Sal’s Place | Nathaniel Hopkins Condominium at Union Wharf (Unit 7).
Restaurants come and go in Provincetown. Sal’s Place came in 1962 and — except for a recent hiatus and a whole lot of drama — it is still around, under Siobhan M. Carew, the second successor proprietor since it was founded by the artist Salvatore Del Deo.
But let’s start the story of 99 Commercial Street where it belongs: as an accessory building to the enormous Union Wharf, constructed in 1831. A deep-water wharf, at least 1,000 feet long (it may have been longer), would have attracted a host of related businesses to the wharf head. The shipwright Nathaniel Hopkins, for instance, maintained a spar yard, where masts were fashioned. Andrew T. Williams (1836-1920), a ship’s chandler, maintained enormous coal storage houses at what is now 95 Commercial Street. Then there was the Seamen’s Savings Bank, whose principals and corporators were by and large the very same men who ran the Union Wharf Company.
Sal’s Place at 99 Commercial Street (2009). Photo by David W. Dunlap.
According to research by Josephine Del Deo, Seamen’s opened in this building before moving a few doors down, to the Union Exchange Building, 90 Commercial Street, where it shared offices with the Atlantic Mutual Fire & Marine Insurance Company, whose interlocking directorate included Nathaniel Hopkins, who was also superintendent of the Union Marine Railway, 99-101 Commercial Street. It must have been here, therefore, that Leander Rockwell, a seaman from Nova Scotia, made the first deposit of $36.
This was the property of Andrew T. Williams at the turn of the 20th century, at which time it was denominated 84 Commercial Street. The building was referred to as the “Union Wharf store” in the 1920 deed that transferred ownership of the property to Manuel “Ti Manuel” Furtado (1879-1945), who established Furtado’s Boatyard at 99-101 Commercial Street and, in 1927, constructed a short wharf on which he installed cabins that were rented to summertime visitors (99-101 Commercial Street).
Francis “Flyer” Santos (1914-2015) worked for Furtado and his distinctive nickname was applied to the restaurant that operated in this space: Flyer’s Lunch
Furtado sold the property in 1945 to Nicholas Meletopoulos, who continued the business as Flyer’s Lunch, though it was sometimes referred to as “Nick the Greek’s.” By 1951, the restaurant had been renamed the Skipper. It was open year-round and served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meletopoulos and his wife, Natalie, sold the property in 1960 to John T. Czyoski and his wife, Gloria. The Skipper operated briefly after they took over.
Arthur Cohen depicted a crowd descending on Sal’s Place in this undated drawing, in the collection and courtesy of Dan Towler. The large building in the background is the old Cape Cod Cold Storage freezer. Cohen’s rendering of the sign reveals that it once said: “Cucina quisisana d’Italia e frutti di mare del Golpo di Provincetown.”
Then, in 1962, came the artist Salvatore Del Deo, of 31 Atkins-Mayo Road. He had operated Ciro & Sal’s, at 4 Kiley Court, with Ciriaco “Ciro” Cozzi (1921-2013) from 1953 to 1959, when their partnership dissolved. Del Deo had an explicit philosophy for his new restaurant, expressed in The Advocate on 14 July 1964: “It may be an old-fashioned idea but we still maintain that good health through fine food is the essential function of Sal’s Place.” He adopted the motto “Qui si sana” — “Here you find health” or “Here you are healthy” — run together as “Quisisana,” a name used throughout Europe for hotels and restaurants.
In 1965, Sal and his wife, Josephine Del Deo (1925-2016), bought the Commercial Street property from the Czyoskis. That year, Jesse Meads constructed a waterfront dining room in 1965. Writing about the restaurant in A Taste of Provincetown (1981), Gillian Drake said that Sal’s offered “a pure Italian cucina.” She noted that all four Del Deos — Josephine, a prominent preservationist; and the two children, Romolo and Giovanna — were actively involved in the restaurant. She continued:
“Over the years, the restaurant has also served as a kind of gallery where many painters have shown their work, musicians have played, poets recited and friends have returned to check a photograph tacked up over their favorite table. Sal, a painter himself, thinks of his cooking as an art, and if you ask him, he’ll say — ‘Good artists make good cooks.’”
Among the summer visitors whom the Del Deos regularly lodged at 99-101 Commercial Street were the Whorfs of Hingham: John Whorf (1927-2010), a printer and artisan, and son of the famous painter by the same name; his wife, Marjorie (Osborne) Whorf; and their children, Amy (Whorf) McGuiggan, John Whorf, and Matthew Whorf. Amy wrote a lovely, illuminating memoir, My Provincetown: Memories of a Cape Cod Childhood (2003). In it, she described the experience of living next to Sal’s:
“Sal was always working, right alongside the hired help, behind the butcher-block counter, in front of the gas burners, every one of them with a high blue flame jumping through the grills. But his real contribution came in making Sal’s Place an oasis, a place where young people found direction. Or if not direction, the time and patience they needed to find direction.
