Nauset Farms: Building Strong to Customers & Community
Under the leadership of owner Warren Waugh, Jr. and general manager Frank Barbato, Nauset Farms has grown from a little market to a bustling center for their beachside community of East Orleans in just a few years. Nauset Farms offers a selection of specialty foods and wines from Cape Cod, New England, and elsewhere, as well as a deli filled with homemade prepared foods, an extensive menu of made-to-order sandwiches, a butcher shop, live local lobsters, fresh baked goods, catering services, and more.
Three and a half years ago, Waugh become sole owner of Nauset Farms and hired Frank Barbato to help him shape the market into the business that it is. Barbato brought on executive chef Steve Holland to take charge of the menu and food offerings, and Susan Keyes doubles as bookkeeper and resident sommelier. Together with longtime local butcher Rick Backus and pastry chef Becky Homer and the rest of their team, they have morphed the store into a thriving multifaceted business.
“This is kind of the meeting place of the whole neighborhood,” Barbato says. “Anytime the weather is really nice, there’ll be a couple guys who own restaurants who come in here and get coffee, and everyone sits and chats. How can we make little East Orleans a little bit better and stuff like that, and that’s were all the great ideas come from, at those little picnic tables out there.” Owner Waugh can often be found amongst these locals, and he adds that people sit and chat outside with gloves on in the winter too.
The staff at Nauset Farms joke and josh with familiarity and ease, and many customers jump into the sociable banter as well. Every customer seems to be greeted by name—in the off-season at least— and like the products in the store, they all have a story. Meredith Mayo, who grows the coveted Eastham turnips sold at Nauset Farms, is also a customer and so are the electricians and carpenters who work on the building as well as postal workers, firefighters, teachers, medical workers, business owners, and other members of the community. Barbato says, “There have been times when people come in here and ask us what’s wrong with the building because they’ll be NSTAR, Verizon trucks, an ambulance, a fire truck, and two cop cars and they think something major is going on. No, they’re just getting lunch!”
Waugh is proudest of the service that they offer but says Nauset Farms is also known for quality and the relationships they have with the community. “I think we’ve been really smart about pricing. I think we’ve proved that you can turn a profit and be affordable and keep people coming back. We’ve got a very dedicated customer base.”
Numerous updates to the building, which dates from 1981, have been necessary and the renovations have been ongoing. New electrical systems, a new generator, new refrigeration and equipment, air conditioning, and a new awning last summer have been some of the improvements.
“Now we’ve got the facilities done, we’ve got the management team in place, the challenges have been good summer help and continually trying to find those special products that lend themselves to good return. And that’s frankly the really fun part of it, finding those home runs,” says Waugh.
The selection of fine goods has local and far reaching appeal and Nauset Farms has become a place for people to discover new wines and cheeses as well as to stock up on necessities and signature items such as homemade potato chips, Nauset Bombs, and the legendary squash rolls. Back when Nauset Farms was Fancy’s Farm Stand, they started selling squash rolls made by a local woman named Millie Goodspeed. Nauset Farms had to buy the recipe for the soft, slightly sweet and vibrantly orange version of Parkerhouse rolls and they “keep it under lock and key.” They bake pie tins of a dozen squash rolls year round, but the highest demand is at Thanksgiving, when they sold 585 tins last year. “God help me if we run out of squash rolls, people will kill you!” Barbato says. “It is absolutely an institution in itself.”
Another specialty item that flies off the shelves are those Eastham turnips, which, according to Barbato, “are like gold. People will call asking for the turnips, but you have to wait for the first frost after a certain moon and then you get your turnips.” The harvest was small last year and the 120 pounds of turnips the store got were gone in about a day. Barbato says that people will try to sell other turnips as Eastham turnips, but they’re not the same and the customers know. “The consumer these days is far more educated than they were ten years ago. We spend a lot of time out on the floor talking to people [about] what they want. They just want good food and they want to know where it comes from.”
