Paul Fanizzi & Fanizzi’s Restaurant by the Sea
Once upon a time, there was a bustling fishing empire centered on a place called Whorf’s Wharf, on the site where Fanizzi’s Restaurant by the Sea sits today. At one time this busy pier stretched 400 feet into the harbor, serving its own fleet of sixteen boats engaged in various types of fishing, while shipping some of the catch to markets as far away as Chicago. “A location as good as this—in what was almost certainly the old sail loft at Whorf’s Wharf—had attracted restaurateurs for years before Paul Fanizzi bought it,” notes David Dunlap, and at various times it was run as the Sail Loft, Don’s Café, and Pucci’s Harborside Restaurant and Bar. And then, in January of 2001, Fanizzi came to Provincetown to take a look at the restaurant.
“My friend Dave Nicolau, who owns Atlantic Bay Real Estate, mentioned to me that Pucci’s restaurant was for sale, and said I should come look at it,” Fanizzi recalls. “It wasn’t much to look at, honestly, because it was boarded up for the winter! But I put in an offer—and they accepted it. It changed my life completely—for the good.” He feels it was meant to be: “I only had five hundred dollars in the bank, and they needed a thousand in order to sign the first agreement,” he says. “I didn’t have it. But I wrote the check anyway, and that afternoon I bought a scratch ticket—and won the five hundred dollars I needed! My partner, John, said it was a sign. I didn’t believe in signs up until then, but I sure do now.” The rest is twenty years of restaurant and personal history.
Fanizzi grew up in Brockton, where he started in the industry as a busboy in a friend’s parents’ Thai restaurants. After earning a degree in management and finance, Fanizzi became general manager, first at the Salty Dog in Faneuil Hall, Boston, and subsequently at the Cambridge Common Restaurant; he eventually became comptroller general director of operations. He helped the owners open an upscale bistro across the street, so when the opportunity to open his own restaurant came up, he was well prepared.
Fanizzi doesn’t rest on his laurels. “The hallmarks of a good restaurant are great staff, consistent food, and a menu that has items on it to please everyone’s taste,” he says, then adds, “Location doesn’t hurt, too!” No; the location doesn’t hurt at all. High tide washes twice daily under the dining room; guests often comment that it feels like eating in the dining room of a cruise ship. Unlike town restaurants with a view of merely the harbor, Fanizzi’s is more sweeping, following Cape Cod Bay as it winds along the Truro shoreline and becoming Provincetown Harbor as it reaches the tip of the Cape and the lighthouse at Long Point.
But people don’t come just for the view; they come for the food. And Fanizzi’s menu does have something for everyone. “We have items that have been on the menu since we’ve been open,” Fanizzi says. “My chefs—Don Llyod and Jason Bryant—and my general manager Joe Johnson come up with specials; if they do well, we put them on the menu. Our daily specials try to be a bigger twist than our menu items.” The list of burgers satisfies all tastes, from the traditional “naked” burger to the fancier “539er” with shallots and aioli, to somewhat healthier takes on turkey and salmon burgers. “I always want casual food done well with consistency.” And the espresso martini is to die for—mostly because it starts with real espresso.
Fanizzi’s own menu favorite? “The braised short rib!”
The restaurant has staff who have been with the restaurant for many years, unlike other establishments with high staff turnovers. “I’m blessed to have staff that stays with me,” Fanizzi acknowledges. “I try to be really good to them. We’re like a family; we have fun together every day.” And the secret? “I pay well, offer a great work environment, provide vacations and bonuses.” What’s not to like?
Well… maybe the weather. “Being at Fanizzi’s has its ups and down,” he admits. “The floods, storms, and high tides… over the years, I’ve become an expert at wind direction, tide cycles, and the phases of the moon!” And no matter what befalls, there’s a silver lining. “Always— always—the town and my staff pull together, and we make it through.”
That town component is critical. For Fanizzi, the success of the community as a whole is just as important as the success of his restaurant. He’s known for his extensive support of local nonprofits and charities. “I was always brought up by my parents and family to give back to others,” he says. “Even before I started here in 2001, I always wanted to give back to the communities I served. I feel it’s something you have to do—and I really do enjoy doing it.”
He’s not in it for the fame, though. “I don’t like the accolades that come with giving. I like to be nondescript.” He pauses. “Well, I did receive the Man of the Year award from Helping our Woman a couple of years ago,” he adds.
“My mission statement, my vision for the future, they’ve always been the same,” he says. “Treat everyone with respect, and give back to Provincetown. Always give the best product, great service, and be friendly to everyone.”
His attitude is infectious. “Honestly? Living and working in Provincetown is a treat every single day,” he says. “The town folks and leaders really care about the community, and it’s always felt like home. I love Fanizzi’s, my staff, the town, my family, my friends, and my partner.”
It’s not a bad way to build a business—or a life.