by Steve Desroches
On a bright yet chilly April Wednesday, a trio of early birds for lunch arrive at Fanizzi’s Restaurant by the Sea just moments after the open flag was hung outside the East End eatery. As the host seats the diners he says with a smile, “We have a table with a great water view for you today.” All three customers smile. Now in its 23rd year, Fanizzi’s is a Provincetown favorite for a lot of reasons including its expansive menu, friendly staff, and commitment to community, but also of course the view of Provincetown Harbor. The waterfront dining room provides a 180-degree vista of the natural beauty of the Outer Cape. But at times it’s also a reminder of the perils of coastal living and commerce. When the harbor is full of white caps or ice floes it’s a reminder that the sea can turn hostile. And on December 23, 2022 the ocean revealed its potential for fury when a ferocious winter storm pounded Provincetown intensified by high winds, an extreme low-pressure system, and an astronomical high tide. It took less than an hour for Fanizzi’s to flood with three feet of water as the waves pounded straight through the walls demolishing the dining room.
“When I woke up that morning, I just knew something was going to happen,” says owner Paul Fanizzi.
After more than two decades of operating the beloved harborside restaurant Fanizzi has a sixth sense about the weather. Nor’easters and tropical storms are a concern, but it’s when the wind comes from the south, specifically south-southwest that Fanizzi is most concerned. But in a way this storm surprised him as it came from the southeast, yet did such significant damage. Local lore has it that Fanizzi’s is washed away with some regularity as often even during minor weather events the waves can splash against the windows and a spray of water can come from underneath the waterfront space. But in all the years since Fanizzi has owned the restaurant this is only the second time the dining room has been destroyed, the first being in 2002. And in 2018 the rising surf punched a hole into the basement of the building ruining everything that was stored inside. In retelling these tales of metrological woes Fanizzi maintains a smile and bright demeanor. He says he’s a bit like the captain in the film Titanic, in public he keeps cool and calm, even optimistic, but once in private the gravitas of what’s happened comes crashing in. Nevertheless, within weeks he amazed the town when he opened the street front dining room and then opened fully March 17.
“If I didn’t have the support of the community and my staff, I don’t think I’d want to rebuild,” says Fanizzi. “That’s helped a lot.”
Indeed, the community did rally around not just Fanizzi’s, but also the East End Market which shockingly flooded all the way over on Bradford Street. And many in the community reached out to those that lost their homes in the storm providing housing until they can find a new place to live, a traumatic process considering the ongoing extreme housing crisis affecting the Outer Cape. Scars of all kinds from the December 23 storm still exist. Walking the harbor beach damage is still visible throughout the East End. And occasionally menus or chairs from his restaurant still wash up on the beach. A giant backhoe in the parking lot at Fanizzi’s stands as a reminder that the work isn’t completely done. And then there’s the paperwork and fighting with the insurance company which continues to nickel and dime Fanizzi’s claims. Recently they denied paying for the art work on the walls and for Christmas decorations because they were not underwater, though they were clearly damaged in the storm by waves that relentlessly battered the restaurant. Fanizzi smiles and shakes his head with a shrug of the shoulders. Fighting an insurance company to be reimbursed for Christmas decorations reminds him how scary the aftermath
of the storm was, shutting down his business just before the busy holiday week and of course New Years weekend. Coming off the restrictions of the Covid pandemic. all the uncertainty of the subsequent economic recovery as well as the ongoing challenge of maintaining a full staff due to the housing crisis made the December 23 storm all the more frightening. Fanizzi is well known for his generosity in the community and its always been his goal to have a restaurant open yearround to keep his staff employed and be a consistent presence for the town, so having to close for any amount of time is incredibly difficult and batters his spirit. But he is not and will not be defeated. He’s looking forward to what he believes will be a busy and robust summer season and is more committed than ever to serving the community.
“I don’t want to go through that ever again,” says Fanizzi. “But if I have to I will.”
Fanizzi’s is located at 539 Commercial St, Provincetown, and is open daily year-round for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and for dinner from 4:15 p.m. to 9 p.m.(Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). For reservations or more information call 508.487.1964 or visit fanizzisrestaurant.com.