Late-night snackers looking for their fix of apple fritters, doughnuts and cinnamon buns in Oak Bluffs could be locked out and left hungry tonight.

Selectmen in the town this week voted to shut off the doughnut spigot, ending a nearly 18-year tradition of after-hours sales from the back door of a downtown bakery.

"It's a bad practice, operating business out of a back door," said selectman Richard Combra, who pushed for his board to clamp down on Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery.

The decision could touch off a powder keg of protest. Bakery co-owner Janice Casey is in no mood to break the law, but she's worried about the fallout if she shutters the back door doughnut trade.

"It's going to be a fiasco there tonight if I close it," she told the Gazette yesterday.

On a busy weekend night in the summer, the bakery closes its front door on the mall by 6 p.m. and then sells upwards of 500 doughnuts and fritters via the back door at the edge of a cluttered parking lot - almost all of them between the hours of midnight and 1:30 a.m.

The problem is that food-service licenses issued in town prohibit operation between 12:30 and 5 a.m. Selectmen also said the parking lot area is poorly lit and dangerous.

But while four selectmen voted to both ban back-door sales completely and enforce the 12:30 closing time, one selectman took note of the tradition of back-door doughnuts as part of the summer landscape in Oak Bluffs.


Greg Coogan argued against the hard-line action and ended up abstaining when it came time to cast a vote.

"There's a culture there. For a lot of kids, it is something special we will be taking away from them. It's a place to congregate for teens," said Mr. Coogan, a math teacher at the Tisbury School. "We need to give them these places and not shoo them away."

Even Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake - in his initial comments - downplayed the urgency of enforcing regulations on late-night doughnut sales.

"At one o'clock at night, police have more to think about than whether people are eating doughnuts in a parking lot," he told selectmen.

Later, Chief Blake agreed with most of the selectmen, saying that it wasn't fair for one food business to keep on selling when others have shut down by half past midnight.

Police yesterday hand-delivered a notice to bakery owners Janice Casey and Rita Brown, informing them that back-door doughnut dealing was prohibited.

"The selectmen have directed the Oak Bluffs police department to enforce the enclosed regulation, and violations will be prosecuted," the letter stated.

The bakery owners have officially asked town administrator Casey Sharpe if selectmen will reconsider their action and entertain the idea of extending hours for restaurants that want to serve food past the 12:30 cut-off.

"Tourists are used to 24-hour availability of food. When they leave the bars and dance clubs, they're hungry. They walk around Oak Bluffs looking for some place to get food," Ms. Casey and Ms. Brown wrote yesterday in a letter to selectmen.


Wednesday night around 11, out by the dumpsters and cardboard in the Reliable Market parking lot along Kennebec avenue, the patrons were all young, many of them just as Mr. Coogan had described in his plea Tuesday night. They were unabashed fans of the back-door scene.

"It's so cool. I love it," said 18-year-old Galen Brew of West Tisbury. "I look forward to it all winter."

News of the selectmen's edict, declaring an end to the tradition, drew sharp reactions. "I would never come to the front door," said Gil Paterson, a 19-year-old from New London, Conn.

"We love to come here late at night. We don't do any harm," said Emily Leighton, a 25-year-old from Edgartown who brought a trio of Scottish friends along on the doughnut run.

Just seconds before, Miss Leighton was in a state of ecstasy: "These Boston Cremes are so good. They're warm still," she said, as she polished off the last bits of cream and chocolate.

Indeed, much of the attraction is the fresh from the Fryolator smell and taste.

"People from Chilmark call and ask me, ‘Are the apple fritters ready?'"said Maria Cardoso, the back-door clerk and bakery supervisor, with an easy smile. "We have a lot of customers from there."

While a good night means selling 500 fritters and glazed and chocolate-covered doughnuts, the perks for Ms. Cardoso and the half-dozen workers in the kitchen can be found in the hefty tip jar.

"I've been doing the back door for three summers. This is the best place to make tips," she said. Some nights, that jar holds $200.

To Ms. Cardoso, the operation is about more than just money. "After midnight, people are drunk and need to get food. This is the only place to get it," she said.


A letter taped up to the door cautions customers to keep the noise down. "We have a neighbor who becomes very upset when he is awakened during the night. Now, I know we, and he, are located in the center of the business district, but we get blamed for the noise," the letter reads, in part.

This is not the first time that town officials have leaned on the bakery's back-door operation. In years past when neighbors have complained about noise in the parking lot, selectmen have asked police to enforce the closing-time restrictions.

And in 1989, when the place was called the Old Stone Bakery and owned by the Peter White family, selectmen actually suspended the bakery's license for a week after three citations from police for operating after hours.

It's not entirely clear when the tradition of selling hot doughnuts and fritters from the bakery's back entrance started, but the bakery's owners and workers say it's been going at least 18 and possibly as many as 25 years.

But this week, selectmen weren't basing their decision on the need to preserve quirky cultural traditions. Mr. Combra was alluding to imminent letters from other businesses in town, complaining that the back-door sales were unfair to other food sellers who were abiding by the town's closing time.

Ms. Casey said she plans to resurrect a petition and turn to her customers to help clamor for the opportunity to keep selling from the back door. With warm doughnuts on her side, she should have little trouble finding allies.

"For Islanders who go to school and come back in the summer, this is their favorite place," said Ms. Cardoso. "If you close it, they'll get real sad about it. It's a tradition.

"They get so happy when they get a hot cinnamon bun. They say, ‘I love you,'" she added. "It's really fun to work here."