John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and today I’m here with Patricia Woodman Roy D’Alelio. Patti is the second oldest of founder, Chubby and Bessie Woodmans’ 14 grandchildren.
She worked at Woodmans from her freshman year of high school until her retirement in 2004, and we’re happy to have her here today to talk about Woodmans 100th anniversary, which is being celebrated in 2014.
Patricia Woodman Roy D’Alelio: Thank you, John. It’s nice to speak to you finally.
John: Yeah, and you, too. Patti, you’ve been around for 75 of Woodmans’ 100 years. What are some of your earliest memories of Woodmans, as you were growing up?
Patricia: Well, naturally I remember my dad going off to work mornings. Actually, in those days, we were strictly a summer vacation type business. We opened around Memorial Day, and closed by Columbus Day.
However, he did spend a lot of time off‑season working, and we lived kind of in the back parking lot so that we could see him a lot. It was almost like not working, because we had the opportunity to run down and say hello whenever we wanted to.
John: Your father’s name was what?
Patricia: His was Dexter. My dad was Dexter, yeah.
John: Dexter. What did he do during that off‑season? Did he work around, fixing things up at Woodman’s, or did he have some other job that he did in the off‑season?
Patricia: Actually, he didn’t do a lot of fixing up. He wasn’t that type of guy. He just had a very analytical mind, and was always thinking up new ways to increase the time that we were open, so that he could really support his family.
From there, it took quite a while before we were open year‑round, but he was working all the time with his father, doing one thing or another.
John: Right. You said you lived right nearby?
Patricia: We did. We lived in a duplex, and we were right next door to my grandmother and grandfather, Chubby and Bessie, and that was absolutely wonderful, because we had the opportunity to see them on a daily basis.
John: Right. I live in a two‑family home with my wife and my four kids, and my wife’s parents as well, so my kids get to see their grandparents all the time. It is really nice to grow up in that situation, where you have your family right nearby.
Patricia: It certainly is. That’s right. There’s nothing better.
John: Chubby and Bessie started Woodman’s 100 years ago. What do you remember about them?
Patricia: They were incredible people. Both my grandmother and my grandfather were loving people.
Gramp was a fisherman actually. People would follow him, as we would say, down river to see where he was fishing, but he’d be the one who would come home with a boat full of whatever he was fishing for at that particular time, whether it be striped bass, tuna, mackerel, whatever was running. But he probably loved ice fishing, fishing for smelt in the winter more than anything else.
John: Did he do that right on the Essex River…?
Patricia: He did it on the Essex River, and he also went into Maine. He had his little shack right there on the river. That was when the river really flows over. It hasn’t done that for a few years, but he was absolutely in his glory when he was ice fishing.
John: That’s great.
Patricia: He was also a guy who was never afraid of starting something new, or trying to add to the business for his growing family, also. My grandmother, she was just unbelievable. I think she probably started cooking Christmas dinners to give to people who didn’t have much, maybe before the Salvation Army thought of it. She did it as long as I could remember.
She also started sending clam chowder to funerals in town. Or if there was a big fire, they would send chowder to the firemen. They never did it with any fanfare. Just that was it. They didn’t want any thanks. They wanted to be as anonymous as possible.
John: Right. Just trying to help out the community.
Patricia: Absolutely. Absolutely. She also had a way of making all us grandchildren feel as though we were the favorite. Each and every one of us always thought we were the favorite of nana’s, but deep down I still know that I was.
John: They had 14 grandchildren. That’s right?
Patricia: That’s correct, yes.
John: Did a lot of them, or most of them, live right nearby?
Patricia: Which is wonderful, because we’re in Florida now, but we all grew up and still back in Essex, still live within five to seven miles of each other. It’s really great, our kids grew up with my sister’s kids et cetera, it’s just been wonderful.
John: Patti, you would have started working at Woodman’s you said when you were in high school, which would have been in the mid ’50s, what was Woodman’s like back then?
Patricia: It was kind of quiet, you know as I said it was a very seasonal business at that time, but it was literally one big happy family, because most of my grandmother’s family was working there at that time.
It was still seasonal then, luckily we had the diner, which is where Dunkin’ Donuts is, next door to our restaurant right now. That was a year round operation, that kept us busy and able to support the family at that time.
