Sheila Payne, who started the Buttery that now resides in the Fenno building on WHOI’s Quissett campus, has a long history working at the institution.
Sheila was honored that the Women’s Committee chose her to highlight for one of their posts celebrating Women’s History Month in March. Barbara Callahan, a longtime friend and colleague of Sheila’s, sat down with her last week to ask some questions about her time working at WHOI.
Barbara Callahan: What was your story of getting to the Buttery? And to WHOI in general?
Sheila Payne: In the mid 60’s, my husband, 2 daughters and I arrived in Woods hole for my husband Richard to take a job in the Physical Oceanography department. After a short time, I saw that there was a need for places WHOI employees could get lunch. I coordinated with another WHOI wife to solve the problem.
We created a bag lunch business selling bag lunches consisting of a homemade sandwich and cookie and a piece of fruit in front of the Redfield building. I received the first peddlers license in Falmouth.
The Oceanographic offered me the use of the lower level of the exhibit center on School Street which was still a church upstairs. With the help of my longtime friend Stella Livingston, we opened the Endeavor House to WHOI employees offering lunch consisting of homemade bread, cheese, homemade soups and sandwiches.
The Quissett campus was starting to get busier now that the Clark building was complete. We opened our second lunchroom called the Buttery in the basement of the Clark building. Now that there were two locations, I hired several WHOI wives and continued to offer a good lunch at a low price.
Eventually other businesses popped up in the village and the Endeavor House closed. The Buttery was still open but very small for the amount of people who wanted lunch, so the Buttery was moved to the present location in Fenno House.
BC: What was your signature meal that you liked to make for the community?
SP: There wasn’t really one signature dish. I guess what we became know for is our homemade soups. We always had a meat type and a vegetarian soup to offer. These soups were made by a variety of WHOI employees or locals but as health requirements changed, all soups were made every day in house. I always enjoyed serving good comfort food to people, something simple and homemade.
BC: What do you remember fondly about working in the Endeavor House and Buttery? Any anecdotes or fun stories?
SP: What I most remember about the Endeavor House and the Buttery, is that it was always such a pleasure to speak with such a variety of people and get to know them as friends.
A funny story I remember happened shortly after we opened the Endeavor House. Stella Livingston and I were bringing in a 100 lb bag of flour and as we were walking down the path, the bag broke open and flour was blown all over us and everything around. Needless to say, buying in bulk is not always the way to go.
I’ve seen a graduate student go on to be the director at WHOI, romances blossom into large families and I’ve met the most interesting people from all over the world.
BC: What was the best and worst part of the job?
SP: In the early years I was allowed to decorate the lunchroom with my décor. I had artwork all around made from local artists. [A side note to that, Sheila’s father was Alfred Tulk, a Connecticut-based artist who had quite a career painting large-scale abstract murals.]
The worst part of the job was the responsibility to make sure all the food was fresh, and nothing spoiled.
Sheila ran the Buttery until 2002 when she retired from WHOI. She went on to teach pre-school age children at the Cape Symphony (formerly Cape Conservatory). She is now 86 years old and lives in Falmouth.