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Nantucket Select Board approves clam shack opposed by billionaire neighbors

16nantucket - The old Straight Wharf Fish Store on Nantucket. Gabriel Frasca and Kevin Burleson

A proposal for a clam shack and waterfront restaurant on Nantucket got the greenlight from the town’s select board members Wednesday night, despite “utmost opposition” from wealthy neighbors who own nearby cottages along Old North Wharf.

Since word spread around the resort island, plans for the Straight Wharf Fish Market and 62-seat waterfront restaurant has touched sparked controversy hotter than a fryolator.

For more than an hour, supporters and opponents spoke at a public hearing over the impact the development would have on the quality of life for residents and visitors.

Strong feelings were expressed over noise, trash, the clatter of silverware, the smell of fried food wafting through the Nantucket air.


“They don’t need a liquor license to run this operation,” said Sarah Alger, a lawyer representing some homeowners, who urged the board to turn down a beer and wine license for the premises. “You can have a clam shack without serving alcohol. This will bring traffic, it will bring excessive noise, you’ll have people waiting outside, there will be lots of talking and milling around.”

But Kenneth Stanley, a homeowner on the island, said the clam shack would make “a perfect addition to Nantucket” and he looked forward to visiting when it opened.

“It’s going to add value to the island; it’s going to add value to the visitors,” Stanley said.

The two businessmen behind the project, Gabriel Frasca, 48 and Kevin Burleson, 40, described their venture as “that local clam shack that every Cape and coastal town has on the water.”

Speaking at Wednesday’s hearing, Frasca said the pair hope to bring a “top notch” fish market back to the spot where the old Straight Wharf Fish Store operated before it closed in 2021.

They hope to open this summer and are seeking several licenses, including one for the restaurant, one for non-live music, and a seasonal alcohol license for wine and beer.


Those licenses were approved at Wednesday’s meeting, but with numerous conditions. Last call was set for 9 p.m. for the first year of operation. Background music is allowed only in the interior dining room. The approval is subject to the applicants getting all other permits.

Attorney Danielle deBenedictis, who is representing several wharf residents, including billionaire businessmen Charles Schwab and Charles Johnson, a former mutual fund executive and the principal owner of the San Francisco Giants, spoke in “utmost opposition” to any type of outdoor seating. Johnson’s home is directly beside the proposed restaurant.

“We don’t need anymore destruction of the character of our waterfront,” deBenedictis said.

Harvey Jones, a 30-year resident of the island who has owned a home on Old North Wharf for more than 20 of those years, lamented the proposed location for the clam shack.

“It will damage the quality of life on the wharf,” Jones said. “No question, it will be busy.”

“Doing it on the edge of anybody’s residential neighborhood is a big mistake,” he added.

Meanwhile, Chris Sleeper, proprietor of Pip & Anchor, a grocery market on the island, warned against letting the “few who have the money to afford to hire a lawyer” drown out the voices of the project’s many supporters.

“I care deeply about our island community as a whole,” Sleeper said, adding that he favors the project and supports the team behind it. They have outstanding resumes, are trusted community members and have excellent reputations, Sleeper said.


Select Board members agreed that a new restaurant was much needed on the island, especially one located on the water, as they debated imposing various restrictions on the new establishment, including banning outdoor seating and not allowing beer and wine sales.

Select Member Malcolm W. MacNab was most resistant to the idea of the new restaurant so close to homeowners.

“I’m very concerned about the location and the potential noise,” MacNab said. “I’m not sure I would support activity outside at all ... Yes, we need a restaurant. Do we need to serve alcohol there?”

Nantucket is “lacking” in waterfront dining options, said Dawn E. Hill Holdgate, vice chair of the select board, adding that the clam shack’s casual concept appealed to her.

“I would hate the idea of having a restaurant go in on the water and not allowing anybody to sit outside,” she said. “I understand that it’s an addition, but it’s not even remotely on the scale of everything else in the area ... I do want businesses on the island to be able to be successful, and these people have proven themselves a number of times.”

Select Board member Brooke Mohr said she agreed that “there’s a dearth of opportunities for families to grab dinner on vacation in Nantucket.”

“And I worry that if we don’t have more restaurants in this sort of range ... we’re making ourselves less family friendly as a community over time.”


Tonya Alanez can be reached at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter @talanez .