CHATHAM – A mural covering an entire wall inside the new Chatham Filling Station captures the atmosphere that owners Ric and Caren Morse hope to foster in their new diner. The colorful painting by Helen Kelsey, from the point of view of a customer sitting at the counter as a waitress pours a steaming cup of coffee, shows a busy eatery with quirky waitstaff, happy customers and a lot of Chatham-related imagery, from sharks and seals to fishing boats, the CG36500 and even a lone skydiver.
“There's a lot of fun stuff going on” in the mural, says Ric, who came up with some of the ideas for the content. “We want this to be a happy, fun place.”
The Morses wanted the 60-seat Chatham Filling Station to reflect the classic American roadside diner plucked from yesteryear, with “wholesome, hearty, affordable and tasty” food and all the accouterments, including counter seats, milk shakes, and staff members named Flo and Ace (all female staffers workshirts will, in fact, bear the name Flo and the men's will be emblazoned with Ace). Alas, there's no gas pump, though there's a spiffy one in the mural and the couple is on the lookout for a vintage pump to enhance the theme.
The new restaurant is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend. It won't be the Morses' first venture into the Chatham market.
From 2001 to 2006, they owned and operated the Chatham Bakery. For the next decade, they operated Zia Pizza in East Orleans.
“That place was really a labor of love,” said Ric.
Last September they sold Zia for “qualify of life” reasons. With Caren and Ric sharing the opening and closing duties, they were missing time with their 11-year-old daughter and wanted to spend more time together as a family. The Chatham Filling Station will serve breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., allowing the couple to both be able to catch their daughter's sports games.
With its focus on breakfast and lunch, the new restaurant will in a way hearken back to Caren's earlier days at Chatham Bakery, and before that, when she ran her own pastry business on Nantucket. After selling Zia, the couple looked at a few places along those lines, until their realtor told them that the Old Harbor Cafe might be coming on the market.
“I had always had an eye on the place back when we owned the bakery,” Caren said, so when they heard it might be available, “it just felt like it was meant to be.”
They particularly like the location at 75 Old Harbor Rd., just a block from the downtown rotary. It shares the neighborhood with the community center, Veterans Field and playgrounds, all of which fit into the Americana concept they came up with.
“We're just smack in the middle of it all,” said Ric.
Menu items will include the usual diner fare but will also reflect regional variety with dishes like the Cincinnati club, Carolina grits and Denver omelet. Echoing the roadside diner theme, the kids menu will include a grease monkey sandwich (peanut butter and banana). There will be plenty of breakfast pastries, breads and biscuits, “but no donuts,” Caren said. Desserts will have “homespun” themes, focusing on cakes and pies.
“We want somebody to get something different than just a plate of eggs and toast,” Ric said, adding that freshly-made popovers will take the place of toast as a standard side.
During a recent visit, the diner was buzzing with workers installing a point of sale system. Seatless chairs cluttered the floor waiting for new coats of paint. The counter is a holdover from the Old Harbor Cafe but it's been raised to give it a more old fashion soda fountain feel. They pulled up the entire floor – discovering several layers of vinyl tile, Ric said – and put down a new epoxy surface with a warm paint-splatter accent.
Caren, originally from Illinois, and Ric, who grew up in Cincinnati but moved to Vermont when he was 11, met one summer on Nantucket when both worked at the American Seasons restaurant. They bought the Chatham Bakery with the proceeds from Caren's pastry business.
The couple hopes to appeal to local residents, especially families, and will keep The Chatham Filling Station open year-round.
“We're here for the locals, seven days a week,” Ric said. “We want to be embraced by locals and have them rediscover this little gem of a spot in the middle of Chatham.” They're hiring local residents – including two people who had their first job with them at the Chatham Bakery – and are excited about their newest venture.
“We're happy to be back in Chatham,” Ric said.