Wednesday, July 26, 2023
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 105: What I Thought Was Cool Growing Up in the 1980s and 1990s(7-26-2023)
Sunday, July 23, 2023
To be an icon is rare. To have the sort of lasting success that crosses over several generations is something that most strive for but will likely never see. In the case of the Riverway Restaurant in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts it spent more than three-quarters of a century crafting great food and great memories for countless patrons. Although it might be gone now the building that housed the former Cape Cod giant has a new lease on life. This lease might possibly be serving an ever greater good than the Riverway itself did.
The story of Cape Cod’s iconic Riverway Restaurant began in the years leading up to World War II. In 1933 property was purchased by Edith Angell for the purpose of being a shop and restaurant. Legend has it that Angell decided to get into the restaurant industry when Prohibition’s repeal caused her illegal bootlegging business to end.
|Edith Angell, the original owner of The Riverway(GenieQueen)|
For several years the restaurant, located at the ‘four corners’ area in South Yarmouth at present-day 1338 Route 28, was known as Spa Lunch. It was a simple and nondescript 35-seat establishment selling light fare, wine, and beer. That all changed when in 1940 Angell desired to expand. She wished to expand the building into a larger restaurant complete with a full liquor license.
Three times she applied for said license and was rejected by the town. On the fourth try, she changed the name of her establishment from Spa Lunch to Riverway Restaurant. Her appeal was yet again rejected, but the new name stuck. Finally, in May 1941 the full license was granted, clearing a major hurdle for Edith Angell.
Known in local newspapers as the Riverway Restaurant, Cafe, or Lobster House, Angell’s new restaurant was a success. However, running a successful restaurant is a lot of work. The Riverway closed in the fall of 1943 and when it reopened things would be completely changed.
As she approached her 50th birthday in 1944 Angell decided to sell the relatively new restaurant after only a handful of years. It has to be said that although the Riverway was only a few years old Edith had been running her own business for a decade by that time.
The new owner of the Riverway, Michael Pazakis who purchased it with help from his brother James who ran the Mayflower Restaurant, reopened the business in June 1945. From that point on the Pazakis family was synonymous with the Riverway. Michael and his wife Mary continued the success begun by Angell and built upon it.
Throughout the rest of the 1940s and 1950s, the Riverway began to establish itself as a premiere dining location on Cape Cod. Not only was it popular for traditional dining, it became increasingly popular for meetings and special gatherings thanks to The Captain’s Room and Chart Room. Seemingly endless streams of local organizations met at the Riverway to the point that the restaurant was being mentioned in newspapers for that fact on a nearly weekly basis. Celebrities like Ted Williams, Tip O’Neill, Rudy Vallee, Muhammad Ali, and John F. Kennedy paid visits to the South Yarmouth eatery on more than one occasion.
|The Riverway Lobster House as it appeared in the 1950s|
The Pazakis family crafted an atmosphere of casual elegance at the Riverway. Naturally, the menu was loaded with fresh local seafood as well as steak, prime rib, chicken parm, and the famed Wednesday stuffed turkey dinners. For those approaching it was hard to miss the building thanks to its bright white exterior and prominent neon sign adorning the roof.
Another huge attraction nearly from the get-go was their salad, more specifically the special house-made dressing. Brought aboard by Michael when the Pazakis family became owners, the creamy garlic dressing has a history as long and storied as the restaurant itself. It was purportedly based off of a recipe given to Michael by a local fisherman. So beloved is the Riverway Cape Cod Dressing that it is still for sale to this day including its own website run by the Pazakis family.
With the popularity of the Riverway thought naturally turned to expansion. Smaller renovations happened in 1955 and 1956. A major one was undertaken in 1965 as the restaurant eventually swelled to 391 seats by the turn of the 21st century. It was known nationwide, and recommended by such travel magazines as Duncan Hines and Mobil Travel Guide. Word of mouth was so strong that the Riverway did not run any advertising until the 1980s, roughly forty years after the Pazakis family took over.
Michael Pazakis suffered a massive heart attack in 1962 leaving his 19-year-old son Rosetto to take a major role in the business. The entire family from parents to children to grandchildren all plied their trade inside the walls of the Riverway to varying degrees over the decades. It was a family affair from Day One for the Pazakis family.
By the time original owner Edith Angell passed away on April 3, 1979, at the age of eighty-five the Riverway was a Cape Cod icon. What had begun as a small restaurant known as Spa Lunch had grown and blossomed into a nearly 400-seat juggernaut. Michael Pazakis passed away in 1978 at the age of seventy-one. Rosetto continued running the restaurant with the rest of the family.
|A view of The Riverway in 2019(Google Maps).|
The 1980s led to the 1990s and the end of the 20th century. The years of success came with a price, that being long hours of hard work. It came to a head in 2003 when Rosetto, then sixty years old, along with his wife Barbara decided it was time to sell the Riverway. The venerable Cape Cod institution was sold for $680,000 to David and Ann Carboneau, the former owners of Carbo’s restaurant at Deer Crossing in Mashpee. After nearly sixty years the Pazakis family was no longer a part of the Riverway.
|The Riverway website header from 2010(Archive.org)|
Though there were talks of a potential change the Carboneaus kept the Riverway intact. It kept going strong through the rest of the 2000s. A subsequent sale in 2009 did not slow down the restaurant’s business. It seemed as though nothing could stop the Riverway from remaining one of the true legends of Cape Cod establishments. Sadly something unforeseen was on the horizon.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 spelled doom for many businesses worldwide. Cape Cod saw its share of losses. The Riverway attempted to roll with the punches for several months. However, in November 2020 it was decided to close down with the hope of reopening early in 2021. That never came to pass. The Riverway closed its doors for the final time after more than seventy-five years of feeding Cape Cod locals and visitors.
Although the restaurant itself closed the building it occupied still stood. It did not take long before some new occupants came along. A nonprofit organization, Family Table Collaborative, began in March 2020 at the dawn of Covid. Founded by Jeni Wheeler and Harry Henry is to feed those in need. According to their website, they have served more than 94,000 meals since the beginning with eyes on tripling their output by 2024.
Family Table Collaborative is run by volunteers, including established and talented chefs. Their meals are available for anyone to purchase and donations are welcome as they will help with the mortgage of the property now known as The Commons at Riverway. The property also includes Woolfie’s Bakery.
For more than seventy-five years the Riverway Lobster House was a Cape Cod destination. It served untold numbers of meals to untold numbers of people. Begun as a small restaurant by Edith Angell and turned into an institution by the Pazakis family the Riverway was as much a part of Cape Cod as the beach. Its days as an iconic restaurant might be over but the former Riverway building is still going strong feeding those in need to this day thanks to Family Table Collaborative.
Previous Blog Posts:
Wednesday, July 19, 2023
In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 104: My Infamous Radio Program; Beanie Babies 30th Birthday; Top 5 Creature Feature B-Movies; Madawaska, ME(7-19-2023)
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
After six months on hiatus, the podcast is back with Episode 103!
Three books have been published which have been the lion's share of where my time has gone. I will go into the process of being published traditionally versus doing it on my own as I have done both this year.
Searching for the Lady of the Dunes is now available and there is a great new website that was built for the book, documentary, and everything about the case. Plus now you can watch the documentary through my YouTube channel. We'll get into how that came about as well.
Plus I got some great advice from an old friend and highly successful podcaster. That coupled with some much-needed closure surrounding the passing of my Uncle Eric helped lead to this return episode.
There is so much catching up we need to do!