A Main street Vineyard Haven restaurant that has sat empty for years was singled out for biting criticism by one of the town selectmen this week, who openly questioned whether the owner was acting in good faith.
“I see Cafe Moxie opened up this morning,” said selectman Jeffrey Kristal at the Tuesday board meeting. “No, I’m kidding,” he added with evident sarcasm.
The former Cafe Moxie was destroyed in the 2008 July 4 fire that also did major damage to the building that housed the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. Renovations to downtown buildings affected by the fire have since been completed, except at the cafe at the corner of Main and Center streets, which was slowed first by reconstruction problems and then a change in ownership.
Michael Ryan, the owner of Island Woodworks Construction, bought the building from Paul Currier in November 2010. In an interview with the Gazette last June, Mr. Ryan said the 48-seat restaurant would open sometime last summer. At the time Mr. Ryan had hired a chef and was building two apartments above the restaurant to rent to year-round Island residents.
This week Mr. Kristal, who has repeatedly questioned the status of the restaurant at recent meetings, was frankly dubious.
“Some people have come to me saying they heard that they’re using it just as a woodshop and that there’s no real activity going on,” he said. “People have been concerned that there’s been a lot of loading of stuff in and out, and that it could be used just as a work space rather than a restaurant.”
Mr. Ryan could not be reached for comment, but Nick Mosey, a business associate who is helping Mr. Ryan open the restaurant, said plans remain on track to get the restaurant open by summer. Mr. Mosey said he intends to apply for a common victualler’s license this week, and he took sharp exception to Mr. Kristal’s comments.
“There’s nothing wrong with making smart-ass comments except that, in that setting, from that position, that’s pretty bloody deplorable,” he said. “Really. The more I think about it . . . for townspeople in responsible positions to be shooting their mouths off and spreading unbased gossip is not, in my view, appropriate.”
Mr. Mosey acknowledged that there is woodworking going on at the site, but he said it is cabinetmaking for the restaurant.
“We’re making the tables and the benches for the restaurant,” he said. “Mike’s specialty is woodworking, so that’s the woodworking that’s going on, it’s to create the restaurant itself.”
Mr. Mosey said delays were due in part to a protracted negotiation with NStar about the electrical supply for the building, and some issues involving financing for the project that have been resolved.
“It doesn’t do the town any good to be denigrating business folk,” Mr. Mosey said. “Mike’s been pushing to get this thing open. He took it on to save it, to make it work. It’s been a longer haul than he would have liked but he’s committed himself and his wealth to get this thing going in the face of a lot of difficulties.”
Mr. Mosey said the plan calls for keeping the restaurant open year-round, featuring French-American cuisine with an emphasis on locally-grown and locally-caught food.
“They’re really focusing on that,” he said. “It will carry on and help sustain the Island. We need people to put in long-term, real businesses. What do you want? A bunch of crappy T-shirt shops all over the place?”
At the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, town building inspector Kenneth Barwick came to the restaurant’s defense. As proof of progress, he said Mr. Ryan had submitted an application to the fire chief and building department for a fire suppression system over the kitchen’s cooking equipment.
“If you have an opportunity to go into the building and down into the basement, they are clearly moving forward to complete and assemble that kitchen for the purpose of food service,” Mr. Barwick said.
“I read that news article two years ago,” said Mr. Kristal.
Also on Tuesday the selectmen held a public hearing on possible changes to a shellfish regulation that restricts commercial licenses to two per boat. The shellfish committee voted unanimously to recommend keeping the regulation, calling it a conservation measure. But Glen Pachico, a commercial fisherman, is pressing for the change in order to accommodate multiple commercial license-holders in his family. In order to comply with the rule, he said he would have to buy another boat.
“I was brought up on this Island in the sixties and seventies when we all helped one another, when we all worked together,” Mr. Pachico told the selectmen. “It’s not going to hurt the pond . . . I don’t understand why the [shellfish committee] is so adamant against working with the townspeople.”
Mr. Kristal was blunt in his reply. “This townie crap has got to go,” he said. “I’m sorry, but that was the sixties and seventies. Times have changed . . . this is the only fishery that we have. I think there’s a reason for that. This is an industry that [the shellfish committee] wants to protect for you.”
Only two selectmen were present at the meeting and the vote deadlocked at 1-1, so the shellfish regulation will remain unchanged.