Chef Shane Tank, owner of the catering company Premier Chef Services, had high expectations for this coming season on the Vineyard. Having hoped to surpass his past season of about 165 catered events, he now stood alone in his expansive but shuttered commercial kitchen near the triangle in Edgartown.

“This year was not only going to be huge for me but huge for our entire industry, which has just been devastated,” he said, referring not only to caterers, but to wedding photographers, florists, rental companies and the many other interconnected small businesses active during the catering season.

“We’re hopeful, but everyone is preparing for the worst-case scenario,” Shane added.

Two days later he texted me to say the town’s board of health had given him a temporary variance to offer take-out food with curbside pickup, starting the weekend after May 18. He plans to do weekend pop-ups featuring set menus of authentic international cuisines including Vietnamese, Moroccan, Korean and Japanese, as well as Hawaiian. The Indian meal package he’s done in the past, for example, has included organic chicken korma; lamb vindaloo with sides of Morning Glory potato and greens pakoras (vegan and gluten-free), raita (cucumber and masala-spiced yogurt), homemade naan, cilantro-mint chutney and toasted cumin and pea jasmine rice.

It will be an experiment and he’ll see how people respond, Shane said. “We’re figuring it out. It’s all new.”

This year, the kitchen will be used to prepare drop-off dinners and pop-up takeout. Jeanna Shepard

Until the pandemic hit, the 31-year-old chef had thought finding and opening his own kitchen space on the Island was going to be his biggest challenge.

Shane first came to Martha’s Vineyard in 2012 to take the job as sous chef at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. The next few years would be ones of seasonal work commuting between Martha’s Vineyard and Vail, Colorado, where he had worked in high-end restaurants after graduating from Johnson and Wales University in Denver just three years earlier.

Following his stint at the Harbor View, Shane worked for a top Vineyard caterer. The next season, he went out on his own, checking out the world of Vineyard private chefs, who work primarily in people’s beautiful, coastal homes.

“I wanted a change of pace. I’d been working the line in high-end restaurants since I was 14 years old,” he said.

He found himself really enjoying the private chef work. He worked hard to make dinners and events unique, specialized, and fun, with five- to seven- (and even 11-) course tastings. He began to make a name for himself.

Shane’s style begins with Vineyard bounty but adds twists and indulgences from around the globe, like truffles or caviar, depending on the occasion.

“It’s not everyday cooking,” he explained. His attention to detail – a goal he emphasized during my chat with him – is another trademark. During his first college semester abroad cooking in and around Brugge, Belgium, with side trips to Paris, Shane said he noticed the European restaurant industry’s attention to detail, impressing on him that service and making customers happy were equally important as good food.

On the Vineyard, his business naturally expanded into larger catering events as clients asked him to cater a daughter’s wedding or do the larger cocktail parties. He formed Premier Chef Services and started looking for a space, examining every property he could, talking to many realtors and town officials.

“I ran down every rabbit hole,” he admitted.

At the end of the private chef season, Shane once again headed back to work in Vail, where he loved the mountains and snowboarding. This time, he returned newly married with his wife, Kez. They had met at the Harbor View, where Kez worked as the banquet and HR manager. The couple now has 15-month-old daughter Sariyah. In Vail, Shane rejoined a hugely successful catering business, which counted the Kardashians as clients. If he could just find a kitchen on the Vineyard, a place to work out of, he was fairly confident he could do what these guys were doing.

That summer back on the Island, still with no place of his own, Shane started a partnership with the Beach Plum inn in Menemsha, using their kitchen (formerly the Beach Plum's restaurant kitchen) for both the inn's events and his own catering jobs. As he built up his staff, many of whom are still with him, he checked the Vineyard Gazette every day looking for a commercial property. He’d now been looking for nearly three years.

“I thought about packing it in,” he said, and considered just settling in Vail, where a huge piece of his heart still lay.

But that winter he saw the ad for his current space, an 1,800-square-foot Edgartown property in Mariner's Landing owned by Richard McNulty, a local dentist and property owner. He leased in May (of 2018), with time ticking before the summer season. The space had been a dance studio, not a kitchen. There was no plumbing, no electrical work, no flooring. Gutting the space and turning it into a commercial kitchen with the numerous town permits required, along with the installation of all the walk-in refrigerators, ovens, stoves, ventilation hoods – even hooking up to the town sewer – was a daunting task that somehow was accomplished by June 28. “I was obsessed with figuring it out,” Shane said. “It’s the biggest accomplishment of my life, making that happen.”

And off he went, building up his staff to handle between 150 and 200 events that year and the next — including weddings, political and corporate events, clambakes and private chef jobs. The crew of 35 includes seven full-timers, five part-time chefs and a part-time baker. Poised to enter the 2020 season with this built-out kitchen space, plenty of jobs and a staff that by this point is becoming like a family, Shane felt the pandemic hit with a blunt force.

But he’s staying optimistic — and flexible. In addition to doing the take-out events, Shane will most likely do drop-off catered dinners.

“We’ll do anything from encrusted rack of lamb to drop-off clambakes. We’ll bring it hot and steaming right into the kitchen. My team will put it on platters, put the butter out…all complete in a 20- to 30-minute drop-off,” Shane explained.

“Obviously, I’m going to have to go down to a skeletal crew. It’s going to be a struggle for everyone in every walk of life. I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve got a kitchen, I’ve got a baby, I’ve got bills,” Shane said about all the gray areas and working it all out.

“We know it’s not an easy industry, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without the great staff behind me,” he added.

“It may not be realistic, but we’re still optimistic we’re going to have a good summer,” Shane added.

Catherine Walthers is a cookbook author and food writer living in West Tisbury.