Martha’s Vineyard businesses describe Thanksgiving planning

Keeping up with the latest trends in turkey prep, the Vineyard Haven Stop and Shop Supermarket displays brining ingredients and bags next to the bird bin. Brining is a process similar to marination in which the bird is soaked in a saltwater solution with spices and herbs before cooking. — Photo by Janet Hefler

For the folks who work in grocery stores, specialty shops, bakeries, restaurants, and inns, Thanksgiving is a one-day holiday that demands weeks of planning and preparation, honed by experience and an eye for changing trends.

Thanks to them, shoppers can count on finding store shelves stocked with a cornucopia of ingredients needed for their traditional favorites, and diners can expect to be served a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and no fuss. Recently The Times asked some of them what it takes to get ready for T-day.

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, grocery store and restaurant managers said they consult records from previous years as a baseline for what and how much to order or how many reservations to expect.

“We know how many cases of a particular item we’ve gone through in the past,” Stop and Shop manager Sam Koohy said. “Weather is a huge factor. Is it going to be a nice day? Will people be able to travel? We look at the history of what happened last year and adjust numbers up or down. For example, if it snowed the night before Thanksgiving, our volume of sales would increase.”

Mr. Koohy said the week before Thanksgiving is all about dry goods, and the three days leading up to the holiday, all about perishables, especially fresh turkeys. Although Stop and Shop has had a good track record with its supply of Thanksgiving food items, as he learned last year, that’s not always the case for customers.

“The phone rang on Thanksgiving morning, and a customer who had bought a frozen turkey told me he left it outside to thaw and an animal got it; he was all in a panic,” Mr. Koohy said. “He said what am I going to do? I don’t have a turkey. I said if he’d come down in 15 minutes, I’d give him one.”

Cronig’s owner Steve Bernier said after 26 years in the business, he understands the value of a “historic perspective.”

“It’s very interesting after it’s over, because nothing is static,” he said.

In addition to figuring how much to order, it also takes planning and timing to make sure Thanksgiving items are on the shelves when customers need them.

“We have over 200 vendors feeding the store,” Mr. Bernier said. “If you’re talking about getting extra cranberry sauce from Stonewall Kitchen, we only order that every two to three weeks. Other vendors we deal with daily and weekly.”

And, of course, transportation to the Island factors in.

“Around 15 or 20 years ago, a storm came on a Monday, and there were no boats until 3 or 4 o’clock on Wednesday, Mr. Bernier said. “I remember unloading a trailer and just taking the tops off the cases so people could just grab things from the boxes. They were frantic to get home and bake; everyone was in panic mode.”

Ferry service also has to figure into customers’ turkey pre-orders, he said. “People know we’re closed on Thanksgiving Day, so if they’re coming from off-Island, they have to book their ferry reservation accordingly so they can pick up their turkey,” Mr. Bernier pointed out.

Old favorites with a new twist

Although the traditional Thanksgiving menu remains much the same from year to year, it is not immune to trends. For example, this year Stop and Shop has specialty spice packages and plastic bags for brining turkeys.

“A lot of people don’t cook a turkey the way they did 50 years ago,” Mr. Koohy said. “Each year people come up with different ideas of how to prepare turkeys. They bring ideas to us and as we hear about them, we try to make sure we have whatever they need to accommodate them.”

Mr. Bernier said as a result of a shift by customers to fresh turkeys, Cronig’s sells very few frozen ones.

As a compromise for those who want to eat at home but don’t want to cook, Tisbury Farm Market on State Road offered a complete, cooked Thanksgiving dinner. Starting early Thursday morning through late afternoon, customers who preordered will be able to pick up their dinners while they are fresh and hot, Bill Engler, the man responsible for community marketing, told The Times.”We thought we’d offer this as a service in response to customers who asked us about it last year,” Mr. Engler, said. “We took reservations and limited them to 25, because we wanted to make sure every dinner was perfect, our first year. We’re already planning on it for next year, because it sold out so quickly.”

As a cross between the traditional and modern Thanksgiving dessert, for the first time Tisberry Yogurt is selling three varieties of frozen yogurt pies, pumpkin (made with real pumpkin, not flavoring), a layered pumpkin and vanilla, and a layered vanilla and chocolate with Heath Bar bits in-between.

Owner Eric Johnson said a friend suggested the pie idea to him, which provides a good opportunity to open Tisberry’s for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, since he can’t keep it open year-round. The shop on Cromwell Lane will be open on Friday and Saturday from noon to 6 pm, for those who have been missing their frozen treats.

On Monday Mr. Johnson was busy making yogurt and would soon start the pies. He planned to take orders through Wednesday.

The pumpkin/vanilla pie has been the best seller. “People really like it, because it tastes sort of like pumpkin pie a la mode.”

Turkey triumphs

When it comes to the main course, however, turkey remains the most popular choice among Thanksgiving diners, according to Water Street Restaurant manager Douglas Smith at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown and Susan Goldstein, co-owner of the Zephrus Restaurant and Mansion House Inn in Tisbury.

“Everyone wants turkey,” Mr. Smith said. That means Water Street must have enough birds to serve 300 to 400 patrons over six hours at the buffet, which runs from noon to 6 pm. For those who like variety, this year the carving station also includes a steamship round of beef. A fresh cider press also stands ready, which requires about 10 cases of apples, based on last year’s numbers.

At Zephrus, Ms. Goldstein said, “I think we all think of Thanksgiving as turkey day, and about 90 percent of our guests order a turkey dinner, which has stayed consistent over the years we have our records.”

Zephrus also offers options for non-turkey eaters, too, as part of the Thanksgiving dinner menu served from 1 to 5 pm. “That’s the beauty of going out,” Ms Goldstein said. “Everyone can get what they want.”

Both restaurants will be busy. As of last Saturday, Mr. Smith said most of Water Street’s seating times were sold out, other than noon and 6 pm. Decorations including corn stalks, pumpkins, and gourds from Morning Glory Farm were put up last week, and seating plans made for both the restaurant dining room and grand ballroom.

“It’s all hands on deck,” Mr. Smith said of the big day. “We’ll have people from the front desk, people from accounting, who have never worked in the restaurant, all helping out.”

Ms. Goldstein said advanced reservations for Zephrus and Mansion House were strong this year, and booked earlier this year than last.

“Zephrus sort of takes care of an Island group, who for whatever reason, wants to eat out,” Ms. Goldstein said. “The inn is filled more with people who are visiting friends and family on-Island.”

She and Mr. Smith both said they especially enjoy seeing many patrons who return every year as their Thanksgiving tradition.