By Kevin Assam
Michela is the quirky and resilient voice of Provincetown’s iconic Sal’s Place. When she isn’t chained to the line at Sal’s getting eggplant lasagna out to the crowds, she’s charting the course to secure another generation of family restaurateurs. Hopefully as a full time stay at home aunt. She opens up about how a space suit played a role in purchasing the eatery, the momentous Eat At Sal’s campaign, and for good measure chef Barbara Lynch.
Who the hell is Sal and what was his relationship with the bears of queer society?
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.
How did your family go about obtaining Sal’s? Are you from a European cosmetics dynasty?
[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 probably be paying the legal bills, but it’s worth it whenever I look out at the water.
What’s the leftover index of the typical dish at Sal’s? How does it hold up when eaten at least a day later?
Well, like pizza, I think the eggplant lasagna is even better the next day. It’s what I usually pack for fishing in the mornings. Our portions are generous. You’ll usually have enough protein to throw on a salad the next day. The bolognese is a great beach pasta as well.
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 ongoing?
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 had some 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. What happened to us was the catalyst. People are saying enough is enough.
Are Ptown workers and business owners at risk of continually losing eligible romantic matches during season?
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!
Barbara Lynch acknowledged that fear of being on welfare was a big propeller of her success. What’s driving you?
I see how hard my mother worked to get where she is while being an immigrant, single, and raising three girls often in the restaurants while working full time. I want to honor what she’s done while relieving some of the burden. When I was younger I took the restaurants for granted and didn’t appreciate the hard work behind them since my parents opened the first three restaurants when I was so young. I was not enamored and wanted to do anything except work in the restaurants. That changed when we opened Sal’s. It was the first time that I appreciated everything my mother overcame.
Kevin is a middling writer but top-notch interviewer. His ideas on love and relationships are mostly fueled by his wild imagination. He often orders dessert first!