“The fans would begin to whirl, chasing out the first robust aromas of the day. Sal’s wife, Josephine, would arrive and take her place in the front room, tucked in a corner where she managed all the bookkeeping and business affairs. Efficient, watchful, and of a more sober nature, she complemented Sal, who, by his gregarious and romantic nature, might well have given away the store. …
“Over the years, the walls of the front room had become Sal’s public scrapbook. They were layered — in some places double- and triple-layered — with posters of Capri and Sorrento, wine-bottle labels, pages from opera libretti, pictures of Caruso, old postcards announcing past season openings of the restaurant, ditties penned by resident writer-waiters, sketches and cartoons done by artist-chefs, exhibition and recital announcements, snapshots of Sal, Jo, Giovanna, Romolo. … There was no order to the décor, and nothing, I suspect, was ever removed to make room for something new. It was Sal’s world: Family. Friends. Italy. Opera. Art.
“By late afternoon, tables were being set for the evening’s patrons. The day crew would finish up, disheveled, sweaty, spattered with grease and sauce; the second shift of waiters, busboys, and cooks would arrive, pressed and immaculate. … A tiny chalkboard in the front window would announce the dinner selection in a flowing script — Manicotti, Bistecca alla Pizzaiola, Pollo del Giorno, Calamari Stufati, Vitello Saltimbocca, Pesce di Stagione, Pasta Casalinga, Insalata Mista.
“At six, dinner patrons would begin to arrive, flowing into the narrow alley [between 99 and 101 Commercial Street] from all points of the compass, drawn by the herbal bouquet — thyme, basil, oregano, and garlic, always the garlic — that wafted from the kitchen. … All evening, ice water would tumble into glasses, corks pop, steaks and bass sizzle, silverware clink, the walk-in door clunk, the espresso machine woosh, the fans whir. Faces would glow in buttery candlelight.”
Sal Del Deo (2009), at left. An ad from the 15 June 1967 Advocate, courtesy of the Provincetown Public Library. Lora and Alexander Papetsas on closing night of their proprietorship in September 2014. Photo by and courtesy of Dan McKeon.
The main dining room under the Papetsas family.
The Sal’s sign looked more like Alex in 2014, at left, and more like Sal in 2008
The Del Deos turned over the property and the business in 1989 to Lora Papetsas and her husband, Jack Papetsas (1930-2009), who had both worked at Sal’s and had patronized it. They prided themselves in maintaining the traditions of Sal’s Place, as they expressed on their website in 2008:
“Jack’s 60-foot party boat in Wellfleet keeps him acquainted with the local fishermen and thus, the freshest fish. Herbs are grown in the restaurant’s garden. The menu and the décor have little changed — huge portions served in a slice of southern Italy. Alexander, Jack and Lora’s son, has grown up in the business and is now the chef in training.”
After his father’s death the next year, Alexander stepped up help his mother manage the restaurant, becoming its executive chef. But the end was near.
In 2012, Lora Papetsas began preparing for the sale of the property by creating the Nathaniel Hopkins Condominium at Union Wharf, with seven units: Unit 1, the innermost pier shed; Unit 2, the middle pier shed; Unit 3, the outermost pier shed, fashioned from the pilot house of the Albatross II; Units 4, 5, and 6, the three discrete second-floor apartments at 99 Commercial; and Unit 7, the restaurant at 99 Commercial. “A Home at Last,” the residence at 101 Commercial, was treated as a separate property, though the entire complex was marketed together at one point by Pat Shultz Real Estate, which said: “There are multiple options for a new owner: maintaining the restaurant and its well-known and established reputation, a complete conversion to condos, a family house compound, or a combination of those elements.”
The original deck behind Sal’s, pictured in 2011, was torn out four years later.
So was the grape arbor over the alleyway (2014). Photos by David W. Dunlap.
However inadvertently, the division of 99-101 set up what was certain to be conflict between owners with very different needs and agendas.
The pier sheds were the first to sell, closing in September 2012. Bryan Rafanelli and Mark Walsh, and their friend David Berarducci were the buyers.
Sal’s Place served its final dinner under Papetsas proprietorship on 29 September 2014. Less than two weeks later, on 10 October 2014, an entity called the Huey Trust closed on 101 Commercial Street. The buyer was Gregory Connors.
