WELLFLEET — Trudy Vermehren wasn’t opposed to a photo accompanying a news story about her decision to permanently close the Fox & Crow Café, but she didn’t want the photo to show her “in the process of moving out.”
“I don’t want people to have that image in their minds,” Vermehren said. “I want people to remember all of the exciting and vibrant times, the great food, the lively music, and the welcoming tone of the space — the smiles.”
It was a difficult summer for the owner of one of the very few Wellfleet restaurants — and the only downtown one — that remain open year-round. There were complaints from neighbors about noise. Then debates with her landlords over staff housing conditions and rent payments. There were accusations about squid in the rafters at the lounge next door. And on Sept. 11 there was a fire that destroyed the employee rooms she had leased and caused some smoke damage to her café.
Landlords John O’Toole and Grant Hester, who own the property at 70 Main St. and operate the Copper Swan Inn and an adjacent lounge, which was destroyed in the fire, served Vermehren with an eviction notice in July.
During a Sept. 28 hearing on the eviction in Orleans District Court, Vermehren’s attorney told the judge that a verbal agreement had been reached between the Fox & Crow’s owner and her landlords. Vermehren agreed to leave by Sept. 30 but asked for a little time to move the equipment she owned.
Outside the courtroom, she said she did not plan to seek a new location for the Fox & Crow. Her plan had been to remain at 70 Main for at least five years. After moving there in May 2022 and operating under a one-year lease, Vermehren signed a five-year lease this past April.
“This has been such a traumatic experience that I’m now done,” she said.
On Sunday, Vermehren posted the news on Instagram: “It breaks my heart to say this out loud, to the public, but the Fox & Crow is now closed for good.” She thanked the community for its steadfast support. “We are proud of what we accomplished in a very short time and want to thank everyone who saw what we were creating and showed up to be part of something very special.”
Vermehren didn’t always work as a chef. For 24 years, she owned a local landscape design business. In 2018 she opened the Fox & Crow Café on Commercial Street in Wellfleet. When Covid shut most places down in 2020, Vermehren founded a nonprofit called Common Table with Bruce Bierhans and Kristen Shantz. During the pandemic, the organization, with the aid of donations and a host of volunteers, provided 22,000 free meals to the community.
Vermehren’s friends and supporters — and there are many — are saddened by the closure of the Fox & Crow.
“The whole town knows Trudy is absolutely terrific,” said John Connors, who was a volunteer driver for Common Table. “She is just that kind of person who attempts to get along with everybody and make everything work and generally to help other people.”
A group called “Friends of Fox & Crow” started a GoFundMe campaign in late summer to help with Vermehren’s legal costs related to the eviction and a suit for damages she filed against O’Toole and Hester for her claimed loss of investment, loss of employees, and loss of business. That case will continue to move forward. Bierhans, Vermehren’s attorney, has requested a jury trial.
Karen Friedman said in an email that she and two others founded the “Friends” group. It has raised $10,500 to date.
“She has phenomenal vision, creativity, and drive, and can literally build anything she puts her mind to,” Friedman said of Vermehren. “What she created with Common Table and her café goes way beyond the great food, coffee, and beauty of the physical spaces she has created and occupied.”
Bob “Moo” Morrill, president of the Wellfleet Chamber of Commerce and former owner of the 70 Main St. property, ran the Duck Creek Inn and Sweet Seasons restaurant there for 35 years. “It’s very sad to see her go,” he said of Vermehren. “It was a nice restaurant and very popular.”
Local businessman and musician Alex Hay is a member of a band called The Volunteers that played jazz on Thursday nights at the Fox & Crow since it opened on Main Street about a year ago. Hay called those nights “a great learning experience,” since musicians like jazz guitarist Fred Fried, saxophonist and pianist Mike Flanagan, and acoustic double-bass player Rod McCaulley would sometimes sit in.
The summer is the high season for year-rounders like Hay who own businesses, and it leaves very little time to socialize. Places like the Fox & Crow that stay open year-round provide a gathering place for the community. It was, for Hay and other locals, a place to “see people I had fallen out of touch with.”
Copper Swan owner O’Toole said Tuesday that he and Hester don’t currently have plans for the restaurant space. They are still waiting for final reports on the cause of the fire on Sept. 11 and are working with the insurance company. Three of the workers who were displaced in the fire remain housed at the Copper Swan Inn, O’Toole said. The leases of two other workers have expired and they have left, he said.
According to Jake Wark, spokesman for the state fire marshal’s office, no cause of the September fire, which started in the employees’ quarters, has been identified.
“Among the potential factors at the scene, investigators looked closely at the potential failure of a refrigerator within the unit, but were unable to conclusively confirm it or rule it out as the cause,” said Wark in an email on Tuesday. “Pending any new information or developments, the cause will be undetermined but not suspicious.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article, published in print on Oct. 5, incorrectly reported the name of a founder of the Friends of Fox & Crow. It is Karen, not Janet, Friedman.