Martha’s Vineyard News | Mr. Reliable: An Interview with Bob Pacheco – The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News | Region & Cash

Reliable Market, Oak Bluffs’ grocery market at the center of Circuit Avenue, has been providing consistency and value to island communities year-round and summer since 1947. It’s no secret that the driving force behind this Oak Bluffs family institution is its patriarch, Bob Pacheco. It can be a little scary watching Bob wield a 12-inch carving knife, greet customers, keep an eye on the busy fresh food counter and oversee the constant restocking of the store’s shelves without the blade slipping.

Bob is the embodiment of the word reliable: committed, trustworthy and consistent. But it is his firm hand that has led this now 75-year-old family business to success and growth. That summer he bought another Circuit Avenue mainstay, Phillips Hardware right next door — no surprise to the community that counts on Pacheco’s commitment to Circuit Avenue.

On the day of my visit to speak to Bob (or Bobby, as some call him), the meat box was stacked with grilled specialties, ground-up chuck burgers, carved steaks, bone-in short ribs, and even rosy pork tails for those with a yearning for one southern pot roast. I watched as Bob precisely butchered a ruddy fillet, wiped his hands on his butcher’s apron, and then, amid the eager greetings and backslaps of his longtime customers, led me through the swinging doors to a tiny office hidden behind pallets stacked with produce .

Q. For our interview, I reached out to longtime summer resident and acclaimed food historian Jessica Harris, who told me, “Every summer when Bobby looks up at me and says, ‘Hello, young lady,’ I know I’ve come home am.” What’s it like having a client of Ms. Harris’ culinary caliber?

A She’s just the nicest lady, and to be honest I had no idea about her credentials at first – sort of. You could tell by the way she ordered that she knew what she wanted, and then I heard her on the History Channel. Then I find out she has a James Beard Award.

Q. The Lifetime Achievement Award indeed!

A. She likes lamb shanks.

Q. What other summer stars or culinary stars come through your doors in a season?

A Each of my customers is a star. My customers, the nicest people in the world, walk through these doors.

Q. Is your customer always right?

A Yes. And you are always the customer. So if I don’t have what you need, I’ll get it. Just ask.

Q. Is Jessica Harris the only one who calls you Bobby?

A They call me Bob or Bobby. Nobody calls me Robert. When they say Mr. Pacheco or Sir, I always say, ‘Sir was my father and he would never let you forget that.’

Q. Pictures of your father, Eddie, and your mother, Helen, hang above the meat counter. From what I understand you had to rise as a young man after the death of your father to take the helm of what was then a 20 year old company from its first location just down the road.

A My father died in 1965 shortly after I graduated from high school. I was only familiar with the foods and produce. My father cut up the meat.

Q. That must have been hard for you as a young man?

A Well it was a challenge. One of my uncles was also a butcher and he came to help. I remember him saying, β€œIn good times and bad, people will always need to eat. Whether in war or peace or anything in between. Try it for a few years and if you decide it’s not for you, just go to college and be two years behind your friends.’

Q. How did you end up becoming a butcher?

A I thought about what he said and I decided that if I want to get into the meat business I have to learn it the right way and in a hurry. At that time we were doing business with Armor & Company, the big beef wholesaler, and they sent me to the National School of Meat Cutting in Toledo, Ohio.

Q. Would this be done now – sponsored by a meat company?

A Yes. I think so. Butchers are different people, but they are good people, and in eight weeks I became a butcher.

Q. When I stopped by to schedule our meeting on behalf of the Vineyard Gazette, you greeted me as “the hamburger.” Do you associate most of your customers with their favorite cut of meat?

A My regular customers buy the same items and you put two and two together. Some people only buy Porterhouse; Some people only buy Delmonico.

Q. Then I think “Hamburger Lady” is a good name for me. I tell everyone they are the best on the island. What’s the secret?

A Well, today we don’t use pre-ground meat. We use whole muscle pieces that we cut in house. We always disinfect the mill several times a day. This is important.

Q. Can you guess the number of patties you sold on July 4th?

A We made about 85 pounds of patties. Just over 400. My son Eddie’s 15 year old twins made the patties.

Q. Your Sunday hours from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. haven’t changed in decades. It’s a busy morning with your loyal Brazilian community. How did you customize your butcher shop to suit their tastes?

A When Brazilians first started settling on the winery, we had a Brazilian gentleman, Antonio, bilingual, working for us. He spoke Portuguese and very good English. He was a huge asset because he could translate and he gave the Brazilians a certain level of comfort. You knew he was always here. He would tell me what they wanted and I would make the cuts. They like boneless butts and they love beef ribs.

Q. Is it true that every Sunday you share a family dinner with your co-working family – your wife Donna, your son Eddie and your daughter Jenn and their families?

A Yes, at my house. Eddie has a big family and Jenn has her family. We have six grandchildren, so not every Sunday. Donna is cooking. We usually have steaks.

Q. No fish?

A No fish. Meat and potatoes. My wife is from the Midwest.

Q. The sign says Reliable Market Parking Only. There is no better honor parking spot on the island! It always seems to work, even on the busiest of holidays. What’s the secret?

A No secret.

Question: I think it’s because the city’s respect for you extends to the parking lot.

A Hopefully that’s part of it, but sometimes tempers get a little frayed when people come through the exit. That’s never good.

Q. You always seem so unflappable. Do you treat every day the same whether it’s the 4th of July or the Wednesday before Thanksgiving?

A Don’t ever let them see you sweat. It’s no use if you panic. If there is a long line of customers on a Sunday, they do it one after the other. That’s all you do. One after the other. Thank you for waiting.

Q. Congratulations on the purchase of your Circuit Avenue neighbor Phillips Hardware. How was the response to the big announcement?

A Lots of positive comments. “Thanks for keeping the Phillips girls there” and so on. I think it’s good for the city. Sometimes you just have to get up.

Q. You have ascended for many years. By my calculations, this is Reliable Market’s 75th year. Do you have plans to celebrate this big milestone?

A Hopefully we can do something in the fall. We will be working with our suppliers and getting and promoting some great deals for our customers.

Q. Your family business is part of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum collection of historical photographs. How does it feel to be part of the island’s history?

A I’m too young for a museum.

Q. Thank you Bob Pacheco for the opportunity to learn more about your thoughtful and informed approach to this family business. Next time I see you I’ll call you Bobby!

Sissy Biggers is a longtime television journalist who now lives full-time in Oak Bluffs and works in various media contributing to many island organizations.

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