I’ve become a total sucker for Vineyard Haven over the past couple of months, so when my parents visited me on-Island last weekend, we hit the town hard. We stayed at Mansion House, got dinner at Garde East, breakfast at Art Cliff Diner, and on their way to the ferry Sunday afternoon, we stopped at Bobby B’s for lunch. In a rush to make the boat, we ordered their meals to go, and I dropped them off, without enough time left to hug or say goodbye — we’ve all been there.
My phone buzzed a couple of minutes later, and it was my dad calling to properly conclude their visit and wish me well. Before he hung up, he added one more thing: “Hey, you should go talk to the owner of Bobby B’s. Real nice guy, sounds like he has an interesting story.”
Story buff that I am, I followed up. I made my way over for lunch the following week. The menu has plenty of options, almost too many. They’ve got starters, salads, seafood, pizza, burgers, wraps, paninis, and subs. I’m a vegetarian, so that narrows down the decision-making process at least a little bit. I ordered the Margarita Panini ($9.99) and Truffle Fries ($6.99), and a good-natured guy behind the counter told me he’d bring them out when they were ready.
The courtyard outside Bobby B’s is prime-dine real estate. It’s simple — a brick patio, blue picnic tables with umbrellas, and a couple strands of lights hanging above. The patio is also a noticeably spotless area, and if the sun’s out, it always seems to be shining right on Bobby B’s picnic tables and benches. I grabbed a seat in the blazing sun facing Main Street.
Tony Breth brought me my food, and I learned he’s the owner’s son. The sandwich was served on fresh white bread stuffed with mozzarella, tomato, pesto, and lightly drizzled with balsamic. The truffle fries were thin and crispy, served with Parmesan and parsley that you could almost taste just by looking at them. Everything was delicious, and I asked Tony where I could find his dad. “Down the road at his other shop on Union Street,” he said.
Bob Breth owns Bobby B’s, Bernie’s Home Made Ice Cream on Main Street, Bernie’s Home Made Ice Cream on Union Street, and Tisberry Frozen Yogurt. All businesses are within walking distance of one another, and Bob has owned them for three years.
“It was Bob’s Pizza before that,” he said of Bobby B’s. “I came in and gave it new blood. We renovated and rebranded, but I kept Bob’s name — convenient that my name is also Bob. That was my wife’s idea.”
Bob’s business is very much a family affair. His wife, Jeannette, and their two youngest sons are on-Island working at all four shops. Tony is the manager and an integral part of the business operation. “I’m always here,” Tony said at the counter of Bobby B’s, “unless the Patriots are playing.”
Bernie’s Home Made Ice Cream is right next door to Bobby B’s. “Bernie is my mom,” Bob said. “Her name is Bernice, she’s 87 years old, and she lives in Ohio, where I grew up. I was the youngest of six, and she’d always make us homemade ice cream.”
That tradition lives on. Bob and his wife attended Ice Cream University (yes, you read that correctly), which gives seminars down in New Jersey. He’s convinced Bernie’s makes the best ice cream on-Island, and in the summer, he goes in to make it every single day. Bob also makes his own pizza dough, using the same recipe he’s had for 29 years.
Bob’s staff is trained to work at all four stores. He said it’s important that they all like talking to people, because when it comes to working for Bob, customer service is nonnegotiable.
“The two things I won’t compromise are quality and customer service,” he said. “I’ve always believed in buying the best ingredients and building a relationship with my customers. I’ve gotten rid of people because they can’t do it. Even my workers who are in the kitchen, I make them come out front and talk to people.”
Bob first came to the Island to work as a meat cutter for A&P, the old Stop & Shop. When he became a year-round resident, he realized the opportunity for business on Martha’s Vineyard. He opened three bike shops that he ran for 25 years. Before that, he opened Dippin’ Donuts with his brother. Before that, he owned a pizza shop in Oak Bluffs. And before that, he had a bread delivery business.
“I like business,” he said. “People always ask me what I like most, and what it really is is the people. I like managing people, and when you’re good at it, it’s your biggest asset.”
Bobby B’s offers delivery service, which is rare on the Island, and Bob understands why. “It’s not like the mainland, where everything is next door,” he said. “The logistics of the Island make it difficult. We offer it, but it is by no means integral to business.”
I told Bob that his above-and-beyond customer service left an impression on my dad, and it was his tip that led me to Bobby B’s.
“Well, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “And if there’s one thing I’ll remember about this conversation, it’s exactly that.”
Bobby B’s and Bernie’s Home Made Ice Cream on Main Street are open year round; Bernie’s on Union Street and Tisberry are seasonal. For more information, call 508-693-8266 or visit berniesicecream.com or bobbybsmv.com.