Offshore’s on again

Phil and Colleen McAndrews have new plans for one of the Island’s favorite gathering spots.

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Offshore Ale owners Phil and Colleen McAndrews outside their second home, Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs. — Gabrielle Mannino

It’s been almost a year since Phil and Colleen McAndrews put their Oak Bluffs restaurant, Offshore Ale, up for sale, but their plans have changed, and the restaurant is off the market, for now anyway. The purchase that was in the works fell through, and rather than put the staff through the unknown again this summer, they opted to implement the business plan they created for the next owner and see where the road takes them.

“We were working with an individual for just shy of a year who was a good fit for Offshore,” Phil said. “He would have embraced the staff and the vibe that is Offshore, that’s why we were working with him. It’s a very big business and it’s a complicated deal. A lot of pieces have to fall into place in order to make it to the finish line.”

In February, when it became apparent the deal wouldn’t go through, they decided to look at the business plan and take it on themselves.

Some Islanders will certainly be glad to hear about some of the new projects; Offshore is adding liquor to the bar service, and Chef Josh Aronie is coming on board to take over the kitchen and develop the catering arm of the business.

“Josh and I had some conversations about his Food Truck business, and he’s a fan of Offshore and we’re fans of his,” Phil said. “What if we brought the Food Truck and Offshore together … our talks led to a reality, and we thought this could really be something good.”

Aronie will take the lead in the kitchen full-time around Memorial Day, but for now he and his wife Angela are still running the Food Truck in Menemsha through the end of April.

Will he bring his signature Food Truck dishes like the Rosemary Lemon Salt Fries and Falafel with him to Offshore? There won’t be any drastic changes to the restaurant’s menu immediately, Aronie said.

“I do have some intentions to change some things on the menu, but it won’t be radical,” Aronie said. “We’ll take it slow. I know a lot of people love a lot of things about Offshore’s menu. I am looking at what is working and what doesn’t work as well, and then I’m going to slowly implement some of my stuff.”

He and Angela have spent five winters running the Food Truck up-Island, and there’s a part of him that’s happy to have this full-time, year-round position at Offshore. “I love the Food Truck, but it would also be nice to buy Christmas presents,” he laughed.

Aronie has a vision about what types of food might enhance the brewery aspect of Offshore as well.

“There are some dishes that are a nice complement to what a brewery feels like … some comfort foods done just a little differently, more modern.” But Aronie is quick to admit that customers shouldn’t look for significant changes in their Offshore favorites. “I don’t want to make radical changes, that’s not who I am. Food doesn’t have to look a certain way. When we had the Menemsha Cafe, our motto was ‘no garnish, just good food.’ It’s really about the food, not what’s sprinkled on top.”

He admitted that leading the kitchen staff at Offshore will be a challenge, but it’s exciting. “I’m really happy to be there. For me, returning to Oak Bluffs after being away, I look out over the people at Offshore now and see the same people I saw six, seven, eight years ago. I see familiar faces, and it’s great.”

For now, Aronie will keep dropping in at Offshore, checking in with the kitchen staff, and observing how everything works.

“So he can have a good understanding of where Offshore’s operations are today,” Phil said. “And to see how he can add his spirit to it without undoing what we already have.”

As far as serving liquor goes, Colleen said last week that they were just waiting for the final word — and that it was like waiting for a baby to arrive. “Any day now,” she said, “like a baby, you don’t quite know when it’s coming.”

After all, she does know a thing or two about babies. The McAndrews had four children in five years: Allison, 23, Sean, 22, Casey, 19, and Dillon, 18. No. 4 leaves for Lehigh University in the fall, and No. 1 is getting married in August. Another reason why the couple is happy to embark on this newest part of their journey is that they’ll have Aronie in place to stabilize the kitchen so they’ll have more time to visit their kids; all of them will soon be living off-Island. And Aronie coming on board will free up more time for Phil to concentrate on Offshore’s craft beer sales and production.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to grow it off-Island, but with some nurturing it could be more,” Phil said. “My original hope was that the beer business could help with the seasonality … you’d have another source to help keep things afloat in the off-season; beer is a 12-month business.”

“Phil knows the beer business and distribution business,” Colleen added. “He saw potential and growth in the beer business … and he loves selling beer.”

