Oak Bluffs selectmen support Back Door deal

Board blesses transfer of iconic business to trio of top-tier businessmen.

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Patrick Lyons, left, and Richard Friedman speaking to selectmen on Tuesday night. — Barry Stringfellow

Richard Friedman, successful real estate investor, hotelier, philanthropist, and longtime Edgartown seasonal resident, went before the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen at its regular Tuesday meeting, seeking approval for a change of ownership for Back Door Donuts. He was accompanied by his business partner, Boston restaurant and nightclub impresario, and Chilmark seasonal resident, Patrick Lyons. David Ginsberg, the third member of the new Back Door Donuts ownership triumvirate, could not attend the meeting because of spring training with the Boston Red Sox, which he also partly owns.

In February, longtime MV Bakery owners Janice Casey and Rita Brown sold the business to Friedman, Ginsberg, and Lyons.

“We simply want to keep an Island institution going, and do it right,” Friedman told the board. “All three of us have vast experience in the operation of restaurants and hotels. We’re investing a substantial amount of money in equipment to make it a little better.”

Selectman Gail Barmakian expressed concern about the future of the apple fritter. Her relief was palpable when Friedman assured her that Raffi Jabri will remain head pastry chef.

“The fact that you’re here shows your seriousness,” selectman Greg Coogan said. “I hope you have great success.”

Friedman said he was aware of complaints from neighborhood residents about the noise and trash from late-night fests, and that newly appointed manager Josh Byron had already met with a seasonal homeowner from Vermont about the past problems.
“We have an agreement with Reliable [Market] with very strict guidelines,” Lyons said. “We understand they might have wiggled a little bit, but we’re not going to allow that to happen. Our objective is to be professionals, pay attention, make any necessary adjustments.”

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake read some past complaints about Back Door Donuts.

“We got a call about a group singing ‘Happy Birthday’; they weren’t there when officers went by,” he said. “We got a call about a band playing, and it was someone holding a violin. We have never made one disorderly conduct related to Back Door Donuts. Two hundred people, whether they’re drinking or not, are going to make noise.”

Barmakian asked Friedman if they were planning on expanding Back Door Donuts.

“We haven’t made our first doughnut yet,” he said.

The board voted 4-0 to approve the transfer of Back Door Donuts, which will reopen on Thursday, April 12.

In other business, selectmen weighed the proposition by Dukes County officials to ban Sengekontacket shore traffic in July and August.

The county is weighing the ban because a burgeoning party scene took root last summer when Norton Point Beach was under plover closure. Dukes County officials are proposing closing the beach to vehicle traffic from the Little Bridge parking lot to Big Bridge, and chaining off several openings that allow entry for vehicle traffic along Beach Road, which have traditionally been used by shellfishermen.

The Oak Bluffs shellfish committee has staunchly opposed the vehicle ban.

At Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, shellfish constable David Grunden said the closure of the beach to all vehicle traffic would be burdensome to the recreational shellfishermen, particularly seniors. “They can’t physically carry baskets all the way down the beach. This is a safety issue,” he said.

Of the 643 shellfish licenses sold by the town last year, 305 of those permits were senior permits, and the license fees brought in over $18,000 to the town, Grunden said.

“The county is looking to act on this quickly, the sheriff is apparently not renewing the contract to monitor the beach,” Grunden said. “I think the shellfish committee, with [Chief Blake] and Todd [Alexander], can coordinate a compromise with the county.”

Chief Blake said the closure was a “knee-jerk reaction” and clear signage stating vehicle traffic is for shellfishing only, could be enforced by Oak Bluffs Police. “With some signage and some effort, you don’t have to chain it off,” he said.

The Dukes County Beach Task Force will meet on June 7 to make a final decision on a Sengie traffic ban.