Imagine an Island business where the pace of work, the cash flow and even the faces that come through the door remain constant all year round.
There's no mad rush in May, no exhaustion in October and no hand-wringing in January when most other Vineyard shopkeepers see sales dip to their lowest of the year. Case in point: Here it is early December, and the Woodland Variety and Grill, off State Road in Vineyard Haven, is humming along.
The secret apparently lies in the customer base. No tourists here, this place caters to the Vineyard's working class. They come here for morning coffee, egg sandwiches for breakfast, burgers for lunch, lottery tickets and a place where they can rub elbows with their own kind.
"Everybody knows everybody here. All the electricians and woodworkers, all those blue-collar jobs," says co-owner and short-order cook Rob Baker. "These are just regular people who work hard every day."
As a fashion show, the place is as understated as they come: frayed Carhartt jackets, paint-splattered pants and unshaven faces. You want atmosphere? It's not in the decor, which features formica-topped tables, shelves stocked with white bread and soda bottles and two television sets.
The real entertainment, the real heart of this place comes from the people who work here and the customers who treat it like their kitchen back home. It's a cast worthy of a sitcom.
Nine-year veteran Gloria Taylor is the wise-cracking cashier and utility player, manning the counter space, fielding orders and occasionally delivering a pot pie or sandwich right to the table even though, technically, there is no table service here.
"The customers are always teasing me," she says while taking a break to indulge in a barbecued beef sandwich. "But I give it back to them."
Ms. Taylor is always ready to spar. Her boss concedes that "Gloria is the meat and potatoes of this place."
The banter is constant. Yesterday morning around 8, the interchange is quick but gentle. "What kind of bagel?" she asks the woman waiting at the counter.
"It's already in," Mr. Baker calls from his spot at the griddle.
"He's good," she says, then turns back to Rob. "Should I leave?"
"No," he answers. Mr. Baker's delivery is decidedly more deadpan. While Ms. Taylor laughs, he smirks.
He works in gym shorts, multi-tasking as only a short-order chef can. Within a one-minute span, the 32-year-old who has spent his adult life in the restaurant business executes the following tasks: scraping off the griddle, slicing a bagel, whisking two eggs in a square stainless steel bowl, drenching three pieces of bread, taking an order for an egg and sausage sandwich, throwing the French toast on the stovetop, cracking two more eggs on the griddle and breaking the yolks with the edge of the shell.
He's deft but not perfect. An egg hits the floor. "Casualties," he says dryly, walking over to the sink to grab a rag and mop up the spill. Then the French toast is done, and the cook layers the pieces up like stairs and dusts them with cinnamon.
For Mr. Baker, who starts work at 5:30 a.m. six days a week, there's no gap between him and the people he cooks for. "You ask how somebody's doing, and they say, ‘I'm workin' 70 hours a week.' I can relate to that," he says. "To me, this is a real person's place."
When he worked the deli at 90 Main Street in Vineyard Haven, it was a different story. "When you're talking to someone here, you're not putting on an act," he says. "That's the difference. Downtown, you're on stage on Main street. You don't have that connection."
Dennis Lopez is one of those regulars who walks through the door every morning not just for the food but for the experience. "I'd come Christmas if they were open. I just can't stand the thought of cooking and pans in the morning," he says. "I see all the guys here."
For Mr. Lopez, a carpenter from Tisbury, breakfast is "not a bagel, muffin or a latte." He wants to sit down with a plate with all the fixings: bacon, eggs and toast.
As for the jokes and laughter, Mr. Lopez happily jumps right into the mix. "There's Gloria, Gary and Robbie," he says, counting down the lineup running Woodland. "Gary got married last month, and we had a pretty big laugh over that. We haven't probed the details."
His morning ritual has another perk. A planning board member, Mr. Lopez says Woodland is rife with the "latest town scuttlebutt."
"The mini-politics are great," he adds. "You'd be surprised how many town issues get settled over bacon and eggs."
Allegiance is big among the clientele. Tacked on the side of a bulletin board crammed with snapshots of regular diners is a check written out to Woodland Variety for $1.3 million.
Dated Aug. 29, 2002, and signed by Clarence (Trip) Barnes 3rd, owner of Barnes Moving & Storage, this is one of those fold-out checks with space underneath for a memo, where Mr. Barnes has written, "Egg Salad Award. For the finest egg salad in the United States of America."
Mr. Baker doesn't aspire to gourmet cooking. He's clearly found a niche that works. His specials of the day - pot roast, barbecued beef and the like - sell out quickly.
There are few lulls in the workday. Around 3 p.m., Mr. Baker and his sidekick, Gloria, lean back on the triple-basin steel sink and remark on how beautiful the sunrise was when they opened up in the morning.
By this hour, some of the gamblers have arrived to find the Island's only place for Keno, a televised state lottery game that looks like a bingo board up on a screen. They'll take up roughly half of the 14 tables.
Wednesday, a mechanic from Edgartown sits with his scratch tickets and three Keno cards. How are the winnings? "Not too good," he says, forcing a thin smile.
There's a gritty reality to this place. Set up the road away from the boutiques of Main street, Woodland sits back in the strip that includes a used car dealer, a doughnut shop, a pet store and a place that sells and repairs lawn mowers. You can't even see it from the road.
It may be the last bastion of Island commerce untouched by the seasonal tumble of the tourist trade. The last thing the regulars want is anything to change.
As Mr. Lopez says after taking another bite of his scrambled eggs, "I'd hate it if they modernized."