Steve Woodman: My name is Steve Woodman, grandson of Chubby Woodman, who started Woodman’s in 1914. This is a story of clambake business and how we got it going. Actually, Nana Bessie’s father had a clambake business in Gloucester, Roberts of Gloucester. He did clambakes the old-fashioned way like the Indians did. Going to the beach, digging a hole, building a fire, putting stones in there, and taking all day to do a clambake. Covering it with seaweed and a tarp– To cook everything.
My grandfather was helping him do that and make some extra money. He was trying to figure that there’s got to be a better way to do this and you can do more clambakes if you don’t have a beach to do them at. You can go someplace else. Back in 1923, he devised a way to actually cook a clambake on top of the ground using a wood fire, holding some racks to hold these big pots above the fire, and actually cooking the clams and the lobster with the corn, the sausage, anything else that would go with a clambake. He could do it a lot faster. He could actually get to a site, set up, cook the food, and be ready within an hour.
It was very efficient. You could time it. The food would cook better because it was– Everything was being cooked in a pot. It was just easier to do and a lot more efficient. Back in 1923, he started contacting some of the people that he knew in Hamilton and Wenham and Beverly Farms, that– When he was a stable boy and a rider on his uncle’s farm, he got to meet a lot of people that would be able to afford a clambake.
He contacted Caleb Loring from Beverly Farms. Caleb was Chubby’s first account as a clambake master, you could say. So, he started doing clambakes for Caleb. From Caleb, they expanded to some of his friends and then more people, because he could– Chubby could go to their backyard, go to their business, go to anywhere that the wanted to and do this clambake and it was efficient and it was great. Caleb, after the first clambake, said, “This was great.”
He still has clambakes today. The family still has clambakes today and they hold it on the Strawberry Moon, which is the full moon in June. To this day, they said they’ve never been rained out on that date. It’s lucky for them and the family still does it. Of course the business has expanded beyond just the local region. We do them all over New England. We do them in New York. We’ve had clients in Pennsylvania where we’ve gone there regularly to do. We’ve done as many as 24 separate catering events, clambake events in one day. It takes a lot of work and preparation to get that done.
It takes a lot of training for all these crew members to know what they’re doing and come in and put that together. There’s a lot of training, but there’s also a lot of family members that do it and friends of family that come in to make that extra money. It’s a great way to make extra money for them. It’s enjoyable for them. A lot of times, they’ll do a clambake and the guests would ask the crew to, say, “Just hang around with us for a little while. We enjoyed you and sit back and relax.” Sometimes they did but other times they didn’t. It’s a great time for the people that are having the catering event.
Then, back in the ’70s, things started changing a little bit. We used a wood fire. Regulations in the state got stricter and stricter, you couldn’t have all these open fires. Before any regulation came in, we decided to start utilizing propane. We started using wood fires where people that wanted it and then propane for people that it didn’t matter.
Then, eventually, open fires were outlawed throughout the states in different states, and we did switch over totally to propane, which we had already started, which helped us get going and expand.
We’ve done clambakes of all different sizes. In fact, my grandfather did one in 1938 in Marietta, Ohio for 5,000 people. That was the 150th anniversary of Marietta, which, actually, was the start of the Northwest Territory expanding, and they were promised land out there. Actually, they left from Hamilton. They wanted to highlight their roots of where they came from.
Back then, Hamilton was actually part of Ipswich or Ipswich was– Still owned Hamilton at the time. They wanted to have a clambake. They contacted my grandfather. He agreed to do it for $100 plus all the costs of getting things out there. Grampy and Nana Bessie and some other family members went out there and organized volunteers and Boy Scouts and showed them how to put it together, and they served a clambake to the whole town for 5,000 people back then.