So many people on the Island are doing so much in this turbulent time to reach out and help one another. This is the story of one such person: Gina Stanley, owner of the Art Cliff Diner.
A week ago I went into the Times office to pick up my office chair and bring it back to my home office. I felt like having a cup of coffee and noticed that the flag was flying in front of the Art Cliff Diner, which meant it was open. Suitably attired in mask and gloves, I crossed the street to the Art Cliff and walked up to the door, which was locked. I looked in the food truck parked in the lot and no one was there. Then a small window in the front of the diner opened and a woman similarly dressed in mask and gloves poked her head out and asked me what I would like.
I told her a cup of decaf coffee and she said there was none made but she’d make some. Thinking I didn’t want to have her make a new pot just for me, I said, that’s ok, I’ll have regular. She insisted on making the decaf, even though chances are it was the last cup she’d sell that day. When the coffee was ready I asked her how much it would be and she said “It’s all right, just pay whatever you’d like to pay,” and directed my attention to a handwritten sign:
“Donate if you can. Please come eat or take to someone who needs. Stay safe,” it said. Gina Stanley has always been generous to the community, so I decided to call her and ask her what “Donate if you can” was all about.
“It kind of is what it is,” Stanley said. “I want to be able to cook for people who can’t afford to pay or if you can pay, you can make a donation. If you’re out of work and don’t have a paycheck, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed. I have food here for you, so that’s one less thing you have to pay for … put that money into rent or day care.”
Gina says that people have been very generous. Some people will drive up and just put money in the bucket and not even order food. Others might just order something like two pancakes and pay $20.
“I feel bad for people who just got here, signed leases and now have no jobs, they’re totally screwed,” Stanley said. She also wants to do what she can to help out her own employees. Stanley has seven girls working as waitresses, two of them working at the diner now. “They won’t be getting much for unemployment,” Stanley says, “so they can split up the tip jar.” She also has two cooks who are on salary and she’ll continue to pay them until they can get unemployment. She gives her dishwasher money as well.
In addition to preparing meals for customers and bringing food to neighbors and people who have reached out to her, Stanley was also donating food to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. At Monday’s press briefing, though, MVH president and CEO Denise Schepici expressed appreciation but said they would no longer accept food donations.
Stanley has found that the community has been very generous in donating food to her. Seth Gambino of La Choza in Vineyard Haven has been good about dropping off produce and other ingredients for Stanley to prepare. “He recently dropped off a lot of Mexican stuff,” Stanley said, “so I made Mexican food and salsa to bring to the hospital.”
Cronig’s has also been good about donating to Stanley. “They drop off lots of ingredients for making salads,” Stanley said. “We did potato salad, corn bean salad, white bean salad, lentil soup, black bean soup — we also did mac and cheese — every day is different.” Stanley says she feels like she’s on that television show, “Chopped” where contestants are given mystery ingredients and asked to prepare meals.
IGI has been very generous with Stanley as well. “They (IGI) dropped off a lot of food and I ended up making 60 quarts of soup. They give me the containers, I pack it up and they label it and distribute it.”
Katie Ruppel of IGI explained in a phone interview that IGI gets a lot of what’s called “rescue food,”— food not used by places like Cronig’s and other restaurants, and some of that goes to the Art Cliff. Ruppel also distributes food to other places like the Food Pantry, Serving Hands and to Community Services.
Stanley doesn’t rely entirely on donated food, she still maintains a scaled down menu at the Art Cliff and, even though she may only serve five or ten meals a day, she still needs to provision some items for herself.
“I try to order from IFP (Island Food Products), they’ve been very generous to a lot of people on the Island, they help a lot of restaurateurs in the off-season. Places like IFP and the Net Result carry a lot of businesses throughout the year. If you have a bad week, you can make it up to them later. It’s because of their generosity that I’m able to be generous, they’re allowing me to pay later.”
Stanley considers herself very lucky to have been in business for so long on the Island. “The diner has been very good to me for 20 years,” Stanley said. “It’s all good. I’m just happy to be in the kitchen, I’d go crazy if I couldn’t cook.”
She’s also quick to point out the work that others are doing. She points to Lorraine Parish who is sewing masks, and her friend Danielle Dominick at the Scottish Bakehouse. “She’s been cooking for the Steamship and the hospital,” Stanley said, “while taking care of her staff and the farm. I’ve got it easy.
“We’re all just trying to figure it out day-to-day … it’s crazy times.”