Billionaire Won’t Stop Trying to Shut Down His Local Clam Shack

Bobak Ha'Eri/Wikimedia Commons
Bobak Ha'Eri/Wikimedia Commons

Billionaire Charles Johnson is suing the owners of a Nantucket clam shack—the latest salvo in a David versus Goliath battle that has stretched on for months.

Johnson, who made his fortune at the investment firm Franklin Resources, was part of a cohort of wealthy property owners who previously tried to keep the clam shack from opening, claiming it would “destroy the ambience” near their homes on the swanky island. In March, the local select board voted against them 3-1. Virtually all of the bigshots have since moved on. Johnson, not so much.

“No one likes being told no,” Gabriel Frasca, one of the clam shack’s proprietors, told The Daily Beast. But, he added, “I think some people have options to sort of game out not hearing ‘no’ a little better than the rest of us. And perhaps some people just due to disposition are less well inclined to hear ‘no.’”

Frasca and his partner, Kevin Burleson, are representing themselves; Frasca said that lawyering up against a billionaire seemed like a losing strategy. Even without outside counsel, he doesn’t seem threatened by Johnson’s lawsuit.

“I think this is sort of an unwinnable case for them,” he said. “But it appears like the attorneys are willing to keep billing the hours, and he's willing to keep going for it.” In addition to suing Frasca’s business, Johnson also named the Town of Nantucket, the local select board, and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission as defendants. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Frasca, Johnson should have considered the location of his property prior to acquiring it. “They bought this bauble 18 inches outside the commercial zone. And they seem to be surprised that there's commercial development happening,” he said.

Johnson’s suit, which was previously reported by the Nantucket Current, argues that officials improperly “ignored the fact that the nature of [Frasca’s] operation, which is the conversion of a retail fish market to a sit-down restaurant with an entertainment license, creates a deleterious effect on the abutting residential neighborhood.”

Frasca said he tried to make peace with Johnson before the billionaire filed his lawsuit. After the select board’s vote earlier this spring, he introduced himself to Johnson and “told him we were committed to being a good neighbor to him.” Sadly, he continued, “it appears that's a one-way promise. But so be it.”

Frasca noted that the clam shack’s other former opponents had been gracious about their defeat. The Schwabs, for instance, “couldn't have written a kinder note, just just to me, wishing us luck and apologizing.” Other members of that cohort have children that worked for Frasca and Burleson’s business, he said, while some have been regular guests.

As the summer clam season quickly approaches, Frasca insists the dust-up isn’t ruining his mood. “It sounds like a Hallmark movie, but the community in general has been so wonderful and so supportive to us…And we're incredibly grateful for that.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.