Boston Restaurant Industry Vet Bekah Powers Speaks of Leaving the Industry and Opening an Art Gallery

After over a quarter of a century in the Boston-area restaurant and nightlife business, Bekah…

After over a quarter of a century in the Boston-area restaurant and nightlife business, Bekah Powers is done. “Like many others, the pandemic gave me a chance to rethink the hospitality business,” she says. “It is sustainable for no one and causes some form of burnout in almost everyone who dedicates themselves to it.”

For several years, Powers has been working on opening Tanuki, named for the ballsy raccoon dog of Japanese folklore. The idea went through several pop-up iterations with the goal of becoming “a full-fledged izakaya in Provincetown” and maybe a “snack/tea shop in the Camberville area.”

Instead, Powers is opening Tanuki as an art gallery and shop in Brewster (440 Main St.), the project’s “furever” home, as she describes it, on Cape Cod. “There is life after restaurants,” says Powers, adding that her next chapter follows the legacy of the art and antiques business in which she was raised. She plans to focus on antique Japanese textiles and ceramics, kintsugi (ceramics repaired with lacquer and gold), and works by contemporary Cape Cod artists.

Powers isn’t leaving her hospitality roots entirely behind, though: She’ll put on private events at Tanuki such as food and culture talks, ticketed dinners, and more with collaborating chef and bar friends.

Plus, Powers’s Brewster property includes Club Tanuki, two Japanese-inspired suites she rents out on Airbnb. She offers Club Tanuki guests traditional Japanese breakfast on Saturdays (or by request), and ever the hospitality vet, “I’ll help you plan the best Cape vacation you could ever dream of,” she says, ready with recommendations for what to do around Brewster, one of the Cape’s lesser-known destinations. “Brewster’s beauty is slower, quieter, and more mature” than the “dramatic coastline of Wellfleet and Truro or the wild energy of Provincetown,” she says. Full of gardens, antique shops, and historic homes, it’s “the kind of place you want to take a Sunday drive and eat some clam fritters.”

Powers’s career shift comes after two and a half hard-working decades in hospitality and entertainment. Now 40, she started “washing dishes, scooping ice cream, buttering toasts, and cleaning motel rooms” at 14 at Cape Cod restaurants and motels.

Her resume in the years that followed includes various positions at clubs like the Middle East in Cambridge and the now-defunct Harpers Ferry in Allston as well as well-known Boston restaurants and bars like Eastern Standard, Drink, and Sportello, among others.

She’s quick to give praise to the greats along the way: Vanessa White, of The Slutcracker fame, managed Powers at Cambridge’s 1369 Coffee House 20 years ago. “She cared deeply about the wellbeing of staff and our personal growth,” says Powers. “This was the first and last time I ever really felt that from a boss in the industry.” Garrett Harker and Jamie Bissonnette — owner and opening chef, respectively, of now-closed Eastern Standard — were both “important mentors”; Powers worked there in its early days. And Powers’s time at Barbara Lynch venues Drink and Sportello was “the most formative job” she’s ever had. “Huge thanks to chef BL and [bartender and manager] John Gertsen for giving me a bright future and teaching me so much,” she says, noting that she got vacation pay and health insurance there, firsts in her career.

But Powers doesn’t hold back discussing the dark side of her gigs as well. Cultures of binge drinking and sexual harassment were prevalent; one of her nightclub jobs was “the most fun job” she’s ever had — but also where she “learned the ins and outs of how not to manage a bar.” It was “the final years of old-school nightclub hedonism, for better and worse.” Another job featured a “constant drinking culture” that “caused a lot of regrettable drama.” And another was marked by the “boys’ club, binge drinking, workaholic mentality that has plagued the industry for eons.”

The final straw, she says, was a restaurant job with 100-hour work weeks “with overlords saying I wasn’t working hard enough. I literally slept on the floor a couple times. This was the experience that led me to never want to have a boss ever again.”

For others feeling burnt out in the industry, Powers says that you don’t have to necessarily leave it behind. “Change is happening! 26 years late and thousands of dollars short for me, though.” She points to “her biggest industry crushes” — Tracy Chang (of Pagu), Rachel Miller (of Nightshade Noodle Bar), Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale (of the forthcoming Koji Club sake bar), and Elle Jarvis (founder of nonprofit organization In the Weeds) — as “incinerating the old food-service business model and becoming role models in the process.”

For those who do want to throw in the towel, Powers recommends making lists to figure out next steps: What do you love most about the industry? What’s unsustainable for you? What parts of your job are you great at; what are you bad at? Do you want to live to work or work to live? (If the former, “business ownership may be for you.”) What hobbies make you happy? “Be honest with yourself, and be humble, especially if you’re starting from scratch. It’s a job ‘buyers’ market right now; there are so many opportunities.”

For Powers, that opportunity lies in “a magical but falling-down, mixed-use property with an epic history going back to 1764. In my beautiful hometown. Four doors down from the house I grew up in. Zoned to be a country club and an art gallery. Perfect.”

Tanuki debuts with an art show on September 3, from 6 to 9 p.m., featuring works by Provincetown oil painter Valerie Isaacs, Wellfleet mixed-media artist and painter Dean Moran, and ceramicists Sarah Chapman and Susan Kommit. Regular hours will be 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, or by chance or appointment.