Colleen explained that Phil spent much more time working in the kitchen at Offshore over the years than he thought he would.

“It’s almost full circle,” Colleen said. “Now he can do the things he really wanted to do.”

Phil plays drums nights after Offshore closes. In the summer he plays at the Wharf with Money Shot, and he’s been playing with Auntie Em and the Bedspins all around the Island for nine or 10 years.

“That’s the advantage to playing drums as a hobby,” he laughed. “It’s 10 at night when we play, and the restaurant is done by then, so this hobby works.”

For the first few years at Offshore, Colleen waited tables and Phil tended bar for the lunch crowd; they worked 18-hour days on a regular basis. Colleen said they hired a front-of-the-house manager two or three years ago, allowing her to spend less time on the floor.

“He’s here seven days a week,” Colleen said of Phil.

“Not as many hours as it was in years past,” he said. “Now it’s about 60 hours a week, when you combine the hours at home and here.”

“My hours have cut back, and now I fill them with other things,” Colleen added. Now, she said, she can walk around the restaurant and be a hostess, like she would at home.

Colleen is an active volunteer in the school system, most recently supporting efforts for a new Tisbury School building. It looks like voters are on their way to approving a plan to build a new school. She’s served on the All-Island School Committee and the high school committee for many years, as well as the Tisbury School committee. Colleen said she was a stay-at-home mom before they moved to the Vineyard from Rhode Island, where she first began volunteering with the PTO. Their youngest may be graduating in June, but Colleen has no plans to stop volunteering with Island schools.

“It’s still important, even if our kids are gone,” she said. “It’s about the future of the community, and the schools are an investment in the community. We see it when we hire kids that have gone through the system.”

Community service is a much a part of Offshore as the peanut shells on the floor. It was previous owner Bob Skydell who came up with the 2-for-1 dinners on Monday nights in the off-season, Phil said. Skydell stayed around for a couple of months after the sale to help out Colleen and Phil.

“When we moved here, from the beginning it was apparent how tight this community is and how Offshore was really a hub for the community,” Phil said. “We looked for ways to tie the two together and give back.”

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of two of Offshore’s beers — East Chop Lighthouse Golden Ale and Menemsha Creek Pale Ale — go to the Coast Guard Foundation, a national organization that funds education for Coast Guard members. Lazy Frog IPA generates money for the Riverhead Disc Golf Course, in collaboration with the Lazy Frog store on Circuit Avenue. “That course is free and open to the public, and it runs on donations,” Phil said.

They also create a small-batch beer that benefits MVY Radio.

“Once a year we create a beer called the Blue Lobster to raise money for MVY Radio,” Phil said. “They’re 88.7, so we donate 88.7 cents per pint, usually in July.”

There’s the annual small-batch brew, Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale, brewed with hops grown on-Island. Offshore hosts an afternoon get-together for the farmers and their friends every fall to try out the beer created from their harvest.

Throughout the off-season, the restaurant holds events all week that boost the year-round community: Monday nights are 2-for-1 dinners, Tuesday nights feature jazz musicians, Wednesday highlights barbecue on the menu, Thursday night is dine-to-donate night, and Friday offers special pricing on oysters and wings.

“On 2-for-1 night, you see all the people at the different tables talking to each other,” Colleen said. “Everyone talking to each other — that’s what Offshore Is all about.”

Phil said there’s a fun project in the works for summer.

“We’re doing an off-the-dock series, some specialty small-batch brews with a onetime canning and a date where you can come enjoy them with a limited release — maybe a triple IPA, a smoked porter, maybe a sour beer. The brewers are excited about it.”

Besides working on getting more Offshore beer into stories and restaurants, the McAndrews are hoping to focus more on the catering business.

Over the past couple of years, they purchased a van and a large portable grill, hoping to expand on that aspect of the restaurant.

“Offshore catering is meant to be an Island experience — beer and food for dinners, graduation parties, family reunions — and providing a real Island twist to it,” Phil explained. “Offshore is good food done well, and good beer, unpretentious. We wanted to be able to package that up and make it mobile.”

The McAndrews said they hope to have Aronie in place by the end of May, and they’re looking forward to the new setup.

“Now that we have that full complement, maybe we can make our daughter’s wedding in August,” Phil laughed.