John: You had the diner next door which was year round, and then you had Woodman’s, the restaurant.
Patricia: It was just very seasonal, yeah.
John: What was the diner called?
Patricia: I think it was just Woodman’s Diner at that time, and then my grandmother made home‑made donuts, that big sign out there “We’re going to get some of Bessie’s donuts.” For a few years my sister Judy ran it, and it was called Judy’s Kitchen at that time.
John: Do you have any memories from those early years, or in the ’50s when you were working there?
Patricia: I do remember that when 128 was built, the whole town within my grandfather thought that it was going to make Essex a ghost town, and he absolutely did not believe that.
There was a time when I guess the money ran out, and 128 ended at route 22 in Beverly, which is main drag from Beverly to Essex, and people would come down the 128 and have to get off at the 22, and I could see cars backed up going by my house, backed up all the way back to 128 and just brought more people to town, it was absolutely amazing.
John: Rather than stopping the traffic coming through the local town where Woodman’s is, it actually brought more traffic to the area?
Patricia: It certainly did, people that had never been there before.
John: When you were working at Woodman’s, again from when you were in high school, until you retired in 2004, what are some of the jobs that you did at Woodman’s?
Patricia: I think, the only thing I didn’t do in all the time I was working was wait on tables out of the function hall, but I started out taking orders at the counter, graduated to working on the lobster bench in the front, I did cashiering, bar tending, frying, worked clam bakes.
When dad decided to expand the business, as our family was growing and coming to work, my late husband John and my brother in‑law Pete, built the function hall in the back of the property, that was in the early ’70s I believe.
When that was ready to go, I went out to that office booking functions, hiring the function help, ordering and cooking food, plus doing the book keeping and payroll. I think the only thing I haven’t done in the business is actually wait on tables.
John: You actually cooked some of the food at the function hall yourself?
Patricia: I did. Now, I have a chef, but I started it out.
John: What do you think has changed in Woodman’s over the years? What have you seen change the most?
Patricia: Well, as I first knew it, and everybody else, it was strictly a side of the road clam shack, but over the years we started adding some screening and porches, and the live lobster pool out front was added, as were other little additions over the years.
We finally winterized it, and that’s when dad decided in the late ’60s, why don’t we try this year round? It was kind of tough for a couple of years, but we got through that. You still go to the counter to put in your orders, pick it up when your number is called. Lobsters are still out front in season.
I guess, in other words, it’s still the same place your grandparents and parents took a ride to on a nice summer day, only now, they can do it every day, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
John: Right. Go in, in the middle of winter, and we can still order lobster and fried clams or whatever.
John: Very much the same place that it was back when it started.
Patricia: Yes, it absolutely is.
John: Woodman’s as we know has been around for 100 years now. What do you think the secret has been to keeping the business up that long?
Patricia: We were all brought up to have a very strong work ethic, which we instilled in our children, and they in theirs. It’s hard work running a restaurant, whether it’s just brand new opened and it’s a fancy place, or it’s just a clam shack down the street. There’s still a lot of work that goes into it. You have to work hard, or it just doesn’t work.
John: Right. I know that owning and running a business as a family must have its ups and downs, with somebody has to be in charge, and other people are doing a lot of the work. Everybody is sharing the load. Over the years, how has your family dealt with that day to day struggle of running a business together as a family?
Patricia: It was very difficult after dad died in 1987. As to what we kids wanted to do, we’d always call and get his OK. He never told us what to do. He wanted us to figure it out on our own. But at least we had the opportunity to talk things over with him, which was wonderful.
When he died, we realized we must pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, and work it out for ourselves. My two brothers, Doug and Steve, run the day to day operation now, but it’s still work hard and when the day is over, we still enjoy being with each other.
John: Right. It sounds like your father really wanted to pass on all of that information about running the business. You said he didn’t tell you what to do, he helped you, but you figured it out for yourselves. I think instilling that in your guys probably made a big difference, in terms of being able to carry on the business after he was gone.
Patricia: That’s true. He was so proud that all of us were interested in working the business. It really made his day. His grandkids would go down and see him every day. They’d help him count the money. At least, he made them think they were doing that. It’s just been wonderful. A lot of the grandkids and now, my grandkids are working there also.
John: Right. Well, Patti, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.
Patricia: Oh, absolutely, John. It’s been my pleasure, also.