Billionaires at war over Nantucket CLAM SHACK: SF Giants’ owner Charles Johnson wants it


Two of America’s best-known billionaires are at loggerheads over a new Nantucket clam shack.

San Francisco Giants owner Charles Johnson, 90, is trying to block the Straight Wharf Fish Market from opening this summer over fears it will bring noise and congestion to the area where he lives.

Johnson, who is worth an estimated $5 billion, has a simple shack which sits next to the dining spot on the famed tycoons’ enclave.

But another billionaire who also has a property nearby – investment guru Charles Schwab – has come out in support of the new food venture, to the delight of its owners. 

Johnson filed suit on May 12 in Nantucket Superior Court seeking to invalidate licenses the Straight Wharf Fish Market had received from relevant authorities.

Johnson’s attorney says his property would be just 18 inches from the clam shack. Though the cabin is modestly sized at just 1,200 square feet, it is valued at nearly $6.5million

Former mutual fund executive and current majority owner of the San Francisco Giants Charles Johnson and his wife Ann are firmly opposed to the opening of the new restaurant

Former mutual fund executive and current majority owner of the San Francisco Giants Charles Johnson and his wife Ann are firmly opposed to the opening of the new restaurant

Another billionaire who also has a property nearby - investment guru Charles Schwab - has come out in support of the new food venture

Another billionaire who also has a property nearby – investment guru Charles Schwab – has come out in support of the new food venture

He and a group of his neighbors who have residences on the historic Old North Wharf have come out against the 62-seat eatery, arguing it will generate too much noise and congestion.

Local community boards, however, have backed the development.

Gabriel Frasca, one of the restauranteurs behind the project, said the lawsuit may delay their expected opening in July, and that the suit brought by the wealthy cohort of the resistance party had been financially draining.

‘This is one of a number of headwinds we are fighting our way through. We remain hopeful we can open this season, but it is hard to continue to throw time and money at a project that we may have to stop at any moment,’ Frasca told the Boston Globe.

Frasca and his partner Kevin Burleson plan on reviving the space that used to be known as the Straight Wharf Fish Store and Stars Ice Cream, which shut down in 2021. 

He said, at this point, it will be a challenge to meet a planned July opening date.

Johnson has asked the court to overturn the state’s April 11 approval of the restaurant’s liquor license, which was granted by the Select Board in March.

Danielle deBenedictis, Johnson’s attorney, called the decision to approve the liquor license improper due to its perceived ignorance of the ‘traffic, noise, congestion, and parking problems,’ that the restaurant may create.

Johnson’s attorney says his property would be just 18 inches from the clam shack. Though the cabin is modestly sized at just 1,200 square feet, it is valued at nearly $6.5million.

One voice who has come out as pro-clam shack is billionaire businessman Charles Schwab, 85, whose support the owners said is a pleasant surprise.

DeBenedictis had initially told the Select Board that in addition to Johnson, she represented Schwab and a number of other high profile residents of the wharf.

However, last month, Schwab declared in a statement through his attorney that he never opposed the opening of the restaurant and was never represented by deBenedictis, who is also the owner of a Nantucket restaurant and bar The Summer House, as reported by the Nantucket Current. 

Billionaire Charles Schwab was initially opposed to the opening of the new restaurant, but is now in favor and supportive of the eatery's developers

Billionaire Charles Schwab was initially opposed to the opening of the new restaurant, but is now in favor and supportive of the eatery’s developers

Schwab paid $10million in 2021 for neighboring cottages in the Old North Wharf named Nautilus and Zenas Coffin. He is pictured with his wife Helen

Schwab paid $10million in 2021 for neighboring cottages in the Old North Wharf named Nautilus and Zenas Coffin. He is pictured with his wife Helen

An attorney for Schwab said his client had initially been concerned when notified about the project, but ‘quickly adjusted’ his position when presented with a fuller picture of the plans for the restaurant.

Schwab’s attorney wrote in an April letter to the town and state alcoholic beverages commission that ‘the Schwabs and many neighbors at Old North Wharf were originally concerned when told that the Straight Wharf Fish Market would be a nightclub with a bar, dancing, and live music.  

‘However, when a review of the permits showed this was not the case, the Schwabs decided to not oppose’ the restaurant.

‘We all look forward to enjoying a fresh clam roll and cold soft-serve twist cone on the harbor,’ the lawyer, Steve Cohen, wrote.

Schwab paid $10million in 2021 for neighboring cottages in the Old North Wharf named Nautilus and Zenas Coffin. The cottages have several boat slips between them, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Frasca said that the Schwabs have been ‘incredibly gracious’ and that the business team behind the Straight Wharf Fish Market ‘appreciate the faith that they have shown in us.’

The owners have years of experience opening and operating restaurants on the New England island. Plans for this restaurant include a 14-seat dock and menu that will offer classics like lobster and clam rolls, as well as more modern fare.

Frasca told the Globe he was ‘a little surprised’ when he was made aware of the lawsuit, but said he expects Johnson’s suit won’t be the last one facing the restaurant.

‘Really I think Mr. Johnson just doesn’t want to own property next to a clam shack. And though I understand the sentiment, that isn’t a good reason to prohibit a properly zoned business from opening,’ he said.

Gabriel Frasca, one of the restauranteurs behind the project, said the lawsuit may delay their expected opening in July

Gabriel Frasca, one of the restauranteurs behind the project, said the lawsuit may delay their expected opening in July

Frasca and his partner Kevin Burleson plan on reviving the space that used to be known as the Straight Wharf Fish Store and Stars Ice Cream, which shut down in 2021

Frasca and his partner Kevin Burleson plan on reviving the space that used to be known as the Straight Wharf Fish Store and Stars Ice Cream, which shut down in 2021

A model of the plan for the 62-seat eatery is pictured above

A model of the plan for the 62-seat eatery is pictured above

The Old North Wharf is home to a number of very expensive waterfront properties, several of which are owned by billionaires

The Old North Wharf is home to a number of very expensive waterfront properties, several of which are owned by billionaires

Despite the ongoing opposition, Frasca says he remains optimistic the restaurant will be able to open this summer.

‘Obviously, missing even a single day of those sales has an outsized impact on our ability to earn a profit,’ he said. ‘Given that most restaurants operate within a 10 percent profit margin (at best), it’s pretty easy to see what the effect of missing any part of peak season would be.’ 

Sarah Alger, an attorney representing the Old North Wharf Cooperative said she believes members of the group are generally in agreement with Johnson’s sentiments.

‘I know there’s been kind of an effort to make this into kind of a David and Goliath story. I don’t really see that as being all that accurate,’ she said. ‘You know, this whole folksy clam shack thing. It isn’t a clam shack. It’s a restaurant.’ 



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