2011-05-26 / News

Chopmist Charlie’s ready for summer customers

By Ken Shane

Chopmist Charlie’s is something of an institution in Jamestown. It is a classic New England seafood restaurant that is beloved by the local population as well as visitors to the island.

Many restaurants don’t survive past the first couple of years of operation. Chopmist Charlie’s is a happy exception. “We’re going on 17 years this fall,” said owner Chuck Masso. “It was called The Islander restaurant back in the old days. I bought it 17 years ago and named it Chopmist Charlie’s.”

The restaurant has an unusual name, but it came to Masso quite naturally. “I grew up in an area in northwestern Rhode Island called Chopmist Hill,” he said. “The Indians that lived up there had coined the word chopmist because it had the second highest elevation in Rhode Island, and in the summertime the fog was very thick up there. It was said that you could chop the mist.”

“I worked in a place as a kid called the Chopmist Hill Inn,” Masso continued. “The owner’s name was Charlie and my father’s name is Charlie. My father used to take me fishing in Jamestown on his little fishing boat years ago when I was a kid. The name of his boat was Chopmist Charlie. So I just thought it was a catchy name.”

Masso has had a long and varied career in the culinary business. He was a food service offi cer in the Coast Guard and also had four restaurants on the west coast of Florida. He moved back to Rhode Island in 1994 and the first restaurant he opened was at the Jamestown Golf Course.

Head Chef Chris Olobri has been with Masso since he opened his first Jamestown restaurant, but he didn’t start out as a chef.

“I’ve been here since the beginning,” Olobri said. “I went to school at URI for liberal arts. This started as a summer job when I was 15 years old. I washed dishes. That turned into preps, and then cooking. That was all at the country club. When Chuck opened up here, I followed.”

But Olobri wasn’t always in the kitchen. “Over the years, besides cooking I’ve waited tables and was the bartender. I’ve done just about everything,” he said.

“Chris is the only employee here who’s done absolutely every job in this restaurant,” Masso said. “He’s been the head chef for about eight years.”

According to Masso, things change dramatically at Chopmist Charlie’s during the summer months. “We add on another 10 employees for the summer. Generally our sales will double in the summertime from the winter.”

It’s not just added staff and added business in the summer. The menu changes to reflect the season also. “In the summertime people want to see more seafood. In the winter of course people want seafood, but they also want to see more comfort food, like pot roast,” Olobri said.

“We lighten a lot of the items up with the sauces and the ingredients. A lot more summery items, more eclectic salads and lighter sauces,” Masso added.

The restaurant’s clientele also changes in the summer. “It’s 90 percent locals and repeat customers in the wintertime. In the summer, with the influx of boaters, and weekly and monthly renters, it changes dramatically with the ratio of locals to transients,” Masso said.

If Chopmist Charlie’s doesn’t buy directly from local farmers and fishermen, the food on the plate is still local. “We don’t buy directly from the local farm,” Masso said. “We still go through our distributors, but they’re buying directly from the local farms. All of our seafood is New England based. We may get scallops from New Bedford, we may get codfish from Georges Bank, but it’s still coming into New England ports.”

One thing that keeps diners coming back in the offseason is the restaurant’s $24.95 dinner-fortwo weeknight special. It is not available in the summer months, but will be for the next few weeks. “We run that right into the third week of June,” Masso said. “We don’t get really busy until the kids are out of school and people start moving into Jamestown when the rental programs start kicking in.”

The restaurant business, like most businesses, is struggling in these difficult economic times, but Masso is finding his way through. “We’ve fared well because we have good value here,” he said. “We serve a good product at a reasonable price, and with the dinner-for-two special running all winter long, that’s really been our basis for staying on top of things in the wintertime.”

Some things remain beyond the control of restaurant owners though. “What’s hurt us the most is the increase in the cost of our food products. Everything’s gone up 3 to 11 percent, between dairy products, produce, meat and poultry,” Masso said. “We’re trying hard not to have to raise our prices to reflect that increase. We’re trying not to pass it on to the customer and still have a good value here.”

Chopmist Charlie’s is located at 40 Narragansett Ave. and is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.

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