The stage was set for the arrival of a restaurateur to perpetuate Sal’s: Siobhan Carew, the proprietor of the well-regarded Pomodoro in the North End of Boston, as well as a Pomodoro restaurant and Matt Murphy’s Pub in Brookline. Even before buying the property, Carew applied in late 2015 for a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals that would allow the continued use of the restaurant, with a full liquor license, under new management but with no change to the seating layout or increase in seating. Connors’s attorney, Lester J. Murphy Jr., objected to the application, based in part on the narrowness of the alleyway between 99 and 101 Commercial. He argued that “the operation of the restaurant is now more hazardous to the neighborhood,” according to minutes of the November meeting, and said the permit should be denied. Carew’s attorney, Christopher J. Snow of Snow & Snow, said the alleyway “is not the obstruction it was made out to be” and that, in any case, “it is an element of use that has been customary since 1940, and is therefore grandfathered.” After discussing the size and adequacy of the access area, the board approved the permit by a vote of 5-to-0.
“A Home at Last,” 101 Commercial Street, was part of Sal’s Place and under common ownership in 2008, at left. By 2016, the properties were separately owned and 101 had been raised as a flood prevention measure. Photos by David W. Dunlap.
Around this time, in the late fall of 2015, a contractor removed the deck alongisde Sal’s (and therefore its pleasant outdoor seating area) to permit access for the renovation of the wharf and pier sheds. The contractor pledged to restore the deck within six months.
At a hearing of the Licensing Board in January 2016 on the transfer to Carew of Sal’s liquor license and common victualer license, Connors questioned the application through his lawyer, Frances Allou Gershwin of Burns Levinson in Boston. Gershwin said Carew’s application was incomplete and lacking in important details that ought to be considered by the board. Snow said he had never seen a more thorough application and that what was really being discussed was Carew’s suitability as proprietor. Gershwin replied that she was not objecting to Carew, but urging the board to act on a full application. The license was approved, 3-to-0. The next month, Carew closed on the 99 Commercial Street wharf head building, including Sal’s Place.
“I only wish that was where the difficulty ended,” Siobhan’s oldest daugther, Michela Carew-Murphy, wrote in a Facebook post on 21 July 2016.
“When we came down in March to begin the process of cleaning the restaurant to get it open for Memorial Day, we were dismayed and distraught to see that not only had the iconic grapevines that covered the entrance to the property and its accompanying trellis been ripped down without our permission, but the company hired jointly by our ‘friendly neighbours’ … had torn out our deck (and outdoor seating) again without notice or permission. Despite this bad introduction, we believed them when they committed to having the deck rebuilt by April 15 and we watched as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months and still, we wait for the deck.”
It was critical for Sal’s to reopen in 2016, within two years of the September 2014 closing, lest they lose their grandfathered status as a nonconforming use in a residential district. They managed to do so, by a whisker, in August 2016. Sal’s continued through the 2017 season, without a deck. Outdoor seating was arranged in the alleyway between 99 and 101 Commercial.
The Conservation Commission approved the reconstruction of the deck at Sal’s in August 2017, 4-to-0, over objections raised by Connors’s attorney. Connors appealed to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. In December, the state overturned the ConCom approval, requiring Carew to go through a lengthier and more detailed application process. When the matter returned to ConCom in February 2018, David Crispin, a civil engineer speaking on behalf of Connors, expressed “concerns regarding whether the deck would be structurally stable and able to survive uplift forces from the potential wave action resulting from a major storm” — an issue of obvious importance to Connors, since the deck would be so close to his house. The hearing drew about 100 people to Town Hall. Carew’s allies included Romolo Del Deo, Sal and Josephine Del Deo’s son, and Jennifer Cabral, whose father, Reginald “Reggie” Cabral (1923-1996), owned and ran the Atlantic House.
“Cabral asked for a show of hands on the number of people in support of the deck, and a sea of arms raised,” The Banner reported. Crispin was the only dissenter to speak up. The commission approved the deck, 5-to-0.
Without rehashing details of personal acrimony among the various owners at 99 and 101 Commercial Street — all of whom seem to have behaved badly at one point or other — it suffices to say that the situation had by now turned poisonous.
In 2016, the beachfront at 99-101 Commercial Street resembled a construction site. But Siobhan Carew and her family were able to reopen Sal’s. Photos by David W. Dunlap.
It was turning into a bright line separating Old Provincetown from Nouveau Provincetown. Fairly or not, Connors, Rafanelli, Walsh, and Berarducci were cast as the personification of wealthy wash-ashores who can afford to ignore or even subvert the institutions and communal values that once made the town so special. “Sal’s Place had become a referendum on gentrification, a way to vote with feet and wallets by which people were pledging allegiance to the old live-and-let-live Ptown,” Peter Manso, the author of Ptown, wrote in an essay titled, “L’Affaire Sal’s Place: Money and Meanness in the New Ptown.”
