In his nearly four decades on Nantucket, Peter Van Dingstee made a name for himself at a number of restaurants around the island, but most people know him from his days at the Soda Fountain inside Nantucket Pharmacy on Main Street, which he ran for more than 22 years.
Those days of his famous breakfast special and “Pete’s dirty water dogs” are no more, but you can still find Van Dingstee pursuing his passions in downtown Nantucket. Instead of the restaurant industry, Van Dingstee is now sharing his love of fishing and the art of fish printing through his business Pete’s Fish Tales on Old South Wharf.
When Van Dingstee moved to Nantucket from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1986, he brought his background in the restaurant and bar industry with him. He quickly became involved in various island businesses, including working on lobster boats and working for establishments including the Dory Restaurant, Company of the Cauldron, The West Ender, and Simply with Style Catering. In 1997, when the lunch counter in the Nantucket Pharmacy on Main Street became available, Van Dingstee seized the opportunity and opened the Soda Fountain that same year.
“Having the Soda Fountain up on Main Street was a passion of mine, to keep a part of Nantucket history alive” Van Dingstee said. He successfully ran the Soda Fountain for the next 22 years, keeping that piece of old-school Nantucket alive.
In 2010, Van Dingstee opened Pete’s Fish Tales on Old South Wharf, where he could display his artistic expression. Using a Japanese technique called Gyotaku, which means "fish stone rubbing," Van Dingstee creates unique and handcrafted prints of fish caught on the island. His clientele includes both longtime acquaintances and customers of the Soda Fountain and new visitors who stumble across his shop.
“I definitely have clients that have known me for all the years in town that come down and go like, ‘Oh, we didn't know that you were so creative’ and then they become clients here as well,” Van Dingstee said. After selling the Soda Fountain in 2019, Van Dingstee maintained a strong customer base through those personal connections within the Nantucket community.
At the shop on Old South Wharf, Van Dingstee welcomes visitors with a warm smile and refers to it as his "aquarium." He explains the details of his artwork, most of which are one-of-a-kind and completely handmade. Additionally, customers have the opportunity to bring their own fish to be printed by Van Dingstee, and he keeps a cooler at the shop ready for that purpose.
“Being here in the marina…just makes it convenient,” Van Dingstee explains. “I've done people's first fish, biggest fish, special fish that…they've never caught before.”
Rather than getting a fiberglass replica of their fish, Van Dingstee allows customers to have an impression done directly off their personal fish, to preserve it as best as possible from the moment of the catch.
Furthermore, Van Dingstee uses his business and love for fishing to contribute to the community, often donating his art to foundations that support those suffering from cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis (MS). Van Dingstee is currently organizing a new fishing tournament called “August Blues” to support MS in August, with details to be announced soon.
Van Dingstee’s love for Nantucket and its community has been the driving factor in all of his endeavors, from lobster boats to the Soda Fountain to Pete’s Fish Tales. “My number one thing that I've always said to people is come out and enjoy the island, but please take care of it because they're not making any more,” he said.