placed stones and stumps. A gate to the back of the property is adorned with signs that read No Trespassing and Beware of Dogs.

Humphreys bakery owner Joseph (Michael) Diaz, who worked in the North Tisbury location for 12 years before Ms. Duarte, his estranged aunt, forced him out in December 2004, acknowledged this week that it is sad the family tradition has ended in West Tisbury. But he said business is thriving at his three down-Island locations, particularly the new flagship bakery in Vineyard Haven, which opened last August and remained open year-round.

Humphreys this week was named best bakery and best deli in the annual Best of the Vineyard awards, published in Martha's Vineyard Magazine. Mr. Diaz has won best deli each of the last five years, and best bakery four out of the last six.

"We still see a lot of familiar faces and our dedicated up-Island customers at the new place," Mr. Diaz said on Wednesday, working behind the counter at his bakery in Edgartown. "And regardless of what they are doing or not doing in West Tisbury, we're still putting out our quality Humphreys products."

The late Argie Humphreys first built the North Tisbury bakery in 1952, and passed it on to his son Bartlett in the 1970s. Bartlett in 1996 then handed operation of the business to Michael and Donna Diaz, his niece, who leased the building and ran the bakery for the next eight years. The Diazes also expanded the business to include a delicatessen, and created the popular Turkey Gobbler sandwich.

Ms. Duarte inherited the building after Bartlett, her brother, died in 2003, and the following winter she chose not to renew the Diazes' lease so that her children, the Hoyles, could operate their own bakery in the building. Ms. Duarte then filed a lawsuit against Mr. Diaz last May, trying to block him from using the Humphreys name and recipes at his other down-Island bakeries. A judge denied the request for a preliminary injunction, and the case was settled quietly this spring.

Mr. Hoyle opened the Vineyard Foodshop in North Tisbury last August, and operated a bakery and deli through the fall. But the parking lot never appeared as full as it had been under Mr. Diaz, and the business did not reopen this spring. Mr. Diaz this week said he always turned a healthy profit at that location, and speculated that Mr. Hoyle is unable to afford necessary upgrades to the septic systems.

"The moral of the story is: They took a very profitable business, but because they made enemies in the community and were not willing to put in the required work, they ran it into the ground," Mr. Diaz said.

According to the board of health court complaint, an inspector last July found that sewage had backed up in cesspools on the property, and designated all three antiquated septic systems as failed. The board of health promptly notified the property owners and the next month issued an enforcement order requiring them to receive approval of a new system by mid-December, to be installed by mid-April. Ms. Duarte signed the enforcement agreement in early August.

The board of health allowed the bakery to open on a temporary basis last summer by using a tight tank, which does not allow any wastewater into the ground and must be pumped out periodically.

But last December, the day the new system was supposed to be approved, Mr. Hoyle requested an extension, which the board granted until the end of February. In March, with still no application for a new system before them, the board sent a series of notices to the property owners.

According to the board of health complaint, Mr. Hoyle in April asked for more time to comply with the order, and stated that the owners planned to sell the property. The property has not yet appeared on the open market, and it is not known what price the owners are seeking. West Tisbury assessors this year valued the property, which totals almost eight acres, at roughly $1.1 million.

An attorney for the town on May 1 sent a letter to the owners warning that litigation was imminent. It does not appear that he ever received a response.

Town health agent John Powers said this week that the board rarely has to resort to a lawsuit.

"When we do an enforcement order, we make it a mutual agreement and negotiate the dates [for compliance]," Mr. Powers said on Wednesday. "When most people enter into the agreement, the abide by it. Very rarely do we have to do this."