2011-07-21 / News

The Shack keeps the focus on high-quality ingredients in its second year

By Ken Shane

Peter Liberati’s day begins early. His restaurant, The Shack, opens for breakfast at 8 a.m. Offerings include eggs sandwiches, using farm fresh eggs from the Jamestown Community Farm. There are also breakfast paninis and fresh pastries from It’s My Party in Newport.

The Shack is now in its second full season at the Dutch Harbor Boat Yard. The building that houses the restaurant is a former battery story shed that was converted for restaurant use.

“I graduated from Johnson & Wales. I studied in Italy and then I had a restaurant in Newport for three years called Everyday Gourmet,” Liberati said. “As we were wrapping that up, I got the opportunity to open up a place in Jamestown. I kind of did it as an experiment because there was nothing there before. I’d been in the restaurant industry for several years and I thought I’d give it a shot.”

Liberati grew up in Jamestown and continues to live here so his familiarity with the area also factored into his decision to take on the new challenge.

It doesn’t end with breakfast at The Shack however, as the regular crowd of customers who gather for lunch will attest. “We’re really well-known for our lobster roll,” Liberati said. “We get lobster that’s cooked fresh for us everyday from a company called Newport Lobster.”

Liberati also said that the paninis are freshly made and the bread is from the local bakeries. “Every one of those is popular, and we get great feedback from that. We also offer chowder.”

Liberati says that while his business is primarily local – he estimates that up to 70 percent of his customers are local – The Shack also attracts a lot of boaters who are staying in the Dutch Harbor marina. “We have a good mix,” he said.

Like all restaurant owners, Liberati has had to face the challenge of rising costs without raising his prices dramatically. One of his strategies is to offer his customers combination deals. “To reflect the times we offer different options,” Liberati said. “If you buy a sandwich you can get chips and a drink for an extra $1.”

There are certain advantages that come with running your restaurant out of one small building. “The way we price our menu is based on food cost because we have such low overhead,” Liberati said. “We’re just one little building. We can be pretty competitive because of that, and we can use really highquality ingredients.”

Liberati said that when he and his brother started the business, their goal and mission was to create value through making a highquality sandwich using great ingredients. “Because our fixed costs are a lot lower than other shops,” he said, “we can deliver a much higher quality product. Everything is made to order.”

The owner of The Shack has had to face certain realities in these economically challenging times. “We did have to raise prices this year, but you can’t just pass on all the costs of operation to the customers,” Liberati said. “Our sandwiches did go up 50 cents this year. There’s a shortage of lobsters in Narragansett Bay, so we had to raise the cost of our lobster roll by a $1.”

Liberati reports that his margins are about 20 percent smaller this year as compared to last year as a result of increases in the cost of food, paper products and commodities. “I didn’t feel comfortable raising everything on the menu by $2,” he said. “Our original goal was to create value and deliver a highquality product. In order to do that, I don’t want to skimp on the ingredients. So I just had to just to make sure that we’re delivering what we intended to from day one.”

The restaurateur plans to put his extensive restaurant experience to further use by opening another restaurant, but he realizes that he may have to put that ambition on hold temporarily. “I’m still very involved in restaurants in the offseason,” Liberati said. “I am exploring opening another restaurant, but it’s a difficult economic time to do so. It is a goal of mine, but probably a five-year goal.”

The Shack’s business depends in no small part on Dutch Harbor boaters and marina workers, and Liberati appreciates that relationship. “One of the things that helps us quite a lot is that we have a great relationship with the Dutch Harbor Boat Yard,” he said. “They really try to help us out.”

The Shack is located in the Dutch Harbor Boat Yard at 252 Narragansett Ave. The restaurant opens each year on Memorial Day weekend, and stays open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day weekend. After Labor Day weekend, The Shack is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends through Columbus Day.

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