Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bill and Thelma's Restaurant

    If you were a teenager in the Mid-Cape area in the 1950’s – 1970’s chances were that you spent a good amount of time at Bill and Thelma’s. If you were an adult in the Mid-Cape area in the 1950’s – 1970’s chances were that you spent a good amount of time at Bill and Thelma’s. In fact if you lived in the Mid-Cape area at all during the two decades plus that it was open the chances are that you spent some time at this wildly popular restaurant and hot spot.

    Bill Maud began his restaurant venture after World War II. After returning from California where he worked on airplanes Maud worked at Carl’s Sandwich Shop in West Yarmouth. In 1948 Bill worked at a spot called the West Yarmouth Fish Shanty. The next year he bought the building from its owner Pat Kelly. Bill would incorporate his wife Thelma into the equation and Bill and Thelma’s Restaurant was born.

    With Bill as the chef and Thelma as hostess they would bring in a staff of which many would stay as crew for nearly the entire duration of the restaurant’s existence. Bill and Thelma’s would wow customers with their fish and chips and onion rings in addition to the famed fried clams. They would keep things simple with items like hamburgers, hot dogs and beans, macaroni and cheese, and other fresh comfort foods. The couple also made it a point to position their establishment as a family restaurant where parents and children alike could come for lunch or dinner and find something they enjoyed for a reasonable price. Bill Maud would make their place a hot spot firstly by creating the 99-cent dinner. This deal would include everything from the entrĂ©e to the dessert and would become a staple of what made Bill and Thelma’s a destination for many years.

    The establishment’s popularity would grow during its run near Mill Hill. In 1958 it was enlarged to include more booths and a horseshoe-shaped food bar. Eventually in 1961 the entire original building was torn down and replaced with a larger more accommodating edifice. It was pure Cape Cod throughout the walls of Bill and Thelma’s with neutral colors and hardwood being matched by netting hanging from the ceiling filled with seafaring creatures like crabs and starfish. The seemingly cluttered ceiling above contrasted the overall cleanliness of the restaurant; Bill Maud was a stickler for a spotless dining area and kitchen.

Bill and Thelma's 

    Even with the expansion there would routinely be lines out the door of people wanting to get their fill at this spot. If the 99-cent dinner didn’t bring people in perhaps being serenaded on the organ by Mr. Maud himself would do it. Bill regularly played the organ while loyal customers and friends would come in, grab a cocktail, and sing along to some of the standards of the day. Bill loved the organ so much that the local Cape Cod Organ Society would hold its monthly meetings at his place. During one meeting in 1966 Marie Marcus, Cape Cod First Lady of Jazz played piano while John Chapman played the organ. Those meetings were more of a social hour than a serious discussion.

Bill and Thelma’s was the place to be as a teenager in the 1950’s – 1970’s. It would be filled with students from nearby Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School after sporting events and dances commiserating in the booths and at the counter. Things could get tense however if students from rival Barnstable High School showed up, which they sometimes did after defeating Dennis-Yarmouth in a sporting event. However it was nothing that a frappe and some onion rings could not solve.

Adjacent to the main dining room was the Jolly Tar Lounge where the adults who came without kids could congregate. It was here that the cocktails were served and various professional sporting events would be watched on television. For all of the effort to make Bill and Thelma’s a family restaurant there was still a desire to have a spot just for the adults. Bill Maud was a people-pleaser and a beloved figure in the community. He was known to have once created a skating rink on a neighboring cranberry bog for the children using only his Jeep and a plow. Things like that, the 99-cent dinners, and accommodating many high-schoolers in the evenings to keep them out of trouble made Bill and Thelma Maud pillars of the community.

The 99-cent dinners were kept up as long as it was feasibly possible by Bill Maud. Even after that would not work he tried $1.99-dinners for a time. However as time went on it no longer was possible to keep those deals up. By then though it was nearing the end. Business slowed down as the 1970’s were nearing the end.

(Above is the former Bill and Thelma's as it appeared in 2019, Google Maps)

In 1975 Bill Maud sold his restaurant. It became known as The Dunes at first but the name was changed to Casa Mia in 1978. It was the sister restaurant to another Casa Mia located in Dennis Port. Eventually it would become The Dunes again in 1993 before closing in 1995.

Bill and Thelma initially retired down to Florida ending nearly three decades in business. Eventually though the couple returned to Cape Cod. Thelma passed first in 1988 at the age of 75, Bill followed in 2004 at age 90. Even more than forty years after closing there are many who grew up in the Mid-Cape area who fondly reminisce about their times at Bill and Thelma’s.

My first eBook in 10 years, In Their Footsteps, featuring the interesting stories of Cape Cod's history, is on sale at

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