More was to come. The building permit for the deck expired in May 2018. Carew reapplied, but her application was denied in July 2018 by Anne Howard, the building commissioner. “The decking was removed in 2015,” she told Carew, “and then was not replaced within the two years of the removal and, so, the decking is no longer protected as a lawfully nonconforming structure and will need either to conform to the provisions of the current Provincetown Zoning By-Law or obtain variance relief” from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Through her lawyer, Anthony T. Panebianco of Drohan Tocchio & Morgan in Hingham, Carew maintained that the building permit was still valid. Moreover, Panebianco said, by issuing the deck permit in November 2017 — two years and a month after its removal — the town had admitted even by its own standards that the two-year statute of limitations was paused, or “tolled.”
With that — and without a new building permit — construction began on the deck on a Saturday in mid-July. As soon as Commissioner Howard could, she ordered an immediate stop to the work.
“We are all very frustrated by the situation at Sal’s,” the assistant town manager, David Gardner, wrote in an email.
“But everyone is expected to follow the law and the process, despite how onerous or how long it takes. Abutters have rights also, and the town doesn’t have the ability to decide which side has lived here longer or which side deserves special treatment. The democratic process unfortunately involves lawyers, and regulatory processes and indeed due process. None of which the town can just ignore because of our shared love of the restaurant and respect for its history. … [Carew] chose to violate the building code and then pursue a public relations campaign for forgiveness. … The building commissioner cannot in good conscience place her certification on the line and approve a deck that cannot be inspected just because the business owner lost patience with the process.”
In response to the stop-work order, Ryan Landry — the “indefatigable impresario of comic mayhem,” as The Boston Globe called him — started a petition on change.org to Commissioner Howard; David Panagore, the town manager; and the Board of Selectmen. By the time of this writing, in early September 2018, Landry had gathered nearly 9,000 electronic signatures under this message:
“Many great people work there and they are being both mentally and financially harassed by the next-door neighbor who illegally removed the deck attached to the restaurant a few years back only because he didn’t like having a restaurant next door. He did this during the winter and when the restaurant owners came back to town they found their deck was gone. It has been a constant legal battle ever since because Sal’s is only trying to get the original deck back. Without the deck, Sal’s will lose 25% of its seating and be forced to close. If you believe in the old Provincetown where people with money to burn didn’t always get what they want, this is a great opportunity to stand up for that belief. Siobhan and company desperately need your help in order to stay open.”
Even more conspicuously and impressively, businesses around town — including other restaurants — began to sport homemade “Eat at Sal’s” signs. Murray Shalom of Shalom’s Gift Shop and the Cotton Gallery sold “Eat at Sal’s” T-shirts. Employees at the Squealing Pig raised money among themselves to help defray Carew’s legal costs.
In 2018, Carew rebuilt the deck at Sal’s. The picture shows how the restaurant is to 101 Commercial, the home of Gregory Connors, at left. Photo by David W. Dunlap.
The stop-work order was lifted in the space of four days under an agreement reached between Carew, Panagore, and Howard. Carew was permitted to complete the deck at her own risk, indemnifying the town, pending a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals on whether she would be allowed to keep the deck permanently. Carew also appealed the July denial. No one was anticipating that the saga would end anytime soon, however, least of all the town manager, who told The Banner: “I expect the challenges between the neighbors will continue however the current issue of regulatory compliance has been resolved.” On 13 September, the zoning board approved a variance allowing the deck as built. But Carew still needed a building permit.
¶ Last updated on 16 September 2018.
For further reading online
Sal’s Place on Facebook.
Provincetown Zoning Board of Appeals, Minutes, 19 November 2015.
Provincetown Zoning Board of Appeals, Minutes, 3 December 2015.
Provincetown Licensing Board, Minutes, 12 January 2016.
“Doors Remain Shut at Sal’s Place in Provincetown,” by Katy Ward, The Provincetown Banner. Wicked Local, 23 July 2016.
Provincetown Conservation Commission, Minutes, 1 August 2017.
Provincetown Conservation Commission, Minutes, 20 February 2018.
“Sal’s Will Open ‘Come Hell or High Water,’” by K. C. Myers, The Provincetown Banner. Wicked Local, 5 March 2018.
“Stop-work Order Reignites Sal’s Place Fireworks in Provincetown,” by Katy Ward, The Provincetown Banner. Wicked Local, 18 July 2018.
“Sal’s Deck in Provincetown Gets Variance but Needs Building Permit,” by K. C. Myers, The Provincetown Banner. Wicked Local, 13 September 2018.