Stepping up for Mom -Fall 2019
by: Dean Geddes
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
In the spring of 2012, Robin Harvey was struck by a pickup truck and seriously injured while riding her bike home from the SeaGrille, the restaurant she and her husband E.J. owned. As she recovered in a Boston hospital, her children Adriene, Tucker and Kari stepped up and took the reins of the family business. It was the beginning of the changing of the guard at the SeaGrille.
“That forced Kari and Tucker and (Kari’s husband) Zack to really
step up,” Adriene said. “I know for a fact, my mother and father would have never let them take over. Not because they didn’t think they were capable but because mom couldn’t help herself, she couldn’t take a day off.”
With Robin in the hospital, and E.J. and the rest of the family taking turns staying with her, the next generation shouldered the load back at the restaurant on Nantucket.
“I’m very proud of them,” E.J. said. “It seems like they learned a lot from their mother. She instilled in them to be really good people, and I think that shines through in the business. That was the thing with Robin, she would always remember people’s names, and Zack and Kari are very good with that. Our staff doesn’t have much turnover and people recognize this is a family business and they appreciate that. ”
Tucker, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, became the head chef and Zack and Kari ran the front of the house and took care of the day-to-day operations.
“It gave Tucker, Kari and Zack an opportunity to show they could handle it and they really redefined the SeaGrille,” said Adriene, a middleschool teacher on the island. “For a while it felt like we were going to age out because there were a lot of older clientele that would come in. And they turned the bar and patio into kind of a younger scene.”
But family tragedy struck again. In the winter of 2015, while training for the Boston Marathon, Robin Harvey was struck and killed by a car on Milestone Road. It was a devastating loss for the family and the island.
Harvey was a dedicated community volunteer. She quietly gave her time to the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club, Nantucket Holidays for Heroes, the Friends of Nantucket Public Schools and other organizations. Shortly after her death her family set up the Harvey Foundation, a nonprofit that offers a variety of programming based on lifelong learning, athletics and community service.
The Harvey kids were ready to step in and keep the family business running, because they had grown up in the restaurant. When they were young in the 1990s, they spent countless hours at the SeaGrille. It was their second home, with the downstairs office doubling as their playroom.
“We would go to the (Boys & Girls) Club, then walk (to the SeaGrille) from the club, get our dinner downstairs, watch TV and do homework, play a little broom hockey, and when somebody could run us home they would,” Adriene said.
Broom hockey or “lemon hockey” was a game the kids played downstairs at the SeaGrille, which substituted lemons for hockey pucks and brooms for sticks. It’s the kind of improvising you do when you’re a kid killing time at your parents’ restaurant.
E.J and Robin Harvey opened the SeaGrille 28 years ago. E.J., who was 35 at the time, had over a decade of restaurant experience. He was head chef at The Jared Coffin House when he was 27, and before opening the SeaGrille, he ran E.J’s Diner for five years at the location where Island Pharmacy is today.
The Harvey kids were athletes in high school. Part of that was because they had a choice: either play a sport or work at the restaurant after school. Kari and Adriene were basketball stars and are two of just four girls varsity players to score 1,000 points at Nantucket High School. Tucker played football, lacrosse and swam.
But even with sports, the kids still pitched in at the restaurant. Adriene, the oldest, was the first to start busing tables and waitressing. Then it was Kari, the middle child, and Tucker, the youngest, helping out busing and then working in the kitchen.
“The three of us (kids), we’ve done every position in this place,” Adriene said. “Busing, dishwashing. That was not negotiable. I had to work the shifts nobody wanted to work. I was lunch lady every day. It’s funny but I think I started busing at 14 or 15.”
Once Tucker entered high school he began working in the kitchen and took culinary classes at the high school. His biggest teacher was his father. Upon finding out Tucker wanted to work in the kitchen, E.J. worked him to the bone the summer of his senior year to make sure he was really up for the challenge. Tucker passed that test, and went on to study at the CIA in Hyde Park, N.Y., the same school from which his father graduated.
“All the guys in the kitchen, they respect him a lot. Even though he’s young (31), he’s there all the time, putting in the time,” E.J. said. “He has that work ethic that you just can’t teach. He must get it from his mother.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Tucker went to work for a year and a half at Hank’s Seafood in Charleston, S.C. From there he wasn’t sure he was going to return to the SeaGrille. But with the restaurant without a sous chef right before Robin’s first accident, he was needed and he answered the call.
“I kind of thought I wasn’t going back. But we lost our sous chef the fall before my mother got into the accident and I was (on my way out) with (Hank’s Seafood). So I had a good opportunity to come back here,” he said.
After working at the restaurant growing up, Kari decided to try her hand at retail shortly after graduating from college. She worked as a personal shopper for Ralph Lauren and Lily Pulitzer.
“Our parents never pushed us to be in the restaurant,” she said. “If we wanted to do something else they encouraged us to try that and know we always had here. I loved working at the SeaGrille, but I also wanted to try something different.”
After a couple years in retail, Kari returned to the SeaGrille. The sense of community that the restaurant had was something special, watching longtime customers and their families grow and grow up over the years.
“It’s the people,” she said of why she returned.
“It’s really nice to see the constant people and generations of customers. I’ve always enjoyed dealing with people, watching my mom, she always welcomed people like she was welcoming them into her home.”
Adriene has taken a different path. While she and her husband Travis worked full-time for a handful of years at the SeaGrille, they both went to work for the Nantucket school system.
Adriene has been a middle-school teacher for the last 15 years and Travis has been the high school’s assistant athletic director for the better part of a decade.
Even though they don’t work full-time at the restaurant, Travis and Adriene are still a presence, covering two nights a week for Kari and Zach.
History is already repeating itself, Maddie, 12, Travis and Adriene’s oldest daughter, has already shown a love of cooking and will be a hostess when she’s old enough to do it, Adriene said.
Their youngest daughter, Aubrey, 6, will throw on an apron, pick up a checkbook and shadow Kari.
“It’s great that they want to work here, and they will. Whether they want to or not. That’s kind of how it works in our family,” Adriene said with a laugh. ///
Dean Geddes is a staff writer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.