The brothers who opened the popular Dennis restaurant never imagined running it for more than five years.By Bill O’Neill
When brothers Peter and David Troutman opened the Scargo Café in Dennis in 1987, not everyone thought they would succeed. “I think the guy who sold us the building was convinced that he was going to get it back in a year because he saw two young guys who sort of didn’t know what they were doing,” says Peter. Looks like they figured it out. Thirty years later, the restaurant is thriving.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, the Troutmans grew up in Cleveland before moving to Cape Cod when they were teenagers. Since their family arrived during the summer, they both got jobs at restaurants to make money and friends.
“I started off doing a little of everything,” says Peter, 60. “I was a dishwasher and a busboy and did a little cooking at the Charles Motor Lodge on Main Street, Hyannis.”
David, 58, started at McDonald’s and then worked at Anthony’s Cummaquid, which is now closed. Both brothers worked for many years at a pair of now-gone Cape landmarks: Mildred’s Chowder House and Dorsey’s Steakhouse.
When David’s sister-in-law held her wedding reception at the Pilot House Restaurant, he learned that the Route 6A restaurant was for sale. “Peter and I were working at the same place, and I said, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s do it for ourselves,’” says David.
The Scargo Café opened in February 1987. “I wish we knew who came the first night we were open,” says Peter. “There were only 35 of them, but that 35 told their friends.”
“My feeling was that it was a five-year plan,” says David. “Let’s do it to make some money and get out. I wanted to go back and finish school. Life got in the way.”
It took years, but they eventually settled on what David jokingly calls a “very strict” division of labor. David keeps the staff trained and motivated, while Peter focuses on maintenance and marketing.
The building they bought was originally built by Civil War veteran Luther Hall in 1868 and has been home to six restaurants since the 1950s, including Mrs. O’Leary’s Kitchen, the Village Fair Restaurant and Michael’s American Café.
The Troutmans added a dining room at the front of the building, did a major renovation on the backside, which now houses the bar, and have overhauled the kitchen multiple times. The configuration of the center part of the building dates back to about 1890. The restaurant could seat 65 when they bought it and can now seat more than 100 diners.
Peter describes the menu as “eclectic American.” Highlights among the entrees include seafood strudel, steak marsala and seared duck breast.
“People sometimes think our menu doesn’t change, but it’s a slow and steady kind of thing,” he says. “We don’t set trends, but we don’t just follow them either. Once something becomes a thing in the media or we’ve read about it in food magazines, we start working with it. We’re doing a lot of poke dishes right now, which is a big trend, but we’ve had what is essentially a poke item for years—our tuna martini.”
Some changes are driven by the customers, says David. “The consumer is far more educated with the rise of the Food Channel. They’re much more savvy diners. You have to stay on top of the trends, like suddenly pan-Asian is big or Mexican is big. It’s not boiled scrod and grilled New York sirloin, the stuff that in the 1960s or ’70s was standard fare. You’ve got to give it a little creativity. Developing a menu is a tightrope act in some ways.”