Welcome to the historic Home Port. Sarah and I are like many of you in that dinner here has long been a part of our history. Indeed, before we met each other, a sunset dinner at Home Port was a tradition for each of our families. Just walking in brings up rich childhood memories – of sharing a lobster with a beloved grandparent, of celebrating the oceans and this glorious island.
Then, a few years ago, the news that Home Port would be torn down swept through Menemsha like a fierce summer squall. Word hit the Nixon gang as we pulled into the dock after chasing big stripers with Buddy Vanderhoop. We sat stunned on the Tomahawk, suddenly disoriented, trying to visualize this old building and its history gone.
After a lot of soul searching, and pencil work, Sarah and I took a leap of faith and, with the blessing of Chilmark’s voters and the backing of MV Savings Bank, bought the historic landmark. Our first hope (and the bank’s) in saving her was that it would be a profitable family business and create jobs for islanders. We also had a broader idea: That this simple seafood restaurant might become a place where sound fishery practices – from catching to consumption – could be fostered and promoted. To do that we have taken two basic steps. First, the Home Port will not serve ocean wildlife that we believe to be overexploited. Second, we will supply our kitchen from conservation- minded fisherman who operate as stewards of the sea.
Because you are our partners, Sarah and I wanted to share our vision for this restaurant. But first, for those of you who are new to the establishment, a brief history will help explain why so many feel so passionate about a beat up old building by the Bight.
The Home Port was born in 1930 when Luella and Herbert Mayhew sold their first lobster from this spot. Back then Menemsha was something of a fishing boomtown. From our sheltered but strategic vantage on the Atlantic it was a quick trip to harpoon swordfish or catch cod, weakfish or lobster. The Mayhew’s formula of serving the freshest seafood against Menemsha’s stunning sunset was a winner and the restaurant was on its way to becoming a Martha’s Vineyard institution. Over the next eight decades, legions have enjoyed the bounty of the sea in America’s most beautiful fishing harbor. Today the Home Port looks much the same as it has for generations. However, for the ocean and her wildlife, it is a very different planet. Marine habitats, the fish and our island fishermen are in a decline unimaginable to the Mayhew’s in 1931.
Sometimes Sarah, who now runs the place, accuses me of only wanting to buy the Home Port to acquire its remarkable collection of antique taxidermied fish. While she may be onto me, the beautiful and varied creatures on our walls do bear silent witness to a dramatic sea change. Look over at the big cod by the back door. Not so long ago, a Menemsha kid was told by his mother, “Go down to the jetty and get a weakfish for dinner. If they are not biting bring back a striper…but be back in half an hour … don’t be late!”
Today Sarah couldn’t give our 10 year-old Jack such a takeout order, which he would relish by the way. The cod have been gone for 40 years, the weakfish for 20. Plenty else is gone too. The basic answer to “why” is that collectively we have done a rotten job of managing our ocean resources. A steady grind of factory fishing, pollution, and habitat destruction has wiped out many fish species and most of our shore based fishing families. Today a few hang on and continue to fish on a small “artisanal” scale that many accept as the best way to manage ocean fisheries.
So you just wanted dinner. What does all this mean to you? It’s pretty simple. We believe that a bit of common sense and a lot of hard work can restore our ocean’s wildlife. We also know that you are a crucial part of the solution. Our goal is for our guests to experience the freshest, best prepared seafood while giving you choices that are the healthiest for our oceans. To do that we have taken two basic steps: First, Home Port will not serve ocean wildlife that we believe to be overexploited. Second, we will supply our kitchen from hardworking locals who fish as stewards of the sea. We hope you’ll join us by asking: “where, how and when?” your dinner was caught. To help you participate, Chef Teddy Diggs posts daily offerings on our chalkboard as additions to our regular menu.
Our hope is that the strength of the Home Port is not only in its storied 80-year history but in bringing people together to share dinner and ideas. If enough of us become part of the solution, the day will come when a child can once again catch a dinner cod from a Menemsha dock. It is possible. On May 27th 2011 a Vineyard Gazette headline read, "Donald Finch Catches Rare Weakfish." The paper explained that Don last caught one 25 years ago and that, "an extensive effort is underway to restore this once plentiful fish to our waters." Together lets help this trend continue. My mentor, Curt Gowdy, loved to say, “if you give nature half a chance, amazing things can happen!” Let’s try. We think dinner is a great place to start. Enjoy!
We greatly appreciate your support,
Bob, Sarah, Bobby, Maggie and Jack