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Monahan’s Clam Shack Shells Out Long Family History

Monahan's Clam Shack by the sea reopens for the season on Friday. Not only do they serve up great seafood, but they can fill you up with local history, too.

Do you know what one of the sure signs that summer is right around the corner is? The annual opening of Monahan’s Clam Shack by the Sea, perfectly located at the end of the seawall, and right across from the wishing well on Ocean Road. 

Monahan’s will be opening for a brand new season this Friday, April 8, and owner Matthew Combs is ready to welcome back all of their regular patrons. He’s also excited to invite all the newcomers to stop by this weekend and taste their fresh, hot clam cakes and mouthwatering homemade chowder.

Combs has been working hard during the off-season gearing up for what’s sure to be another busy and hopefully sun-filled summer at the Clam Shack. It is a building that not only serves up some of Narragansett’s best seafood eats and burgers, but it has a rich history in that very location, dating back to the late 1940s. 

Notably, it’s been in the family the entire time it has served the gracious folks of Narragansett, and not just as the local go-to-place for tasty seafood.

The property and the dock (now known as ) were both purchased by Comb’s late grandfather, Joseph Monahan, in the late 1940s. 

“My grandfather was quite a character and a real go getter,” Combs said, praising him. 

The business wore many entrepreneurial hats and was run as a gas station, a bait and tackle shop, a dairy bar and a restaurant. He also sold fresh lobsters and clams, and eventually added a fuel company as well. 

Monahan was well known in the community because of his business and his status as Fire Chief for many years, retiring in 1979.

In addition to the restaurant, Monahan also owned the dock. 

“We think he sold the dock to the state in the 60s at some point,” Combs said. “When he did own the dock he rented rowboats during the summer. After he sold the dock he put gas pumps on it and fueled local boats.”

Combs said it’s not unusual for someone who used to know his grandfather to stop by the current restaurant and share stories and memories of “back in the day.” Some have even pulled out an interesting photo of years past. (Be sure and look at the photo gallery accompanying this story for an interesting look back in time). 

“I love it when that happens,” he said, smiling. “Narragansett, particularly here at the Pier had such an appealing history. Everything from the architecture to the families and businesses that used to be firmly planted here hold a fascinating story.”

Before Joseph Monahan passed away, he sold the business to his son, Michael Monahan, Combs’ uncle, in the mid 1980s.  His uncle ran the seafood restaurant for a few years and then leased the building out for approximately 10 years, where many folks probably remember it as the Starboard Galley, now located across from Scarborough Beach.

In 2006, Michael Monahan left the business to Matt and his two siblings, Bridget Reed and his brother, Clayton Combs. While the sibling group owns the restaurant together, it is primarily Matt that is involved in the day-to-day running of the restaurant.

During the frosty, snowy months of winter, Combs is not lounging on a hammock under a shady palm tree down south someplace. He is right here in Rhode Island, planning and regrouping for the upcoming summer season. 

There are always renovations and upkeep of the building itself, but there is also a lot of preparation and attention to detail, such as how they can keep their customers satisfied and coming back with tried and true recipes, and perhaps do a little concocting in the kitchen to come up with some new dishes that will please the town and tourists’ palates as well. 

“I’m a big Food Network junkie,” Matt said, laughing.   

He loves trying out new recipes and combinations so he can give his customers the best possible choices of fresh seafood, hearty Angus burgers and other tasty grill entrees throughout the season.    

“Our customers know that the quality of food we prepare and serve is always top-notch and made from local, fresh ingredients.” Combs said. “We never compromise on quality or portions.”

He’s also grateful for the support he gets from the nearby businesses that surround his restaurant and also appreciative of the homeowners who are in close vicinity.

“We get a lot of families who dine here all summer long,” he added. “People are definitely getting back to the simple basics of taking rides with their families and stopping along the way for chowder or a great burger.  Kids really enjoy sitting out on the picnic tables under the awning and watching the boats and such right out in the ocean in front of them.  Parents can relax, break into a bag of hot clam cakes and just unwind.”

Kick off the pre-summer season by stopping by Monahan’s Clam Shack this weekend as they return with some delicious new menu items, grilled fare like chicken, and their great value of “Three Cakes and a Cup of Chowder” will be back, featuring clear, red, or white chowder for about $5.   

As you sit under the awning and gaze out at the beautiful seascape of the Narragansett Town Beach, try to picture what it must’ve been like 65 years ago, sitting in that very same spot!

Monahan’s reopens for the season, weekends only, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The restaurant will be running their full-time, summer hours starting on Memorial Day weekend.

Walter Fontaine May 17, 2011 at 04:09 PM
Clam Cakes are great Chowder lousy
Walter Fontaine May 17, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Not only lousy over priced

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