Updated Mon., March 6
It could almost have been a trick-or-treat stunt. This past Monday, Oct. 31 — Halloween — the long-shuttered, smashed and rubble-heaped Mocha Mott’s Coffee Shop on lower Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, which all spring and summer long had resembled an ancient Pompeiian ruin, opened its doors for business.
Orange lamps and orange lights limned windows. Still more festive, the lights were on, the brand-new place heart-stirringly identical to the old place (which itself had been redone a mere two-and-a-half years ago). Customers screamed as they entered to greet co-owner Meredith Aldrich* and the three fun dudes behind the counter, Kevin Medeiros, Leo Convery, and Scott Dershowitz. And of course, upstaging all human personnel and clientele was the dreamy lineup behind glass cabinets of such delicacies as almond biscotti, chocolate-covered espresso beans, pumpkin pecan bread, amid bagels, more pastries, and cookies, and for the health-conscious, there was a platter of pumpkin seed bars with sesame seeds, almonds, cranberries, and the healthiest item of all, dark chocolate chips.
Behind the counter, the shrine — flashy machines for every type of coffee — gleamed amid rows of coffee beans. When asked how long it took to refine their coffeemaking to the best of the best, Scott and Kevin exchanged glances such as Einstein must have swapped with Niels Bohr over atom-splitting equipment, and they both said, “Years.”
For every year-rounder, especially of Oak Bluffs heritage, the all-four-seasons operation of Mott’s, in a town where so many of the stores and eateries are shut up tight with signs that say, “Thank you for a great summer season!” this is where we go. This is our office, as in, “You want to meet to talk about building a henhouse in our shared yard with my four cats? How about 10 am at Mott’s?” The atmosphere is so cheerio-friendly, the food so delicious — they also make sandwiches and soups — it’s hard to imagine any meeting that wouldn’t be jolly.
“The place was started in 1994 by Mott Hinckley,” co-owner Tim Dobel told me. “You can tell where the name came from. Meredith and I bought it in 2001. A couple of years later we started the Vineyard Haven place. I always knew that was a great spot for a coffee house.” The second location turned out to be a saving grace for the staff at the Oak Bluffs store, who had Vineyard Haven to carry them through the summer.
So what happened, you might ask, to cave in the store? Meredith explained it from her own P.O.V., having known nothing about the fiasco until she stepped off a plane last February after a winter spree in Belize. “Tim picked me up, along with T.J. [Johnson: a Mott’s regular whose amazing photos grace the Oak Bluffs branch walls]. They both looked worried, and they tried to deliver the news in a way that wouldn’t make me fall backwards in a swoon.”
The debriefing was as follows: Oak Bluff Mott’s had been closed for the previous few weeks to give Tim and Meredith a chance to renovate the kitchen. Frigid weather caused an upstairs pipe to burst with predictable results: A deluge sluiced through the ceiling and down the walls like the blood that flowed in the House of Usher.
Ruination was the result. Tim and Meredith and their general contractor, Michael Sullivan, were looking at a total renovation from top to bottom: New sheetrock, new floors, new wiring. And, of course, everything that needed to be done had to be sliced and diced with insurance companies, town permitting offices, and a concerted hunt to replace everything, from tables to cabinets to coffee machines. It’s no easy feat to bring a beloved but demolished coffee shop back from the dead.
The original plan was that the Oak Bluffs Mott’s would ring in a new store by May at the latest. In a letter to The MV Times in April, manager Scott wrote, “I just wanted to say — and as corny as this may sound, it’s true — I’m so very, very sorry we were not open for all our customers this winter. It actually does bother my spirit and soul. But we will rebuild. If I had any hair to pull out, I would have done so by now. But we are trying, and will absolutely open as soon as it is possible. I consider Mott’s to actually be a form of public service, and [because] we were not able to be open to help everyone start and get through their days these past few months; I am so very sorry for that.”
The dismal fact was that Mott’s stayed closed all through the summer, and as far into the fall as Oct. 31. Mercifully, the supremely good-natured owners and staff appear to have survived the long hiatus with positive spirits intact. Kevin, Scott, and Leo expressed their thanks for the Vineyard Haven Mott’s, as did the beautiful, rosy-cheeked chef, Erica McCarron. Meredith said with a grin, “I’ve spent the past 10 months tanning on the beach and kayaking.” The minute she said this, another Mott’s regular entered with the signature scream of glee. Meredith went over to hug her customer, saying over her shoulder, “I AM thrilled to be open again!”
So, as the words to the song in “Cabaret” go: “No use in sitting alone in your room, come hear the music play [and smell the soup simmering in the kitchen].” We have our all-season clubhouse back again, where everybody knows our name. The Cheers bar without the booze.
*The Times mistakenly used Ms. Aldrich’s maiden name (Gallo) in the first version of this story.