Spring is a time for transformation, inspiration, and new energy. Donna Diaz and Peter Smyth are ready to harness it all.
Diaz, whose family has owned Humphreys Bakery since its inception in the 1940s, and Smyth, owner and chef at Slice of Life Cafe until its recent closure, have embarked on a new restaurant concept that blends the two successful family businesses into one — the new Life at Humphreys, which opened Wednesday, April 10, in the Vineyard Haven spot where Humphreys has operated since 2003.
Diaz, granddaughter of Argie Humphreys, who started the business selling turnovers door-to-door during WWII, grew up as one of many children in her family’s West Tisbury bakery in the ’60s and ’70s.
“[I remember] my grandfather taking hot things out of the oven and feeding them to us,” Diaz said. The kids played freely in the bakery, and enjoyed all the free food they wanted, including doughnuts fresh out of the fryolator. “We would make forts in the flour sacks in the back, my cousins and I and my little brother,” she said.
Diaz became the third generation to operate the business when she and her now ex-husband, Mike, took it over after Argie’s son, Bartlett Humphreys, retired in the 1990s. The pair continued to run the business together for several years after their divorce, until Mike moved on to other things. With the business reaching its 70th anniversary, Diaz wanted to breathe some new life into the business with a rebranding. She hired business consultant India Rose to help with that effort — and then by chance, they stumbled on gold.
Peter Smyth, fresh off a 10-year run working 120 hours a week at Slice of Life, was looking for a next move, and responded to Humphreys’ ad for a head baker.
“When we saw who it was, we were pretty stoked,” Diaz said. “It was like, hell yeah, we don’t need a baker.”
The idea to merge the two brands was one that formed quickly, but Smyth took his time deciding. “I talked to restaurants, other things, the Post Office,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure it was what I wanted to do.”
Smyth’s wife, Jennifer Smyth, grew up on the Island and ran the front of house at Slice of Life for a decade. She was part of the decision process from the beginning, which appealed to Diaz immediately.
“I met him, and he wanted to have his wife come meet me right away,” Diaz said, “And his kids were running around.” It felt familiar, and right, she said. “It’s really important for me, because it’s a family business.”
“My mother worked this business when she was a kid,” Diaz continued. “My cousins, my aunts — everybody did. My mother still comes in like she owns the place. She’ll take cookies …”
Smyth smiled at Diaz’s mention of her parents: “I just like the fact that even though they know the merger is going on, she still feels comfortable.”
The cookies, made with the same recipe for 70 years, are one of several staple items from Humphreys that will not change, along with doughnuts, of course. The Gobbler sandwich, a longtime favorite, will stay. So will the Cuban, perfected when Mike Diaz, who’s from Tampa, went to Cuba to learn how to make Cuban bread and an authentic Cuban sandwich.
If you’re missing Slice of Life’s Fried Green Tomato BLT and Slice Salad, worry not — these classics will make their comeback at Life at Humphreys. During a weeklong Slice of Life popup event at Humphreys in March, Smyth said, “We sold out of everything, every day, for five days.”
“We’re gonna be open to anything,” Diaz said of the rest of the menu, which will change periodically. “Pete can make anything.”
There will be a focus on grab-and-go items, such as premade salads, quick and different breakfast items such as mini-quiches and savory buns, and healthy bars and snacks, some of which will follow the paleo and keto diets. “People just want fast, convenient, wholesome food,” Smyth said. Some of the salads and other items from the Slice will make the transition. “I have all the recipes, and they’re tested,” Smyth said. “We used to sell tons of stuff out of there that I can’t wait to do again.”
On the other end of the spectrum, there will be Belly Bomb doughnuts, carried on from Bartlett Humphreys, and evening events they plan to do on the outside patio, Donut Hamburgers (yes, you read that right). “A friend of mine does it, and I’m gonna steal his idea,” Smyth said of putting a burger on a doughnut instead of a bun. “You’ve got the sweet, then they put bacon on it, cheese. They use glazed; I’m gonna try it with plain.” He also likes the idea of hosting kids’ birthday parties, with decorate-your-own-doughnuts, or doughnut birthday cakes.
Humphreys currently supplies doughnuts for several wholesale accounts on Island, such as Tony’s Market and the Depot, and Life at Humphreys plans to expand on that wholesale aspect, as well as catering. The restaurant will now close at 6 pm instead of 4, with grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, and other items available for those looking to pick up a quick dinner.
Donna Diaz couldn’t be happier about the merger. “What my brand needed was him and his brand,” she said. “Really, we’re gonna have it all.”
This article by M.A. Kent-Holmes originally appeared on mvtimes.com.