Nauset Farms sources from many places, including local farms and orchards all summer and from Ron Fancy whose parents built the Nauset Farms building as their farm stand. The lobsterman, Steve Smith, lives a mile away. He’s been lobstering for forty years and everybody knows him. The cranberries come from a little bog around the corner, and Beanstock Coffee, Cape Cod Brewery, and Cape Cod Creamery are all Cape Cod made. Nauset Farms proudly sells products from the greater New England area too, such as Gelato Fiasco from Maine and McKenzie meats from Vermont. Chef Steve Holland explains, “We’re the go-between for farm to table… people know the difference and they know they don’t have to worry with us.”
“Rick is the community guy, he’s been a butcher in the area for forty some-odd years” says Waugh of Rick Backus, who learns the names of every new customer. “He knows exactly how they like their meats cut and he has this secret formula that he sprinkles on hamburgers and roasts and steaks.” Backus plans to have the secret formula written on his grave, but for now all he’ll divulge is, “there’s salt, pepper, and there might be some garlic, but the rest I can’t tell you.” He adds that, “usually once you try it you’ll always ask for it… It’s just good, and something that adds to the flavor of the product.” Backus makes a variety of steak tips and sausages that are ready to cook and he’s developed the hamburger formula for the store as well as for a couple of local restaurants.
A challenging aspect of the business has been the seasonal difference in volume and type of customers and figuring out the trends of each customer base. “Fourth of July through Labor Day we’re just crazy busy, but its nice to see more of a year round thing,” says Barbato. Nauset Farms is less than a mile from the beach and in the summer they can sell 700 sandwiches before noon and go through 75 pounds of potato salad, 60 pounds of chicken for chicken salad, and “gallons and gallons of iced coffee” every day. “A lot of people won’t go past the light at Tonset all summer long. They like their little end of the world down here.” This means they need to carry more basic staples as well as the specialty items. The staff shifts from 60 people in the summer to about a dozen in the off-season.
Selling hot dinners to go is another aspect of the business that they’ve added in the off-season. The entrees come with a protein and sides and have included prime rib, grilled salmon, bistro tenderloin, chicken piccata, and spaghetti and meatballs. Like everything else sold at the store, the meals are made from scratch from the ingredients they sell. Customers are learning to preorder as the meals can sell out. The prepared meals have their own regulars and the prime rib night has grown from one to two prime ribs as more people learn about the offering.
Another new initiative this year was the sale of Christmas trees for charity. Instead of setting prices for the trees Nauset Farms gave customers the opportunity to choose an amount of money and a charity to donate it to in exchange for a tree. Waugh says people generally donated more than what the store would have charged for each tree and “it made the community feel good that they could get something and give back at the same time.” These strong ties to the community generate new customers and keep the regulars coming back.
“We have a lot of close neighbors,” Barbato says. He and Chef Holland deliver catering orders themselves and they provide local inns and restaurants with pastries, burger meat, and baked goods, which also brings in more customers as does their involvement with the tight-knit community. Most of their advertising is through outreach and word of mouth. They make cakes for Nauset Disposal’s Trash Bash charity fundraiser, do tours for the Chatham-Harwich Newcomers, and sponsor community events such as “Paint East Orleans” in which artists paint the buildings of East Orleans followed by a catered reception at Addison Art Gallery.
There are wine tastings at Nauset Farms on Friday and Saturday nights all summer, almost every day around Christmas and other times year round. Vineyard owners from near and far come by and do tastings themselves, like First Crush from Harwich and the owner of High Hook Wine from Oregon who does a tasting when he comes fishing in Truro.
Barbato is full of stories of past achievements and new ideas at Nauset Farms. “We like to say there’s no brakes around here, only gas.” They continue to think of ways to grow and be better as a business and as a part of their community. Dreams for the future include a chicken rotisserie as well as hosting a big charity fundraiser dinner. “I know Warren is pretty proud that he’s taken this and turned it into something really good,” says Barbato. “And it’s not a short-term thing, this is a long haul endeavor that he’s started.”
199 Main Street, East Orleans
Deli, Bakery & Catering: 774-316-4127
Open Sunday-Thursday 7am-6 pm
Friday and Saturday 7am-7 pm