JOHN: My grandparents grew up in Craigville, and they passed the family home down to my mom, and she lives there right now . . . After high school, I left the Cape to find my career and I worked for Disney in Florida—I was a specialty restaurant chef in a resort community down there. I left Florida and went to California and spent a long time there working for Marriott Hotels—I had an 18-year career with Marriott.
Brett: I had a pretty transient childhood. My dad worked in the auto industry—he worked his way up from the parts department to a dealership and into the corporate ring. My family ended up moving every three years—I was like an Army brat without the international locations. I put down the most roots in Massachusetts—I went to high school in Northborough. So it was kismet when John and I both met in California and recognized each other as Massachusetts people.
My family had come to Cape Cod when I was in high school. We’d come for a month in the summer, so John and I coexisted on Cape Cod in our adolescent years, but never met. We visited Popponesset before it became what it is now. Our street was a sandy road, the cottages were tiny—it was great.
John: In 2009, we said, “Let’s move closer to our family on Cape Cod.” We’re both basically sturdy New Englanders, and the concept of coming back to be closer to family and, more importantly, coming back to Cape Cod was a calling . . . We bought this building in 2009 thinking that eventually I’d want to move from my career into something else. This is the something else.
John: We thought about the coffeehouse concept, but when we found this building on Route 6A in Dennis, the idea of a hybrid art gallery-coffeehouse really ignited in that moment. We weren’t even thinking of starting an art gallery, but the idea that this place was an art gallery at one time, the Colonial Art Gallery, was really fascinating. What a great opportunity to merge a coffeehouse with art and extend our personal values, and bring people together in a place that isn’t a library, or a church, or their home. It’s a place where people can meet and be together and be happy, basically. At the Cape Cod Chat House, they can eat great food, meet great people, and listen to wonderful music.
It’s not a sea captain’s house, it’s a humble farmer’s house. The building has had a lot of people live here, a lot of experiences have happened here. When people come in here, they respond to the environment, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s not just a box. It’s someone’s home that’s been recreated into a place where people meet.
Brett: This place being right on 6A—being in Dennis, so close to the Cape Cod Museum of Art, to the Cape Cinema, to the Cape Playhouse, and to our house, which is only a few miles up the road—was great. But it was in very bad condition—it had just been kind of left. The roof was leaking, water was actually running into the electrical extension box from the third floor into the basement. It was cold and falling apart.
Brett: After we bought the property, we spent about a year and a half rehabbing it ourselves, and another six months with professionals. I had some mornings where I’d get up and cry in my coffee. It was a lot, and it was beyond the renovation. It was just a big, big project . . . But sometimes there’s a benefit to jumping off the cliff and figuring it out on the way down.
John: When Brett and I first met Richard Neal and Jackie Reeves, the first two artists we ever displayed, they asked us a really piercing question. They sat across the table. Richard leaned forward and asked, “Are you an art gallery that sells food, or a food establishment that has art?” It was the perfect question to ask us, because we had to take a stand. Lots of artists have their work in restaurants, and the art is almost secondary—sometimes people don’t even pay attention that art is on the wall. So he was asking us where our priorities were. Our answer was that we’re a gallery first. Food is second.
Brett: We have this Buy Art movement that we’ve started to help people start to see themselves as art buyers and art collectors. Even if they’re not experts in art, if they fall in love with a piece of art and relate to it, they see through the artist’s eyes in a way. That’s what happens when you buy a piece of art: The thrill never goes away. There’s nothing else you can buy like that.
Brett: The support that we’ve had from Dennis has been amazing. Not just in doing the renovations in a historic district, but the other businesses as well. I think most of the people in this part of Dennis think the more businesses that are here, the more people will come, and if the water level rises, we all go higher. That’s certainly our feeling here. We all try to support each other.
Alicia Mathewson was one of our first musicians. She’d come in and play for an empty room, waiting for people to come in. And she’d say, “This is my practice time. I’m just sharing my thoughts with the room.” Now she has a great following—she had her CD release party here last March, and it was a great night. I like that attitude, that we’re all here building something together through community.