In the “Blues Brothers,” movie with his sidekick John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd’s character Elwood was “on a mission from God.” In writing a letter to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), Aykroyd is on a mission to save the Red Cat.
On Tuesday, the actor, comedian, filmmaker, and businessman wrote a letter to the MVC in support of the proposed demolition and construction of the building that houses the Red Cat restaurant in Oak Bluffs. Aykroyd specifically mentioned his support for Red Cat co-owner Ben DeForest. “I am writing in full support of master chef DeForest and this enterprise,” Aykroyd wrote. “Ben is a longtime Martha’s Vineyard resident who over decades has served seven-star victuals and libations to thousands of satisfied, repeat customers at his respective locations throughout his career.”
Oak Bluffs selectman Brian Packish, along with record producer Gary Jones, purchased the building that houses the restaurant in November for $690,000. The proposed building is being dubbed the Menotomy. Plans include demolishing the existing structure and constructing a new building, with the Red Cat Kitchen operating on the first floor; four single-bedroom, market-rate apartments on the two floors above; and a basement for storage.
The project, which is seeking approval from the MVC, struck some nerves at a tense public hearing on Feb. 20 over its lack of an affordable housing component.
In his letter, Aykroyd says he has known DeForest since the Island chef was 10 years old, saying he is “talented, as well as honest, ethical, and tasteful.”
In a phone conversation with The Times, DeForest said he was beyond grateful for the outpouring of support not only from many of his high-profile customers, but also of Island residents and visitors. “It means a lot to me; it’s everything,” DeForest said. “These are a lot of lifelong relationships that I’ve developed on the Island. [Aykroyd] put a letter up there. We’ve been friends since I was 10 years old.”
In addition to Aykroyd’s letter, the project has seen letters of support from former Secretary of State John Kerry and filmmaker Peter Farrelly.
“The Red Cat is exactly what many of us appreciate as special on Martha’s Vineyard — great food, laid-back, casual, and honest Vineyard. I wish you good luck and stand by to help as you go forward,” Kerry wrote.
“As you know, this restaurant — like the owner/chef Ben Deforest — has been an Island institution, in various locations, for about a quarter-century now. Its latest incarnation on Kennebec Avenue is, I believe, the best of them all. There’s nothing better than starting the evening at the extremely charming and fun little bar up front and then going in for, without question, the best seafood on the Island,” Farrelly wrote in his letter.
DeForest said more letters will be sent to the MVC from other Red Cat patrons, such as actor Jim Belushi and Red Sox co-owner and vice president David Ginsberg. “All I am is really grateful,” DeForest said.