SANDWICH — Glass manufacturer Deming Jarves left an indelible imprint on Sandwich in the 19th century with his Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. Part of the town’s historic district is still known as Jarvesville. But a 21st-century entrepreneur might just be giving Jarves a run for his money. Since 1992, Christopher Wilson has developed a host of successful properties in the historic district, ranging from a stunning bed and breakfast in a deconsecrated church to an upscale restaurant, a burger bar, and an art gallery. This month he’ll put his stamp on an iconic beachfront restaurant, his first venture outside the historic district, when the former Horizons Restaurant on Town Neck Beach opens as The Drunken Seal. Might locals one day refer to Wilsonville?
Wilson grew up in Connecticut, went to college in Colorado, and came to Cape Cod in for the first time in 1983. Settling in Osterville, he began work in financial planning for small businesses and individuals. Financial planning and hospitality are not so dissimilar, he says; both involve taking care of people. “One is about money, the other is about everything else.”
He and his family moved to Sandwich to take advantage of good schools and a diverse community. When an opportunity arose in 1992 to open a bed-and-breakfast in the former rectory of the Corpus Christi Church at 8 Jarves St., he took it, calling the ornate Victorian the Belfry Inn & Bistro. In 1998 he bought the desanctified church next door at 6 Jarves, moved the B&B into the upstairs (which he named the Abbey), and moved the bistro into the handsome sanctuary. In 2002 he bought the 1830s Federal-style Village Inn at 4 Jarves, adding it to his expanding bed-and-breakfast portfolio, which now includes lodging in three buildings — the Abbey, the Village Inn, and the former rectory, known as the Painted Lady. Also in 2002, he purchased the former Yesteryears Doll Museum at 143 Main St., which he turned into his private residence and sold in 2006. The Painted Lady went through a couple of iterations, and in 2017 Wilson opened the Next Door Burger Bar on the street level. Also in 2017 he launched the Gallery on Jarves at 2 Jarves with his wife, Wendy Sweet Wilson. His latest project, the beachfront restaurant The Drunken Seal (formerly Horizons and later Hemispheres), opened last week.
“It’s nice to have people in town who are willing to invest in the town,” says Teri Stanley, executive director of the Sandwich Chamber of Commerce. “It inspires confidence, and it inspires other businesses to come to town.” She has high hopes for The Drunken Seal, noting that previous businesses on the site have not seen success proportional to the prime location. “We’re excited to see what Chris can do with it.”
Menus customized to each property that stress quality and consistency are hallmarks of Wilson’s style. The Bistro, he says, has always been chef driven. Chef Suraj (Sonny) Chopra has almost free rein in developing dishes that are cutting edge. The other venues, however, are not chef-driven, Wilson says. “They’re what I want.”
The normally soft-spoken entrepreneur becomes animated when explaining his philosophy of quality and consistency in his property’s menus. At the Next Door Burger Bar, he says, “We want great burgers delivered quickly, the best shakes ever, made with quality ingredients — great milk and great ice cream. It’s very simple. It just needs to be done right.” (Those shakes are also available in “adult” versions, with vodka or other spirits.) At The Drunken Seal, his goal was to develop a menu reflective of a traditional beachfront restaurant. Consistency is key, he says. A crab cake should taste exactly the same as it tasted the last time. The same goes for the mac and cheese: “It has to be the kind my wife makes me.”
Sandwich’s best qualities, according to Wilson, are that it’s a great arts community, it has preserved its history, and it has scenic beaches (as long as you don’t mind cold water and can put up with a few rocks). What the town could use more of, he says, is retail, though he acknowledges that retail is a challenge these days because of online retailers like Amazon.
Wilson says he never had a master plan; he just kept (and continues to keep) an eye out for opportunities. His wife wants him to retire, he says, but his kids don’t see him as the retiring type. As far as he’s concerned, “We expect to be here for a long time.”
Have just a day to spend in Sandwich? Here’s what Wilson recommends:
• Start out with breakfast at Café Chew or 6A Café.
• If you’re a runner, run down to the town boardwalk and back. If not, ride a bicycle along the Cape Cod Canal, beginning at the Visitor Center.
• Have lunch at the Next Door Burger Bar, Dan’l Webster Inn, or Fishermen’s View.
• If it’s a sunny day, settle in at Town Neck Beach for the afternoon. If it’s not a beach day, visit the Sandwich Glass Museum or Heritage Museums and Gardens (try the zip line if you dare).
• Head to The Drunken Seal and enjoy a frozen drink on the deck with a fabulous view of the canal. Stay for dinner or, if you’d prefer to eat in, pick up pizza from the Brown Jug.Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.