The Surprenant System
At the center of the Cape Cod dining universe, one man does things a bit differently.
People often describe Cape Cod as an arm, bent at the elbow of Chatham, but imagine instead something more far out. Imagine the Cape is a galaxy unto itself, its spiral spinning from the Canal all the way up and around to the very tip of Provincetown’s Long Point. Within this galaxy, untold solar systems also spin—the surfing subculture of the National Seashore, the diverse art community, the whale watching and ecotourism industry, the commercial and sport fishing interests. Then, there are other solar systems within the hospitality and dining sectors of Cape Cod, some with planets that orbit geographical stars, others circling one particular type of cuisine: ice cream, fried clams, or lobster rolls for instance. Now, imagine that solar systems build by expansion, that they add planets as they grow, perhaps in the vein of the universe itself as it constantly widens into the unknown. Using this cosmological structure, one can look at the successes of one Cape restaurateur as a distinct solar system that has been growing for nearly 40 years. And, if the laws of the current-day universe would return to something like normal, it would be easy to predict this interplanetary system to further expand into the future.
Jamie Surprenant may be the force of gravity at the center of his orbiting restaurants, but this star actually includes a number of satellite individuals, including: the staff at his establishments, his business partners, his customers, his parents and his uncle, and his wife and their immediate family. The restaurants, the people, they all exist as an interrelated, influential microcosm of the Cape dining scene. Currently, Surprenant owns and operates five Cape restaurants. Since the age of 12, Surprenant has been involved with the restaurant industry. Although his father was a grocery store manager, Surprenant always thought of his extended family as one of restaurateurs because his uncle owned a number of concepts. The Surprenants moved from their home in the Dartmouth-New Bedford area to the Cape when Jamie was 12. “My father said, ‘We’re moving to the Cape to start a Mexican restaurant,’” Surprenant recalled in a 2018 interview with Mary Katherine Starr on the “Built On Cape Cod” podcast. “I officially thought he had lost his mind.”
The Mexican restaurant that the Surprenants opened is Sam Diego’s, which quickly established itself as a Cape Cod fixture. And although Jamie Suprenant did in fact attend school and college, he credits his time working alongside his parents as his true education. He’s only half-joking when he says, “I hold a degree from Sam Diego’s University.” At first, young Jamie learned the basics of how to work in restaurants, but as he grew older, he began to crib wisdom from the managers, and he learned how the operation actually runs. He notes that his parents have had excellent partners; “Watching them grow and make mistakes was one of the best hands-on education experiences I could ever have,” he told Starr.
Around 1995, Surprenant decided that he’d like to strike out on his own, and in partnership with his parents and a friend, he purchased the Hyannis Port Brewing Company, which they rebranded as the Cape Cod Brewhouse. In this venture, the brewpub concept was already in place, which had some advantages: it was interactive, and of course there was the beer. Surprenant says, “It was kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a restaurant with a microbrewery that was already existing.” Nevertheless, he still had the desire do build something more from scratch, so when the opportunity came along, the group sold the Brewhouse. At about the same time, Five Bays Bistro in Osterville came onto the market. Surprenant knew people who worked there, and his parents actually discovered at a New Year’s Eve dinner there that the owners had decided to sell. “I was there the next morning, on New Year’s Day,” says Surprenant, “knocking on the back door.”
Five Bays Bistro would become the “Earth” of the Surprenant solar system. In the ensuing years, Jamie would branch out and establish larger, higher volume restaurants, but this would be his first concept that he really built from the ground up. It’s the home planet, and it continues to draw diners and patrons from not only the village of Osterville but from far and wide. It’s also somewhat eclectic, offering a mix of fine dining and bistro-style food, all while providing a village neighborhood atmosphere that also manages to be cosmopolitan. Diners might start off with Lobster Sliders or Salmon Belly Crudo, before enjoying Ribeye Au Poivre with truffle frites or Sole Francaise. To create and nurture this endeavor, Surprenant teamed up with Tim Souza, former chef at The Roadhouse, and together began serving guests the summer of 2002.
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