ORLEANS — Mike and Viviane Dufresne's dream of opening a restaurant in Orleans had turned into something of a nightmare. That's the word Mike used to describe the permitting process that gave them “nothing but trouble since February” when he spoke up at the Orleans Citizens forum candidate night April 26. Fighting to keep his emotions in check, Dufresne decried a time- and money-consuming system in which conflicting advice led to frustration.
Selectmen candidates David Currier, Erik Oliver, and Mefford Runyon were quick to offer support.
“I've been down that road,” said Currier, who recalled his struggles to put a bar into his Orleans Bowling Center. “All you get is resistance and a runaround. I personally will see that this is addressed. I'm tired of hearing the lip service that Orleans is pro-business.”
Oliver, a former president of the chamber of commerce, said he perceived “a lack of communication between departments.” If elected, he told Dufresne, “I'd take time to meet with you (and) speak with the departments.”
“What you experienced has never been acceptable, and has never been fixed,” said Runyon, a retired bank officer. “I don't have a major solution, but this should not be ignored.”
Moments later, prompted by Dufresne's “heart-wrenching speech,” resident Brian Kavanaugh asked the candidates if they would create a post of citizen advocate or ombudsman. All three responded favorably.
Two days later, The Chronicle sat down with the Dufresnes on a bench outside their restaurant, Viv's Kitchen, while they took a break from repainting and sprucing up the former Grand Old Deli. A resident had just stopped by to offer words of support, and they said many others had done likewise.
Mike, who's 36, grew up in Eastham, where the couple lives with their baby, and Viviane, who's 32, is from Martha's Vineyard. They met while bartending in Boston, but were drawn back to the Cape where Mike worked for Realty Executives of Cape Cod and tended bar at the Rock Harbor Grill and Viviane bartended at the Grill and also the Barley Neck.
After they met Jimmy Reynolds, owner of the Grand Old Deli at Orleans Marketplace, Viviane started working there, making sandwiches. “I could see the potential,” she said. “It's a high-traffic area,” Mike added.
As they toyed with the idea of buying the business, they got a friendly push in that direction from Chuck Konner of the Rock Harbor Grill. With two decades each of hospitality experience behind them, they took a leap of faith and made the purchase.
Then, in January, the permit grind began.
“It was no specific person,” Viviane said. “It's not that a department did anything wrong or mistreated us. It was just a disconnect between departments.” There is one specific person to whom the Dufresnes are grateful: assistant health agent Zackary Seabury, who put together a list of all the permits they'd need.
Getting on agendas in a timely fashion was problematic in some cases, including getting the news on the day of the candidates forum that there was no room on the May 3 selectmen's agenda for a vote on their requested common victualler's license. The couple, who had hoped to open Viv's Kitchen in May, were distraught as they left town hall. “We walked to our cars and cried,” Viviane said.
But they received an email on their way home to Eastham that said, “after much deliberation,” a place had been found on the May 3 agenda. They decided to attend the candidates forum and speak out because, as Mike put it, “people need to know” about the difficulties with the process. (Ironically, Viviane had intended to speak but deferred to Mike because she was afraid she would cry).
By Saturday, it seemed the tide had turned.
“We feel blessed,” Viviane said. “We've had a lot of people stop in and say we support you. We were getting phone calls the very next morning.”
If all goes well, Viv's Kitchen soon will be serving familiar soups, salads, and sandwiches but also introducing Brazilian cuisine drawn from her heritage. Look for the moqueca, a fish stew, to be on the menu daily. There will also be a marmita, a box lunch whose contents change daily but include a protein of the day, rice, beans, and a salad. They hope to add a juice bar with fruit juices and smoothies to satisfy the workout crowd at the gym next door.