Caroline Jeanette Parlante, the founder and proprietor of the Bookstore & Restaurant on Wellfleet Harbor, died at Cape Cod Hospital on Oct. 17, 2021. Her death was confirmed by her granddaughter Taylor Mindrebo. The cause was sepsis due to Covid-19 pneumonia, according to the official death certificate. She was 86.
Born in Worcester on Aug. 3, 1935 and raised there as the only child of Stephen W. and Jeanette C. Willins, Caroline attended Worcester schools and completed a secretarial course before marrying Michael Parlante in 1957 and moving to Wellfleet. Caroline’s father, a sheriff in Worcester, had opened a bookstore on Railroad Avenue, and Michael was the breakfast chef at Al Graham’s in the gray house next to present-day Mac’s on the pier.
When a property became available across from Graham’s, Caroline and Michael bought it. They invited Caroline’s father to move his bookstore there and, in 1964, opened a coffee shop. With the North Truro Air Force Station fully staffed, the place was open 24 hours and became a Wellfleet institution.
The couple worked hard to make a go of the restaurant over the next decade. In 1976, Michael died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving Caroline a single mother of four.
Undaunted, she worked all day at the restaurant and she took a second job shucking scallops on the pier at night.
In 1982, Caroline married an old friend, Larry N. Chaput, who was suffering from terminal cancer. He died two years later, leaving two children from an earlier marriage.
Now single with six children, Caroline kept up the restaurant, which had expanded significantly. The central dining rooms and upstairs deck had been added, completing the restaurant as it stands today.
“Everything about Grandma’s house was warm,” said Taylor, and the restaurant had the same quality. Sarah McNulty, who worked for Caroline for 24 years, said, “Caroline was like a mom to me. She took care of me and loved me with the purity of the love she had for her children.”
She was known for her generosity to those who asked for a job, a meal, or a place to stay. “She would give everyone a second, a third, a fourth chance,” said McNulty.
Caroline, who was called “Mama Carol,” insisted on keeping her restaurant open year-round. Even if only one customer came in on a winter day, she considered the day a success.
Over the years, children, grandchildren, and cousins worked in the restaurant, the bookstore, and the Bomb Shelter Pub, which Caroline opened in the basement of the building. It was there, Taylor explained, that her parents had met.
Caroline’s kindness extended to stray animals. The children would bring home a fox, a cat, even a horse, and Caroline helped with their care. “The place was like Noah’s Ark,” said Taylor.
In later years, Caroline traveled extensively with Anita, a friend from New York, visiting Alaska, Italy, Greece, and Germany. She also went with her son Joey on a safari in Kenya.
She was a founding member of the Friends of the Wellfleet Council on Aging and a devoted member of Grace Chapel in South Wellfleet, supplying food for community suppers and church luncheons, said Pastor Donna Alexander. “She will be missed for all that she did and for who she was,” said Alexander.
Carol leaves her children, Stephen Parlante, Carol Mindrebo, Joseph Parlante, Michael Parlante, Larry Chaput, and Susan Bauer; and eight grandchildren, Chelsey Bauer, Taylor Mindrebo, Riley Bauer, Morgan Mindrebo, Dori Chaput, Joseph Chaput, Dashell Parlante, and Siena Parlante.
Services were to be held on Oct. 27 at Grace Chapel, with a celebration of life afterward at the Bookstore & Restaurant. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Grace Chapel Assembly of God, P.O. Box 625, South Wellfleet 02663.