Michela wears too many hats at the historic Provincetown eatery, Sal’s Place. She can often be found chained to the line at her family restaurant and scheming to fulfill her dream of becoming a stay at home aunt. She managed to peel herself away from eggplant lasagna and desperate messages from her ex – probably – to talk seasonal romance, the magic of Sal’s deck, and the now iconic Eat At Sal’s campaign.
Who the hell is Sal and what was his relationship with the bears of queer society?
Michela: Sal is the ultimate big beautiful bear. We’re the third family to continue his legacy but he is still kicking. He’s currently painting, making wine in the East End, and hosting elaborate dinner parties. He turns 91 this year.
Do you routinely visit him for love advice or to ensure your dishes aren’t becoming too bourgeois?
Michela: We have similar cooking styles. Whenever people ask for recipes, it’s a handful of this, a pinch of that, and a shitload of butter. I’m usually cooking in a bathing suit and caftan.
Are you single and ready to not mingle?
Michela: I am single. Most of us here are just living life one nautical mile at a time! Cuffing season starts when townie summer — that’s what we call September when the weather is great, we’re working less, and haven’t spent all our money — ends. I’ve taken to calling the year rounders festival the un-cuffing ball.
Are P’town workers and business owners at risk of continually losing eligible romantic matches during season?
Michela: To paraphrase John Waters, the only things people steal in Provincetown are your bike and your boyfriend, but you usually get both back at the end of the season, albeit with a few more miles on them!
How did your family go about obtaining Sal’s? Are you from a European cosmetics dynasty?
Michela: [Laughs] My sister’s godfather worked at Sal’s for years and called my mum and said the previous owner really wanted it to stay a restaurant and might give us a better price. I was at an American heroes party up the street dressed as Astronaut Sally Ride. My mother sent me to take pictures immediately. She didn’t care that it was high tide. I was waist high, dressed in a full flight suit, taking pictures of the pier. The next day she and my sisters came down and the sale was agreed with a handshake. I’ll probably be paying it off for the rest of my life. Whenever I trick someone into marriage, my grandchildren will be paying the legal bills, but it’s worth it whenever I look out at the water.
You couldn’t visit Provincetown or run an online search last year without encountering the sweeping Eat At Sal’s campaign. What happened and is it still going on?
Michela: We have recent transplant neighbors who bought property next to a restaurant but didn’t want to live next to a restaurant. They’ve done their best over the past four years to drive us out of business with endless lawsuits and harassing our guests. The town shut us down for a couple of days for rebuilding a deck that the neighbors’ contractor ripped out while renovating their property.
The town rallied behind us in this beautiful organic way. A band of bears who rent another neighbor’s house put up an Eat at Sal’s flag. Then the Squealing Pig put up a banner. By the week’s end, most restaurants and galleries displayed some sort of sign. People were walking around in Eat at Sal’s t-shirts that Shalom’s sold to help our legal bills. Someone even rented an airplane banner. It was amazing and humbling.
There’s a lot of competition in Provincetown because the season is short and weather can be volatile. So for other businesses to help us was mind blowing. It speaks to how people feel about the gentrification of meccas like Provincetown, New Orleans or New York, where queers, artists, misfits, and the people who made these places unique and desirable can no longer afford them. People are saying “Enough is enough.”
While I prefer to run a restaurant without drama — I never knew when we bought the property just how much real estate we were buying in our neighbors’ brains — it was amazing to see the town come together. I’ve never seen anything like it in my 31 years here.
What is the magic of dining on Sal’s deck? Does love often strike there?
Michela: Absolutely. The view is an aphrodisiac. We like to sit singles together so they have someone to chat with while we’re running around. People often end up snuggled together under the blankets we provide guests. Many a love affair began under the stars at Sal’s.
What should I immediately apply to my sheer blouse in the event of oil splatter from my pasta? Are there emergency ensembles for diners to change into in the event of spillage?
Michela: Salt or gin! We always have shirts and jumpers on hand to loan to guests and Sam is very good with scissors. He could whip up a carnival ready costume in five minutes with no supplies! I have the laundress stain solution on hand for oil stains!
Who is Sam and is he queer and single?
Michela: Sam is the face of Sal’s. He’s been working in our family restaurants for years and is the glue that keeps everything together. He’s the pier piper of Provincetown. He has all the boys following him around. He’s forever the one that got away.
What have your suitors ultimately failed to understand about you?
Michela: It’s hard to maintain a relationship while running a family business. It’s even harder to convince young people to move to Provincetown. Hopefully we can continue to grow our year-round community. I actually prefer the winters here.
Have the nativist rhetoric and hardline immigration activities rooted within the government shaken the restaurant and service industry on the Cape?
Michela: Definitely. I’m from an immigrant family and a nation of emigrants. The current Irish diaspora sees 1.5M Irish-born people living outside of Ireland. When you factor in our population of 4M, that’s a lot. My whole life has been stories or worries of friends and family being deported, turned back at immigration, living illegally, being scared of traffic stops or unable to return home for the death of a parent or sibling.
I had a fight with my partner. The way to his heart is through his bear belly. I need a reservation at a top notch Outer Cape restaurant on short notice. What would increase my odds of being seated when faced with a “we are booked solid tonight?”
Michela: Honesty. We love a good story and we love to help when we can. Tell us you’re in the doghouse and we’ll try to sneak you in. I think it’s the same for most people. If you don’t act uppity and demanding, you’re more likely to get a favor. You catch more flies with honey!
Any messages for your ex?
Michela: New number, who this?