John Ohman has been running Liam’s Clam Shack at Nauset Beach for the last 28 years. Every summer, Ohman has served up clams, burgers, and most famously onion rings to hungry beach-goers. But after a series of Nor’easters ravaged the beach in early March, Liam’s was demolished.
“You sit there and you watch 28 years of your life and building a business, essentially hanging off of a sand cliff,” said Ohman, “and you knew that, at that moment, that there was no going back.”
Before the storms — and the demolition — Ohman would spend his summer days at Nauset Beach serving long lines of customers well into the afternoon.
“On a typical July day, we’ll have two lines of more than a hundred people each with no shirt on, getting a tan, waiting for food, chatting with someone you’ve never met before to one of your dear friends,” said Ohman. He even had a tradition for the frequent weddings on Nauset beach.
“If I can figure who they are, I always make the bride and groom onion rings and call them wedding rings,” he said.
In March, Ohman was getting ready for the season ahead.
“I contracted for lobster meat, and I contracted for clams," he said. "I did all the things you always do in February and March. Then March 4th, everything changed.”
A Nor’easter was hammering Nauset beach, cutting huge swaths of the beach away. Ohman was driving to pick up his son, when he got a call saying that waves were hitting his restaurant. So he rushed over to Liam’s, and stood in the building as the storm raged outside.
“The waves would crest right in right in front of Liam’s and just come slamming down,” said Ohman. “It hurt your ears.”
By the time the storm passed, about 35 feet of beach and dune structure had been lost.
Eight days later, after an inspection found significant damage to the building, the Orleans Board of Selectmen voted to terminate Ohman’s lease. Eight days after the vote, Liam’s was demolished. As excavators tore pieces from Liam’s, Ohman was not there to watch.
“Would you sit there and watch your house burn down?” asked Ohman. “You don’t want to have your life change so dramatically and have no control over it. My personality is tied to that beach.”
When asked whether he had visited the beach since the demolition, Ohman replied “I have not been back to Nauset Beach. I just don’t know if my heart is ready to see a big hole in the ground where my life used to be.”
This summer, Ohman will be keeping busy as a delegate for his hometown of Dennis, and helping out with his family’s other restaurant. But he wishes he could be at Nauset to break the news himself.
“Probably 90 percent of the people that love Liam’s don’t even know it’s gone yet,” said Ohman. “And I will not have a chance to make peace with them and say, ‘It’s not me! I would have loved to serve you this year. I won’t be there, because there’s no place to be.’”