CHATHAM – In 1968 A gallon of gas would cost you roughly $.34 and a movie ticket about $1.50. The Detroit Tigers won the World Series, while “Green Tambourine” was a top 10 song on the radio. In the little fishing village of Chatham, a new eatery opened up on Main Street, its owners, Richard Costello and George Payne, hoping for success, little knowing that The Chatham Squire would become a local institution and go on to celebrate 50 years.
“If you look at the name, a squire is someone who attends to or takes care of, and that's what we've been doing for 50 years,” said General Manager Richard Sullivan. “I think that Richard and George have created a very welcoming atmosphere. Whether you're a visitor or a regular it feels like you're a part of our family.”
This past weekend, the restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversary with a reunion of dozens, maybe hundreds, of past and present employees, patrons and friends, as well as a special scavenger hunt and many other activities. There was even a special weekend exhibit at the Chatham Historical Society's Atwood House and Museum, telling many stories from the past decade. Including how Payne and Costello came to buy their building; employees living upstairs set off fireworks to celebrate the end of the season, prompting the owner to tell them to buy the building or get out. They bought the building.
Amy Tagliaferri became a member of the Squire family in 1976, the beginning of what became a 22-year run filled with memories.
“We painted half dollars with red nail polish for the jukebox,” Tagliaferri recalled. “And we wrote guest checks in shorthand. The phone behind the bar was an extension from the pay phone so we could only get calls in. We couldn’t dial out. Last call was bellowed out so you could grab one last drink: Motel Time! You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here!”
Tagliaferri remembers jumping up to ring the bell when she received a dollar tip. Costello, she said, didn't like seeing uneaten food go to waste, so for some time he arranged to have all food waste donated to an area farmer with pigs.
“He found someone with pigs and we acquired ‘pig buckets’ at the dishwasher station,” she said. “You scraped the plates into these buckets and then they went to the pigs the next day.”
The Squire crew also carried on a tradition of Costello's to never erase a special from the restaurant blackboard, opting instead to cross out the sold out items.
“Then they will know what they missed out on and come in earlier next time!” Tagliaferri recounted Costello saying.
Through the years the Squire gained notoriety for its food offerings, which have always included a balance of local seafood and dishes to please even the pickiest palate, and also for its unique décor in the form of hundreds of license plates adorning the walls. But what really set the Squire apart were those working behind the bar or in the tavern, as well as the many visitors through the years.
Scott and Karen Bennett both worked at the Squire during separate eras, Scott from 1979 to 1984 and Karen from 1988 to 1992. Though they didn't meet at the restaurant, they connected over their memorable experiences there. Both said Costello and Payne created a truly special working atmosphere, one in which hard work was expected, but so, too, was having an enjoyable experience.
“They always give you a chance, the opportunity to work hard and have a good time,” said Karen, one of the winners of last weekend's celebratory scavenger hunt.
“Know what your job is, do your job, and you'll reap the benefits and rewards,” added Scott, who said what made the job one to cherish were the people.
“The people that have been there through all the years,” he said.
“It's a family,” said Mimi van der Burg. “They take care of you when you're down and out. They pick you up. When you're happy, they're there with you. My three boys, Max, Noah, and Josh Rosen, all worked there.”
Sullivan heartily agrees.
“I love that we are one big dysfunctional family,” he said. “We're a tight-knit group. It has provided me with a wonderful life year round here on Cape Cod.”
Sullivan said that within the floorboards, walls, license plates, and sawdust there are countless stories.
“There's a story for everything and every nook and cranny in the building,” he said. “The most recent standout memory was when we had to close early on Fourth of July two years ago because it was a rainy day, the World Cup was on, and the place was absolutely nuts. We decided everybody needed to go home and go to bed. It's been a lot of fun times in here.”
That The Squire has been a beacon on Main Street for half a century makes Sullivan and his fellow Squire family members smile, while looking forward to the next 50 years.
“It's where friends get together,” he said. Richard and George, the two of them really created an iconic location.”