Fifty-Six Union marks the end of an era next month.
In this age of COVID-19, news of a restaurant closing has become tragically commonplace. Yet in the case of Fifty-Six Union, which will close this October after twenty-two years in business, the decision was not thrust upon owners Wendy and Peter Jannelle by the pandemic or any other external circumstances for that matter. “We felt it was time to close this chapter of our lives,” said Wendy. “Twenty-two years of doing this— and forty-five in the business—is a little much…and we wanted to go out on a high note.” Indeed, the couple’s planned exit has given them the opportunity this summer to say a long goodbye to their many devoted diners, some of whom have had weekly standing reservations since the very beginning.
Peter and Wendy first met back in 1982 while working at the old India House where Peter was the chef. Both had amassed extensive fine dining experience—Peter had also been the chef at the Languedoc and Wendy worked with Seth and Angela Raynor at the Pearl and the Boarding House— when they decided to take the gamble of their lives and buy a restaurant just outside of town in 2000. For the next twenty-two years, the couple perfected an elaborate dance to keep their restaurant and their livelihoods running. During the summers, they rented out their home in Tom Nevers and lived above the restaurant where they ate, slept and breathed Fifty-Six Union. “When we bought this property twenty-two years ago, it was an investment,” Wendy explained. “It was not only an investment in Nantucket real estate, but an investment in what we love to do. We were able to live our dream.”
Together, with the help of their two sons and longtime employees like master bartender Evan Hourihan, who has been slinging drinks there for fourteen years, Wendy and Peter created a warm, welcoming dining experience that made Fifty-Six Union an institution on Nantucket. “We wanted to make memories for people,” Wendy said. They also created unforgettable food. Curating an international menu, Peter perfected staples like curried mussels or pecan-encrusted halibut that his faithful diners demanded he keep on the menu. “Everyone has their own niches,” the chef explained. “Ours was that we wanted to create food that was not too over the top with adornment and accoutrements on the plate. We focused on creating great, simple food from different parts of the world.” Indeed, Wendy and Peter brought their travels back to Nantucket, whether it was the truffle fries they found in Napa Valley or the dim sum they discovered in Vermont. “We really didn’t pay attention to what other restaurants were doing,” Wendy said. “We just tried to be ourselves and be consistent.”
Looking toward retirement, Wendy and Peter plan to take a long, well-deserved nap. When they come out of hibernation, they’re interested in creating a cookbook, teaching private cooking classes and possibly cooking intimate dinners in private homes. But for the time being, they’re committed to savoring this final chapter of Fifty-Six Union. “Now that we’re shutting down, people have been telling us many stories about weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, rehearsals and all the many memories we made for them,” Wendy said. “It’s very humbling to think that you created that for people. And that was our intention from the beginning.”
The Fifty-Six Union property was purchased by the Great Harbor Yacht Club, which will close on the property next month with plans to turn it into a private club. September is diners’ final opportunity to enjoy the unique cuisine and atmosphere created by the Jannelles.