TRURO — The owner of Babe’s Restaurant and Bakery at 65 Shore Road was denied a renewal of its seasonal common victualer license by the select board on Nov. 16 after acknowledging that one might fairly call her business “a museum restaurant.” It was founded in 1945.
Claudia Boespflug’s application for the license renewal indicated that the restaurant’s “approximate dates of operation” for the season were Oct. 16 to Oct. 17. She left the “number of employees” question blank.
“How can someone operate a restaurant with no employees?” asked select board chair Bob Weinstein. “And be open for one day?”
Boespflug said that she had misinterpreted the “approximate dates of operation” question and thought it was asking the approximate date of opening. And she said there was, in fact, one employee, “which was me.”
After Boespflug’s admission that her business was more a relic than a going concern, the board denied renewal of her license in a 3-2 vote. Weinstein, Kristen Reed, and Stephanie Rein formed the majority, while Susan Areson and John Dundas were open to renewing the license — with conditions.
Boespflug had explained that she had searched for “the right pastry chef” after customers requested that she bring Babe’s back as a bakery. She had found candidates from France and Montreal, she said, but ran into complications trying to secure their work visas.
“I wanted to keep doing it,” she said, “finding the right person and a nice baker — but it’s unfindable. They don’t get their visa.”
Reed, who has worked at several Truro restaurants including Babe’s, Terra Luna, and Blackfish, pointed out that the latter two establishments “are mostly run on H-2B and J-1 visas.”
“I can find waiters and bartenders,” Boespflug said. “But I cannot find a professional baker.”
The staff at Terra Luna and Blackfish, Reed replied, include “professionals with credentials and degrees — and are not just front of house staff.”
Reed also brought up the workers’ perspective. “No one has really discussed the staff and what being open for a couple of days or weeks does to somebody trying to live in one of the most expensive communities in the Commonwealth,” she said.
When Reed asked when Babe’s last operated for a full season, Boespflug replied, “That must have been the time when Peter [Thrasher] left the restaurant.”
Thrasher left in 2010 after renting the building for five seasons, operating the restaurant as Babe’s Mediterranean Bistro, serving Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisine.
“There was not one summer it wasn’t open,” Boespflug insisted. Last summer, while most other restaurants were closed due to Covid-19, Boespflug said, she kept Babe’s open for five weekends. Since Thrasher’s time, Babe’s period of operation for a given year has ranged from as long as seven weeks to as little as three days. “Maybe it wasn’t open long enough,” she added. “It was not open, let’s put it this way, as a normal restaurant. That I totally agree.”
After reviewing the available documents, including an 11-year history of the restaurant’s license renewals, Weinstein found that “all of this adds up to a non-functioning business.”
Areson and Dundas were willing to renew the license conditionally. “We are trying to push economic development in this town,” Areson said. “It’s a tall order. She would need to have a septic system in place and need to have someone willing to run the restaurant and people willing to work there.”
Earlier the same day, Boespflug’s septic situation was discussed by the board of health, which is responsible for issuing food service permits to restaurants. Boespflug’s existing permit will expire on Dec. 31, but it’s unlikely to be renewed because the building is served by a cesspool — an automatic fail in Truro’s new septic regulations for restaurants.
The board of health is no stranger to the conditions at Babe’s. “I can remember, vividly, that you’ve been before the board of health for several years regarding the restaurant,” said Chair Tracey Rose at the board’s meeting.
Boespflug’s property includes a single-family dwelling and a couple of cottages in addition to the restaurant. Truro previously allowed grandfathered restaurants to secure a food service permit in spite of having a cesspool. In 2018, Rose, who was also chair at the time, urged Boespflug to install a new septic system when the permit was renewed.
But Truro’s standards changed on July 1, 2021. “Our new regs have more triggers for septic inspections,” Truro Health Agent Emily Beebe told the Independent. Cesspools are no longer permitted for restaurants.
The select board was expected to formalize its denial of the common victualer’s license at its meeting on Dec. 7 in a letter citing “the applicant’s acknowledgement the business could not open this year due to lack of staff and a lack of activity on the property for many years.”
Boespflug could not be reached for comment by deadline. If her Shore Road property no longer hosts a restaurant, Dec. 31, 2023 marks her next deadline. That’s the date by which she must upgrade waste treatment on the property.