Red Cat building project gets celebrity endorsements

Star power unites as owners seek permitting approval from local boards.

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After several contentious hearings, the Red Cat building was approved to be demolished and replaced with the Menotomy - Lexi Pline

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.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Well, I am as far as you can be from a celebrity, so I’m sure my voice doesn’t carry as much weight, but I am in full support of this transformation and think it will be a huge improvement for OB!

  2. I honestly do not have enough knowledge to have a legitimate opinion on the appropriateness of the building proposal, but the thought that “Celebrity “ endorsements should have an impact is an insult to the local community. I don’t believe anyone is challenging the quality of the people or product at the Red Cat, so what is the need for the applicants to request these letters?

  3. I have no opinion one way or the other as i have not schooled myself in the fine points of this endeavor, but suffice it to say, we are in the age of the glitterati…..nuff said….

  4. The MVC should not be swayed by celebrities or a current selectman. They should evaluate this proposal like any other proposal. None of these celebrities really live here so their opinion should have less weight than our residents.

  5. I think the project stands well on its own merits and who cares what some out-of-towner has to say. I’d venture that if there is an impression of outside ‘influence’ it could have a negative effect on the approval of this project, which should be left to OB residents..not out-of-towners on the MVC or the limousine liberal summer up-island cocktail party crowd.

  6. I agree that the famous visitors to MV shouldn’t be what sways the decision to a yes. That being said i’m Sure everyone is wondering where the letter from the Obama’s is. Let’s hope that the support from the island community can get an approval on this project.

  7. This project is a no brainer for approval. The Red Cat is well worth the support of all on island whether you’re a celebrity, washashore or fifth generation native.

  8. Martha’s Vineyard is the great equalizer. On this island, Dan Ackroyd is not a celebrity, he is a homeowner who loves this shining jewle of an island as much as anybody. Ackroyd is speaking as a private citizen who loves what’s special about our beloved island. He has every right just as any of us does, to speak out about something that matters to him.. His letter stems from an impulse to protect what’s good. Thank you, Dan.

  9. Though the celebrity endorsements are apparently more newsworthy to some, I find the letters written by long time island residents and business owners in support of this project carry much more weight, bring up real points of consideration, and are much more meaningful in the long run. The outpouring of support from us “regular folks” who live and work here should not be overlooked or undervalued. All letters pertaining to this project available on the commissions website for public consumption.

  10. I wish Brian and Gary the best of luck with this project.
    The building is long overdue for an upgrade. Too bad I will never see the interior of the new one.

  11. good lord it’s the red cat not spago. its food. good food yes but theres good even better food all over the island. dan aykroyd omg

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