Don and Marylou Berig to sell popular restaurant after 51 years.
ORLEANS — The fryers, grill and broilers will shut down at the Lobster Claw restaurant Sept. 13. Owners Don and Marylou Berig are retiring after a 51-year run.
The Berigs are closing a long-running chapter on what has been a labor of love for them. They are headed to retirement in Jupiter, Florida, where they will trade 15-hour days at the restaurant for time on their boat and the golf course.
Don Berig started doing the books at the Lobster Claw in 1963, a year after graduating from college. The owner had been one of his father’s clients, and Berig would drive from Boston to do the accounting work. That client sold the restaurant in 1965. When it went up for sale again a few years later, the Berigs bought it.
It wasn’t really a huge career switch, Don said.
His family owned a fish market in Allston from 1944 to 1960. He had been cutting fish since he was 12. “I knew the fish business backward and forward,” he said.
For years he juggled accounting work and the restaurant. During tax season he spent seven days a week in Boston. In 1989, the restaurant became his sole focus. He and Marylou were the cooks, cleaners, accountants and faces of the Orleans restaurant.
“It was challenging, but I love the business,” Berig said.
For 25 years he and Marylou, who declined to be interviewed, did the cooking.
They still come in at 7 a.m. every day. “My wife washes every window, every table, every chair, and more so now with COVID,” Berig said.
He does the books and weighs everything that comes in on a digital scale. “I do the ordering, and cut the fish from 9 to 10:30,” he said. “We open at 11:30. I’m out front greeting people seven nights a week. That’s how it is.”
He chalks up part of his success to knowing how to order, another part to knowing what he’s doing.
“I get scallops off the day boat,” he said. “They were in the water yesterday. I know what I’m doing and I like what I’m doing. It’s really that simple.”
In its heyday, the restaurant fed 500 people a day, he said. That period lasted for 20 to 30 years through about 2015. He and Marylou built the restaurant into a perennial favorite among tourists and locals alike.
The restaurant website cites accolades such as “Best Family Restaurant,” “Best Lobster Roll” and “Best Clam Chowder” from Cape Cod Life Publications between 1994 and 2018.
The Best of Boston gave it “Best Fried Clams” in 2010. But the real proof may be the reviews of customers.
If the restaurant’s success is due to Berig’s know-how, it’s also due to the couple’s fortitude, work ethic and resilient partnership. Berig’s father was a product of the Depression, and that figures largely in his approach to the job.
Every day for years he and his wife have opened the doors at 7 a.m. and closed them around 9 p.m. after the last of their diners left. They celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and other events at the restaurant.
If someone called before 9 p.m., they would keep the restaurant open for them.
When Hurricane Bob hit the Cape in August 1991, the Lobster Claw was the only restaurant open in seven towns. His grandson told him he could keep the restaurant running if Berig could find a generator. Berig got two from a local builder.
“The storm came through at 11:30, and we opened at 11:35,” he said.
The Police Department closed it down until the storm blew over, but it opened up again at 5 p.m. The employees had stayed. Berig had a nephew call local radio stations to say they were open.
“In an hour and a half, we had a two-hour wait,” he said.
The staff didn’t get out until 2 a.m. The next day the restaurant got permission from the Board of Health to open and by 5 p.m. there was a three-hour wait to get inside.
“We fed 800 people over the course of a few days,” he said. “It was too much.”
When the Berigs bought the restaurant there were six other restaurants in town. Today there are 40. This year has been hard on everyone because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that’s not why the Berigs are closing down.
Ten workers from Jamaica were already in town before the coronavirus hit. With state-ordered shutdowns, the restaurant missed two months entirely, then was restricted to takeout only. Revenues were down as a result, but the Lobster Claw is one of the few restaurants open seven days a week. “Other restaurants are closed because they don’t have help,” Berig said.
His restaurant advice: The customer is always right.
“It all goes back to liking the job and liking people,” he said.
In March, when the business was shuttered because of COVID-19, Marylou took him to Skaket Beach for the sunset. It was the first time he had watched a Cape sunset in 50 years. “It was gorgeous,” he said.
The Berigs have a broker for the restaurant but no firm plans as yet. The business comes with an acre of land and a host of possibilities in a town that will have a downtown sewer system in a few years. Berig isn’t in a rush. But he is thankful.
“It’s been a great run,” he said. “It’s time to go.”
Follow Denise Coffey on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.