By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Currently it is a fixture of the Newburyport dining scene, but when the Starboard Galley opened on Water Street in January of 1978, things got a little dicey with the Blizzard of ’78 hitting less than a month later.
“We had to close,” said Donna Greco, the Galley’s bookkeeper and wife of owner, Eugene “Geno” Greco. “At the time, we lived in Arlington so we couldn’t get up here for two weeks. (But) we had a manager who could come in and as soon as we could travel, we came back up.”
The Greco family kept coming and so have the customers for the past 36 years which the family-owned, casual dining restaurant will be celebrating Jan. 26, one of the longest running restaurants in the city.
“The summer of that year was absolutely amazing,” Greco said of 1978. “It was our first summer and it was amazing.”
Hailing from the Middlesex County area, Greco wasn’t quite sure what to make of pre-revitalization Newburyport.
“It was somewhat desolate and it was rundown,” Greco said of the downtown area in 1978. “When I was told that this is where (Geno) was looking at a restaurant I said; ‘In Newburyport?’ I had come to Plum Island when I was a girl and it was very rundown. And in a matter of a few years, it just transformed into what we know today.”
Part of a foursome of original downtown restaurants, the Galley grew and the Grecos watched as Newburyport came alive.
“There was us, there was 10 Center St., Michael’s (Harborside) and the Grog,” said Greco. “And Richard (Simpkins) still owns the Grog, so we are the only two original owners left.”
Along the way, the Greco family expanded both the Galley’s kitchen and deck, even after a fire in 1989 destroyed the front of the building.
“If you would talk to Geno, he still refers to it as a clam shack,” laughed Greco.
Located next to the Coast Guard station, with outdoor seating during the summer, the establishment has benefited from Newburyport’s three decades of improvements. This has helped it draw in customers, both local and visiting, according to Gary, Greco’s stepson and general manager.
“It has just kind of evolved as more people moved North, they want the same things that were available to them closer to Boston,” said Gary. “They want a little bit of both, casual and fine. You can get all of that in this town.”
Consistency, Gary said, is what he strives for and what keeps his regular customer base coming.
“(The menu) has evolved a little bit but the main items are still the same,” said Gary. “Our house special is the shrimp and sirloin tips. That’s the signature item for us. It’s a good recipe for success here and it keeps working.”
Also featuring a pan-seared haddock, shrimp scampi over linguini, steaks and a prime rib on the weekends, both Grecos said that treating the help like a part of the family has also made things run smoothly.
“We have one (employee) who has been here since we started,” said Greco. “Another one’s parents worked here and then she came here as a bus girl, did some hosting and now she is one of our best waitresses. And in the summer, the students that work for us come back all the way through college.”
The Galley didn’t make a big deal of their 35th anniversary last winter but this year they will be rolling out the welcome mat with a complementary buffet and local singer, Lenny Pearl.
“We’ve always worked very hard at this restaurant,” said Gary. “So, I did think that we would always be here just for that simple fact that, you put your heart and soul into something and you work hard.”