WELLFLEET — The Lighthouse Restaurant, a bright spot for 40 years on this town’s dimming Main Street, is gone. What was a restaurant is now being renovated to become a new location for the women’s clothing store Ragg Time.
Concern about the future of what had been one of the few year-round eating places here mounted last spring when the restaurant failed to open for the season. With a future for the space finally coming into view, many townspeople say they long for an opportunity to reminisce.
For years, Wellfleet’s Moe Barocas and Brent Harold met at the Lighthouse with friends on Monday nights to catch up.
“It was such an important place for town,” Barocas said. “and it was sad to see it end.”
Everyone knew the Lighthouse for its blueberry muffins. “There would always be a line outside in the morning,” Barocas said. “It was the place to go for breakfast.”
The restaurant’s menu and atmosphere appealed to a wide swath of locals, especially during the off season. That’s when Barocas, the longtime former owner of the children’s toy and clothing store Abiyoyo, most enjoyed the place. “You’d see this wonderful array of people,” he said. “You’d see what made Wellfleet Wellfleet — old ladies with blue hair talking with fishermen who looked like pirates.”
Harold, a columnist for the Cape Cod Times, said that Main Street is “missing a tooth in its smile. You really notice it’s not there.”
The Lighthouse’s owner, Joe Wanco, died on Aug. 27, 2019 at age 70. No obituary was published following his death. Wanco is survived by his wife, Laura, and children, Michelle and Jodie.
The family did not respond to the Independent’s repeated requests for comment.
Ragg Time owner Jeanie Bessette confirmed on Saturday that her clothing store will move into the Lighthouse’s space at 317 Main Street.
Bessette said that the Wanco family had grown tired of having a restaurant. After trying to sell the business — Bessette said that the high cost of renovation dissuaded potential buyers — “the best solution for the family was to have rental income coming in.”
Bessette has signed a lease to rent the space, although she’s still unsure when Ragg Time will move in. “They put up paper in the windows,” she said. “Even I don’t know what’s going on inside yet.” The bar will be removed, she said, and the kitchen will be converted to office space.
Lynn McDermott, owner of V.I.P. Real Estate, had listed the restaurant for the family. She told the Independent that the second floor of the building will remain an apartment, and the basement will continue to house BOL, a café with acai bowls.
The Lighthouse’s alcohol license will return to the pool to be awarded by the select board to another business, said Wellfleet principal clerk Jeanne Maclauchlan.
The Lighthouse’s closing continues a trend in which fewer stores are staying open year-round, and locals are feeling it. “So much of the entrepreneurial energy in town is focused on summer,” Harold said, recalling a time when it seemed the town was “here more for itself.” The Lighthouse, he said, “was part of that.”
The restaurant’s meals were welcome for their affordability if not always for their quality. “They were kind of known for having bad food,” said Harold, “but for five bucks, you could get a really good pot roast or half a chicken.”
The Lighthouse began when two college friends — Joe Wanco and Robert Derow — moved to the Cape with their young families in the mid-1970s, Harold said. Derow retired from the business in the early 2010s, leaving Wanco in charge.
In recent years, the Lighthouse was closed in the dead of winter. According to town documents, Wanco asked to change his annual liquor license to a seasonal license in 2014. In early April 2019 the Wanco family announced the restaurant would be closing but were reticent about saying what might happen next.
Bessette, who has lived in Wellfleet for 52 years and run Ragg Time for 35 years, told the Independent she has always dreamed of moving to Main Street. As renovations are moving slowly, she does not yet know when she will be moving in. “There are some loose ends that need to be tied up before we can get in there,” she said.
Though happy about the opportunity, Bessette understands that the closing of the Lighthouse comes with some sadness. “I know a lot of people are upset that it’s not going to remain a restaurant,” Bessette said. “But I’m feeling good that someone local, who’s been in business here for years, is moving in.”