A milestone year for two famous Marblehead restaurants

A summer afternoon on the deck at The Landing (Courtesy photo)

It’s mid-afternoon on a sultry summer Tuesday and The Landing is packed with locals and tourists enjoying cocktails, seafood and the view of Marblehead Harbor. 

“This place is a landmark,” said Pat Zuchero of Swampscott, as she enjoyed a fish sandwich with a friend. “It’s great to be on a working pier and watch the fishermen. The food here is delicious and the staff is wonderful.”

The Landing is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer. Just a few hundred yards down Front Street, The Barnacle Restaurant is marking its 75th year. That makes it the oldest family-ownwed restaurant in town.

“We’re also the only restaurant with its own lobster boat,” said The Barnacle’s owner Jay Sahagian.  His aunt, Lynn Brown, opened the restaurant in 1947.

Early days at The Barnacle with owner Lynn Brown (left). This photo hangs in the restaurant today.

Sahagian goes out on his lobster boat almost every day and brings his catch back to The Barnacle’s kitchen. “We are ocean-to-table,” he said. 

(Ironically, Sahagian is allergic to lobsters, along with shrimp and crabs. His favorite item on The Barnacle’s menu? “I could eat the haddock every day,” he said.)

Owner Jay Sahagian on The Barnacle’s deck with his lobster boat in the background (Photo by Leigh Blander)

Sahagian’s kids on his lobster boat (Courtesy photo)

“I remember riding my bike down to the restaurant when I was seven or eight and getting Joe Froggers,” Sahagian said. He started working there at 13 years old, first as dishwasher, then busboy, bartender and, ultimately, owner.

“I’ve been coming here for 48 years,” said a woman sitting at the bar with a glass of white wine. (She declined to give her name.) “The food is very fresh. I love the halibut, the haddock and the steamers.  And the view is great.”

Asked what the next 75 years might bring, Sahagian shrugged with a smile. He said his 15-year-old son might want to take over the restaurant. He already has his own lobster boat and 10 traps.

A popular spot

The Landing opened in 1972 with co-owners Jack Veasy and Tom Kershaw. There had been restaurants on the site for decades before, including Salty Sam’s Lighthouse, The Sou’wester, Mike’s Ship Ahoy and Powers Lobster Pound, which opened in 1960.  

(Photo courtesey of Robert Simonelli)

In the old days, before the town filled in the parking lot, boats would come up to the where The Landing’s kitchen is now. “They’d pull right up at drop off their catch,” said Robert Simonelli, the restaurant’s partner/general manager.

Simonelli with co-founder Tom Kershaw at The Landing’s 50th anniversary celebration (Courtesy photo)

Veasy and Kershaw ran The Landing together until 1977 when Kershaw bought Boston’s Hampshire House. 

“You know the place, it’s a little bar we know as Cheers,” Simonelli laughed.  Kershaw recently came back to The Landing for a 50th birthday celebration.

Secrets to success?

In a notoriously difficult business, how have The Landing and The Barnacle survived all these years?

“I only know how to run this restaurant,” Sahagian said. “I’ve been under the floors, in the attic and I’ve worked every job here.”

Simonelli said location is a huge factor.

The Landing’s Chef Alex Pineda (left) and Partner/General Manager Robert Simonelli (Photo by Leigh Blander)

“In the summertime we get a lot of tourists. That really gives us a boost and then in the fall and winter we have a great local following,” Simonelli said. “People just love the location, the service and, of course, the food. It’s the complete package.” 

The tide comes up through the floor of The Landing during a nor’easter (Courtesy photo: Robert Simonelli)

But it hasn’t always been easy, Simonelli added.

“Battling the elements has been our biggest challenge. But we’ve gotten so used to it,” he said. “The place would get flooded out, we’d wait for high tide to pass and we’d be open again and hour and a half after that.”

After a big nor’easter in 2018, The Landing underwent a huge renovation that helped prepare it against future storms.  But the surging tides will continue to be a concern.

“If the water doesn’t come up too high,” he said, “we’ll still be here in another 50 years – but it’ll be a wet 50 years.”

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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