The Easy Street Cantina - formerly known as Tacos Tacos and a longtime island favorite on Broad Street - has closed its doors for good as the owner of the building has inked a deal with Georgetown Events, the parent company of Millie's in Madaket, for a new restaurant concept.
The change means that for the first time in more than 30 years, chef Bart Gangemi won’t be cooking up fast, casual food on the Strip. Since 1991, when Gangemi opened Tacos Tacos in the hole-in-the-wall space that is currently occupied by Walter’s deli, he has been a presence on Broad Street. Over the years, Gangemi has operated Tacos Tacos, Joe’s Broad Street Grille, the Children’s Beach concession, the Nantucket Cookie Company, and the Easy Street Cantina.
“It’s not continuing, certainly not in that location,” Gangemi told the Current of the Easy Street Cantina and its home for 18 years at the 2 Broad Street location. “I’m not sure about the future.”
The building, which had been owned by the late Henry Fee and was the original location for the Henry’s sandwich shop, had been leased by Gangemi since 2004.
“Henry was looking to retire and he had many suitors, but he wanted to keep it family-friendly, non-alcohol and affordable to everyone,” Gangemi said. “He talked to me and said ‘Bart, make me an offer.’ He said ‘I feed people, not just the rich and famous.’ I got the lease and the idea was, with those restrictions, as long as Henry was alive that’s how the business would stay.”
But shortly after Henry Fee passed away in 2018, the family decided to sell the building. It was purchased in October 2019 by a limited liability company called Centre AMA Realty Ventures, controlled by Alexander and Michael Argiros.
“As soon as it was sold, it was made clear my tenancy would not continue,” Gangemi said. “But COVID hit, and I got strung along with year-by-year leases.”
And now the new owner has decided to move in a different direction, he said.
“It was never offered for me to stay there,” Gangemi said. “They were looking for someone with bigger pockets than me to invest in the building and pay more rent...I can’t tell you what it’s going to be, but it’s not going to be what it is. It’s not going to be fast/casual or what we’ve been doing in the last 18 years. But I never met the landlord. It’s been all emails or phone calls. I’ve been a lame duck tenant ever since Henry Fee died.”
Argiros could not be reached for comment. Workers at the 2 Broad Street building were gutting the interior of the restaurant on Tuesday. They told the Current that the plan was for Millie’s restaurant to set up a downtown outpost at the location.
Shortly after this story was published Wednesday morning, Marisa Casey, the CEO of Georgetown Events Hospitality Group, which operates Millie's restaurant, reached out to the Current about what the company has planned.
"We are working on a new fast-casual concept for the 2 Broad Street space that will continue to provide fantastic food at reasonable prices to locals and visitors alike," Casey said in an e-mail message on Wednesday. "It will not be a Millie's. More to come."
Regardless of what moves into the space, Gangemi said his style of restaurant - fast, casual and affordable - was a dying breed on Nantucket given the rents demanded by landlords, the challenging labor market, and the difficulties of the restaurant industry in general.
“I believe it was the only place like that on Nantucket - sit down with a group, feed your workers, have your kids come down - it’s like the hotel of the Strip,” Gangemi said. “The structure of Nantucket has become that places like that can’t generate enough revenue to pay the rents that are required or demanded, and one of the big things that allow people to pay exorbitant rents is booze, that's just the truth.”
For Gangemi, one of the things he will remember most fondly about his three decades on Broad Street was watching a generation of Nantucket kids grow up at his restaurant, and then return as adults - sometimes with their own kids to grab a bite, or as a worker delivering fuel or servicing an appliance. He loved to see those kids - those “snot-nosed, insolent teenagers” - who once stole his ketchup packets come back to the restaurant years later as successful young adults telling stories about nights out with their friends at Tacos Tacos.
“I enjoyed seeing the people grow up around me, that was one thing that was nice to see people who were kids and pains in the ass turn into adults and turn into friends and associates,” Gangemi said. “The other thing was serving people, humans, regular people, not the rich and famous, not the New York summer crowd. Seeing the workers coming over, giving them a quick bite without breaking the bank. Seeing a family, day-trippers, because they can’t stay at the White Elephant. Where are they going to eat? Serving them and interacting with them, making that part of my life, was wonderful.”
Gangemi got his start on Nantucket when he came out for a summer to work at Cap’n Tobey’s on Straight Wharf. He was hired by Bob Leske for the season, and quickly discovered it was tough to make money in the restaurant industry on the island after October. Even so, he decided to stay, and worked for several years at the Rose & Crown before eyeing an opportunity at the end of the Strip on Broad Street.
“I saw the little building - it was a shack - but the rent was low and the start-up cost was low,” he said of what would become the original Tacos Tacos in 1991.
Over the ensuing years, Gangemi offered an "Islander Discount Card" to all Nantucket residents that provided them with a 10 percent discount on their bill, year-round. After three decades, Gangemi estimates that card saved islanders more than $1 million.
While his brick-and-mortar restaurant is no more, Gangemi said he was hoping to continue the Nantucket Cookie Company - which he bought from Andrew Fee after moving into 2 Broad Street - but acknowledged he’d need to find a kitchen to operate out of.
In the meantime, he’s been selling off what he can of his former restaurant - even the Easy Street Cantina sign, which found a buyer.