Business: Chatham Food Vet Jenn Mentzer Takes Over Wayside Inn

By: Debra Lawless


“She’s back.”

That’s what people are saying about Jenn Mentzer, who was appointed general manager of the Chatham Wayside Inn effective Feb. 24. A well-known figure for decades in Chatham’s restaurant scene, Mentzer has spent the past 11 years as director of the catering division of Mac’s Seafood, based in Wellfleet.

One quiet morning about halfway through her third week on the job at the Wayside, Mentzer came up from her basement office to sit at a table just outside the inn’s Wild Goose Tavern to talk about her plans to make the Wayside Inn a fun destination for the upcoming summer season. As well as the restaurant operation, Mentzer will oversee the hotel.

Mentzer, 61, has a good 40 years of knowledge of Chatham’s restaurant scene. A native of Philadelphia, she studied chef’s training at the Restaurant School of Philadelphia. Her family vacationed on Cape Cod beginning in the 1940s and she moved here in 1976. Between 1982 and 1986, she was the first and only female executive chef at the Chatham Squire. She says she evolved the pub-style restaurant’s menu from fish and chips to “full service dining.” From 1989 to 1995 she ran Crosswind Landing, the original restaurant at Chatham Airport. She followed that by running Local Bites and Pleasant Bay Catering in West Chatham until 2009.

“That’s really what gave me my strong connection to Chatham and the community,” she says. “I had been doing the same job description with different legs for the past 40 years.” She says she is proud that she can offer her long experience to the Wayside Inn.

The Wayside Inn was established in 1860; its logo shows a stagecoach pulled by four horses. During her early days here Mentzer has been getting to know the inn from top to bottom. She was given a tour of “all things Wayside,” including staff housing which she says is very nice. And that’s important to Mentzer—she wants to know that the staff, some from overseas, has “nice accommodations.”

She notes that many, many employees have been with the inn for 10 or more years, and says that this speaks to the high quality of the management.

Stop at the inn and you might, for example, find Mentzer sitting next to you at the Wild Goose Tavern’s bar counter on a Friday evening, getting to know the regulars at the bar while observing how the service runs in the dining room. Her goal is to make staff “work smarter, not harder,” she says.

Saturday night the chefs might find her right there with them on the line in the kitchen. Again, she’s looking for efficiency. Are there too many bodies at work here? Too few?

And she’s “dissecting menus—” that is, “looking at the menus with a different set of eyes.” As a result of this, the menu might lose some dishes and gain some trendy dishes. But, she emphasizes, she’s “not shaking everything up.” The menu has some old favorites such as baked cod with Ritz crackers that everyone loves and will always be able to order.

Mentzer’s goal is for people to say about the Wayside’s menu, “I love that dish. I want to go back there.” She also wants the restaurant to be known for local Cape Cod foods and drinks such as Chatham oysters, Triple Eight vodka from Nantucket, and South Hollow rum and gin distilled at Truro Vineyards.

“People who come to us want a piece of Cape Cod,” she says. “I feel like we’re ambassadors.”

Another change this summer will be the Main Street Lounge, described on the website as “a place for light fare and drinks.” New furniture arriving in June includes high-top communal tables and a communal seating area. More small plates such as warm olives, bruschetta, smoked fish, pickled vegetables, perhaps a charcuterie board, as well as cocktails will be on the menu.

“People have lightened up,” she says. “It’s more of a fun kind of atmosphere. Non-traditional eating spaces are on trend.”

The lounge will be open all day because “we need every seat we can get in the season.”

Mentzer describes herself as a lifelong learner who loves meeting new people. As general manager, Mentzer will be expanding beyond food and beverages into all aspects of the business.

“I feel very empowered here,” she says. “I feel like my voice is really heard. I love working collaboratively and being part of a team.”

Shane Coughlin, a managing partner in the inn, says, “I’ve admired Jenn’s work for over 25 years. I really look forward to working with Jenn for many years.”

And Mentzer looks forward to a busy summer season, the true test of any local business, especially one that serves hundreds of lunches and dinners every single day.

She points to her face. “See this face? Look at it, then come see me in September and see what it looks like.” She smiles.