Since the opposition to the proposed Straight Wharf Fish Market emerged last month, Charles Schwab has been a central player in the ongoing story as one of the two billionaires paying an attorney to fight the project and throw up legal roadblocks.
Schwab, along with his friend and fellow billionaire Charles Johnson, both own property on Old North Wharf, a short distance away from the proposed 62-seat clam shack restaurant proposed by island restaurateurs Gabrial Frasca and Kevin Burleson.
We first reported their opposition to the project after obtaining a letter to the town written by attorney Danielle deBenedictis, in which she informed the Select Board that she was representing the Johnsons and the Schwabs, while outlining their objections.
But Schwab on Monday claimed that he not only has never been opposed to the clam shack restaurant, but also that he was never represented by deBenedictis. Through his island-based attorney Steven Cohen, the 85-year-old Schwab has informed Frasca that he does not in fact oppose the restaurant and expressed confidence that the involved parties would reach an amicable resolution.
“I want to confirm for you in writing that: The Schwabs do not oppose your restaurant; and the Schwabs have full confidence that you, NIR (Nantucket Island Resorts), and the Town will work out the details to make sure that everything is good for the neighborhood and community,” Cohen wrote in a message to Frasca. “We all hope that you have a great 2023 season and many to come.”
Cohen expounded on the situation in a follow-up letter to the town in which he wrote: "The Schwabs are long-time supporters of local Nantucket businesses, and support a family-friendly clam shack and fish market. They have full confidence that Gabriel Frasca and Kevin Burleson will create a quality establishment, and be respectful of their neighbors."
So how did it happen that Schwab emerged as one of the billionaires attempting to squash a family restaurant near one of his island summer residences if that was, in fact, not the case?
We reached out to attorney deBenedictis regarding her March 13 letter to the Select Board in which she said she was representing the Schwabs and that they were opposed to the clam shack. Here is her response in full:
“I was advised by Charles Johnson that the Schwab’s were joining him in his effort to prevent the fish market from being turned into a 62 seat indoor outdoor restaurant with an entertainment license that the Schwab’s had authorized me to represent in this effort when I write my letter to the Board of Selectmen opposing the license,” deBenedictis wrote in an e-mail to the Current. “I have recently been notified by Mr Johnson that the Schwab’s no longer want to join in our opposition so I told the Com Com (Conservation Commission) that I represented only Charles and Ann Johnson at last Thursday’s meeting in continued opposition to the project and will not in the future include them in the ongoing opposition.”
deBenedictis’ role itself has emerged as a storyline in the ongoing saga, not only for her opening line to the Select Board last month - “We flew here from Florida, in spite of the storm, to make our utmost opposition known to you on a personal level” - but also because of her own background and business interests on the island. deBenedictis is the owner of The Summer House restaurant and bar, a commercial enterprise operating in a largely residential area.
Now, is it truly the case that Schwab didn't oppose the clam shack restaurant at all? Or did he express his opposition, only to retract it later after reading the negative press as the story got picked up in large media outlets like The Boston Globe and The Daily Beast?
We asked Cohen how it was possible that deBenedictis believed she was representing the Schwabs and that they opposed the project.
“The Schwabs were very surprised to hear and see that and have asked me to correct the record,” Cohen said.
Johnson did not immediately return a message seeking comment.