Reliable Market, the Oak Bluffs grocery anchor in the center of Circuit avenue, has fed the Island’s year-round and summer communities with consistency and value since 1947. It’s no secret that the force behind this Oak Bluffs family institution is its patriarch, Bob Pacheco. It can be a little scary to observe Bob wield a 12-inch carving knife, greet customers, keep an eye on the busy deli counter and monitor the store’s constant replenishing of the shelves without a slip of the blade.

Bob is the very embodiment of the word reliable: committed, trusted and consistent. But it is his firm hand that has kept this now 75-year old family business thriving and growing. This summer he purchased another Circuit avenue mainstay, Phillips Hardware just next door – no surprise to the community that counts on Pacheco’s commitment to Circuit Avenue.

On the day of my visit to talk with Bob (or Bobby, as some call him), the meat case was stacked with barbeque favorites, ground chuck burgers, carved steaks, bone-in short ribs and even rosy pigs tails for those with a hankering for a southern braise. I watched as Bob finished a precision breakdown of a ruddy tenderloin, wiped his hands on his butcher’s apron and then, amidst the eager greetings and pats on the shoulder from his longtime customers, guided me through the swinging doors to a tiny office tucked behind palets stacked with products.

Q. For our interview, I reached out to longtime summer resident and celebrated food historian Jessica Harris who told me, “Every summer when Bobby looks up at me and says, ‘hello young lady,’ I know I’ve returned home.” What’s it like to have a customer of Ms. Harris’s culinary caliber?

A. She’s just the nicest lady, and to be honest with you, at first I had no idea about her credentials – so to speak. You could tell she knew what she wanted by the way she would order, and then I heard her on the History Channel. Then I come to find out she’s got a James Beard Award.

Q. The Lifetime Achievement award in fact!

A. She likes lamb legs.

Q. What other summer celebrities or culinary stars come through your doors in a season?

A. Every one of my customers is a celebrity. Through those doors walk my customers, the nicest people in the world.

Q. Is your customer always right?

A. Yes. And they’re always the customer. So if I don’t have what they need, I’ll get it. Just ask.

Q. Is Jessica Harris the only one who calls you Bobby?

A. They call me Bob or Bobby. Nobody calls me Robert. If they say Mr. Pacheco or sir, I always say, ‘Sir was my father, and he would never let you forget it.’

Q. Pictures of your father Eddie and your mother Helen hang above the meat counter. I understand you needed to step up as a young man after your father’s passing to take the helm of what was then a 20-year-old business in its first location just down the street.

A. My father passed in 1965 soon after I graduated from high school. I was only familiar with the groceries and produce. My dad did the meat cutting.

Q. That must have been tough for you as a young man?

A. Well, it was challenging. One of my uncles was also a butcher and he came to help. I remember he said, ‘In good times or bad, people will always have to eat. Whether in war or peace or anything in between. Give it a try for a couple of years and if you decide it’s not for you, you’ll just go to college and be two years behind your friends.’

Q. How did you ultimately become a butcher?

A. I thought about what he said, and I decided if I am going to go into the meat business, I need to learn it the right way and in a hurry. At the time we did business with Armour & Company, the big beef wholesaler, and they sent me to the National School of Meat Cutting in Toledo, Ohio.

Q. Would that be done now – being sponsored by a meat company?

A. Yeah. I think so. Butchers are different people but they’re good people and in eight weeks I became a butcher.

Q. When I stopped by to set our meeting on behalf of the Vineyard Gazette you greeted me as “the hamburger lady.” Do you associate most of your customers by their preferred cut of meat?

A. My regular customers buy the same items and you put two and two together. Some people only buy porterhouse; some people only buy Delmonico.

Q. Then I guess ‘hamburger lady’ is a good name for me. I tell everyone they are the best on the Island. What’s the secret?

A. Well, today we don’t use any pre-ground meat. We use whole muscle cuts that we cut in house. We always sanitize the grinder several times a day. That’s important.

Q. Can you guess the number of patties you sold on the Fourth of July?

A. We did about 85 pounds of patties. A little over 400. My son Eddie’s 15-year old twin boys made the patties.

Q. Your Sunday hours, 9:00 a.m. to 1 p.m., have not changed in decades. That is a busy morning with your loyal Brazilian community. How did you adapt your butchery to their tastes?

A. When the Brazilian people started settling on the Vineyard, we had a Brazilian gentleman, Antonio, who worked for us who was bilingual. He spoke Portuguese and very good English. He was a tremendous asset because he was able to translate, and he gave the Brazilians a comfort level. They knew he was always here. He would tell me what they wanted, and I would make the cuts. They like boneless top butt and they love beef ribs.

Q. Is it true that you share a family lunch every Sunday with your co-working family – your wife Donna, your son Eddie, and your daughter Jenn and their families?

A. Yes, at my house. Eddie has a big family and Jenn has her family. We have six grandkids so not every Sunday. Donna cooks. Usually, we have steaks.

Q. No fish?

A. No fish. Meat and potatoes. My wife is from the Midwest.

Q. The sign says: Reliable Market Parking Only. There is no better honor parking lot on the Island! It always seems to work even on the busiest of holidays. What’s the secret?

A. No secret.

Q. I think it’s because the town’s respect for you extends into the parking lot.

A. Hopefully that’s part of it but sometimes the tempers will get a little frayed when people come in through the exit. That’s never good.

Q. You always seem so unflappable. Do you treat every day the same whether it’s a Fourth of July or the Wednesday before Thanksgiving?

A. Never let them see you sweat. It doesn’t do any good if you panic. If there’s a long line of customers on a Sunday, it’s one at a time. That’s all you do. One at a time. Thank you for waiting.

Q. Congratulations on the purchase of your Circuit avenue neighbor, Phillips Hardware. What has been the response to the big announcement?

A. A lot of positive comments. "Thank you for keeping the Phillips girls there" and so forth.I think it’s good for the town. Sometimes you just need to step up.

Q. You’ve stepped up for many years. By my calculations this is the 75th year of Reliable Market. Do you have plans to celebrate this great milestone?

A. Hopefully we will be able to do some things in the fall. We will work with our suppliers and get our customers some great specials and promote it.

Q. Your family business is a part of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum collection of historic photographs. How does it feel to be a part of Island history?

A. I’m too young to be in a museum.

Q. Thank you Bob Pacheco for a chance to learn about your thoughtful and grounded approach to this family business. Next time I see you I will call you Bobby!


Sissy Biggers is a longtime television journalist now living full-time in Oak Bluffs and working across different media to contribute to many Island organizations.