After 15 years, the Right Fork Diner, the popular Katama Airfield eatery, will not reopen this year.
Speaking to The Times by phone Friday, diner owner Jamie Langley said she will not be submitting a lease bid to the town after it began looking for tenants through a new request for proposals (RFP).
The town of Edgartown owns the Katama Airfield, and has leased the restaurant building to Langley and Right Fork Diner for the past 15 years. The Katama Airfield Commission is the property’s landlord.
Langley said she ran the numbers with her accountant, and determined her business would no longer be financially viable. “They wanted to increase the revenue stream of the rent there, and that made it not realistic for me to run a business out of there,” Langley said. “I thought we could work to a mutual agreement that could benefit both the airfield commissioners and myself as a business owner that has been there for 15 years, but we couldn’t agree on something.”
In a Nov. 13 letter to the commission, Langley wrote she would not be extending her current lease beyond its Feb. 28, 2021, expiration date, but asked the commission for a new three-year lease with terms and conditions that Langley wrote would enable her “to continue to grow my business at the Right Fork Diner premises for years to come.”
Langley requested the commission make several improvements to the restaurant building, including repairing the chimney, replacing the roof, and redesigning and replacing the basement, while Langley would install a walk-in refrigerator, raw bar and deck, a deck awning, redesign the walkway, and replace the restaurant’s flooring at her own expense. The lease called for a rent payment of $50,000.
The commission responded with a letter dated Dec. 8 that it would not extend Langley’s lease, and would instead publish an RFP.
The RFP was released in March, with terms including a seven-year lease with the option to extend for two three-year periods, and a lease payment of $40,000 in the first year that would increase by 4 percent to $50,000 in the seventh year, with incentives for larger bids.
Speaking to The Times by phone, commission chairman Harald Findlay said that the only way to meet some of Langley’s requests forced the commission to go out for a rebid.
“We have great respect for Jamie; she built that business up, and really catered very well to the rental properties in the Katama beach area,” he said. “To our surprise, she decided not to rebid it.”
Findlay said the commission has received three proposals, from Backyard Taco, the Edgartown Diner, and Jesse Strauss, the son-in-law of Wheel Happy owner Phil Hughes.
Langley said last summer was especially difficult for her restaurant, with business down by as much as 60 percent from the previous year. “We still managed to do well. I had a great staff, and our customers came out in droves,” she said. “I just barely broke even, and that was great.”
While the diner won’t be at the airfield, Langley said she will remain on-Island, and is keeping her eyes and ears open. For now, she’s got a pop-up planned with the Kelley House, and will do some meal delivery and catering.
“We’ll stay busy, but we’ll regrettably not be in the place that started it all for us. That’s the part that’s the hardest. The community we’ve developed,” she said.
Langley said opening the diner was an opportunity that fell into her lap after former airport manager Michael Creato offered her the gig. “I had been in the restaurant industry for some time,” she said. “I said yes, and that’s where it all started.
“I can’t believe how much it’s grown since the little place that it was. When it first started, it was paper plates and plastic forks and knives, self-service. Then it became real plates, and serveware, and dinners.”
The airfield’s restaurant has a long history in town. For many years it was a snack shack, until the town bought the property in 1983 and Mel’s Diner occupied the space. In 2005, Langley took over.
The change of restaurant isn’t the only new development at the airfield. In October, the town demolished the old World War II hangar, and is in the process of completing a replacement hangar.
“I’m leaving begrudgingly; this is not because I want to leave,” Langley said.