A Legendary Restaurant: Joe Mac’s

An old newspaper ad for Joe Mac’s from 1965. Photo courtesy of the Archives at Sturgis Library

Chapin Beach in Dennis is one of the most popular spots on Cape Cod and one of the most beautiful beaches one can find.  With its proximity to amazing sunsets along with the expansive tidal flats this spot is filled during the summer while the road leading to it is filled year round with cars stopping to shoot said sunsets.  However for decades there have been other reasons to drive these roads.  This neighborhood became known as Cape Cod’s ‘Little Italy’ due to the influx of Italian immigrants especially in the late 1930’s and early-1940’s or ‘Little Taunton’ due to the road which traversed the neighborhood.  

Several legendary restaurants have ironically sat along the route like Rose’s Restaurant, run by Rose Stochetti and her family for more than half a century until its closing in 2000.  There is also Gina’s By the Sea which has been serving great food with a great view for more than sixty-five years.  Of course Chapin’s, the restaurant which shares the name with the beach, has been selling out summers since 2003. 

Before Chapin’s was born on the site along Taunton Avenue there was another legendary establishment which satisfied the appetites of locals and visitors alike for decades.  It was Joe Mac’s.

The property which would eventually house Joe Mac’s began as the Dennis Town Club and was opened by Secondo and Rena Servidori in the late 1950’s.  A few years later the club would be sold to Dominic Sectoia who acquired a year-round liquor license for the establishment.  In 1960 Joe McAleney would move to Dennis from Dorchester where he had been managing the meat department of a Stop & Shop.  McAleney would buy the Dennis Town Club from Sectoia and rename it Joe Mac’s.

The new establishment would pride itself on quality prime rib, lobster, steamers, and many classic fried foods with reasonable prices.  The $2.95 prime rib plate on Thursday nights would become an attraction all its own at Joe Mac’s.  McAleney would add a small variety store to the restaurant which would include an extensive penny candy counter and other day-to-day items.  However the restaurant would quickly become such a success that the variety store would be absorbed into it for increased seating.  There would be a second bar, another grill, and pool tables added as Joe Mac’s became a place for visitors to flock to in the summer and the spot where locals congregated during the slow off-season.  The spot nestled in the north-side neighborhood approaching Chapin Beach became a destination for all.   

Joe Mac’s would become iconic under the ownership of McAleney throughout the 1970’s.  The food, drink, camaraderie among patrons and staff, and even the softball leagues it participated in helped to make Joe Mac’s one of the most well known establishments on Cape Cod.  It thrived on repeat business with nearly everyone who came through the doors being a ‘regular.’  McAleney prided himself and his business on being a spot for the community to gather.  His New Year’s sirloin nights along with giant periodic summer clambakes gave locals reason to brave the cold, or brave the crowds.  It was a slice of home for many, with concepts like using paper plates giving Joe Mac’s the feel of a family cookout rather than a highly successful restaurant.

In 1984 McAleney would sell his beloved Joe Mac’s to Thomas Mirisola and Robert Twomey.  He had wanted to sell years earlier as his work ethic had begun to wear on him, however he plugged along as long as he could.  Mirisola had been manager of the establishment for the previous year and a half and was a natural to continue the tradition of Joe Mac’s.  McAleney would move to North Port, Florida where he would live his remaining years before sadly passing away of a heart attack in July of 1987 at the young age of fifty-nine.

The new owners would close briefly to renovate parts of the building including a new foyer, remodeling bathrooms, and removing the pool tables to create a game room for children.  The restaurant would be able to accommodate more than 200 people after the changes were made.    The success continued for several more years.  As time advanced to the mid-1990’s though things had changed.  Business had begun to drop, so much so that in 1995 Joe Mac’s actually closed for a few months in the winter to help with costs.  In an attempt to bring in more customers in the summer of 1996, despite some opposition from neighbors, the Dennis Licensing Board approved Joe Mac’s request to have live entertainment at the establishment. 

Despite the attempt Joe Mac’s would ultimately close later in 1996 after the establishment filed for bankruptcy.  The former icon of the ‘Little Italy/Little Taunton’ neighborhood was left to deteriorate before the eyes of visitors and locals who passed by its closed doors.  In late 1997 the property was bought by Longfellow’s Pub owner Richard McInerney who was faced with the challenge of keeping his promise to remain like the old Joe Mac’s while the building needed upwards of $100,000 in repairs.  Although there was much opposition from neighbors to the reopening in February 1998 Joe Mac’s was given the go ahead to resume business.  It would not be the same however and the establishment struggled before ultimately closing in 2000.

Photograph courtesy of Chris Setterlund

The tenure of Joe Mac’s would officially end on May 21, 2002 when the iconic building was torn down to make way for Chapin’s Restaurant.  Once the building had come down the opposition it had faced in its later years was gone, and left were only the love and positive memories of Joe Mac’s and its original owner Joe McAleney who himself became a legend of Cape Cod business.  Chapin’s opened in May 2003 and has been carving its own niche in the history of Dennis’ Little Italy/Little Taunton neighborhood, though it is currently for sale.  However no matter how far removed the years become from its heyday locals and visitors alike still fondly reminisce about the icon that was Joe Mac’s and its equally unforgettable owner Joe McAleney. 

By Christopher Setterlund



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