By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
WHITMAN — If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, a lot of area residents have been strarting their days right at Cowbells Café, 25 South Ave., for the past four months.
“Phenomenal,” is how one regular customer summed up the fare after getting up to ring the bell by the door. “This is the only place I’ll go. I’ve been here maybe eight or nine times since it opened. I recomment it to everybody.”
He had brought along a friend to whom he had praised the eatery owned by Abington resident David Doyle.
A printer by trade for several years, Doyle had always loved to cook.
“Cooking’s always been my passion,” he said during a lull in the breakfast seating Tuesday, Sept. 2. “I’ve worked with a lot of five-star chefs and learned a lot just by working side-by-side with them.”
His brother, who had owned Doyle’s Duxbury Pizza for several years has also been a source of education and inspiration. Like that eatery, Cowbells is also a breakfast and lunch bistro.
But “Cowbells,” is not a name derived from a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Doyle’s daughter, Kelly, had been nicknamed Kell-bell by the family when she was a baby. Her uncle thought it was “cowbell,” and — as such mixups often do — the name stuck.
“When we were planing to open, I told my girls to come up with a name.” Doyle said. “They remembered that story and thought it was a good name.”
He ripped up the carpet from the floor of the former pizza place, lowered the counter and chose a buttercream yellow color for the walls and antique-y, mismatched furniture for a country look to complement the name. His daughter, Erin, designed the café logo.
“It’s a simple menu … I’m tweaking it as I go along,” he said. “We give a good quantity to people.”
From fluffy omlettes and breakfast sandwiches to French bread french toast and pancakes, generous is the word that best describes the servings.
The popular selections from the lunch menu have been a chicken cutlet BLT, a daily homemade soup and an array of hot and cold subs served up with homemade fries.
“Business has been more than I expected,” Doyle said. “People rave about the corned beef hash, because they know it’s homemade.”
The hash has been a specific rave on yelp.com.
Even Yelp — where negative phantom reviews, by people who have never been to restaurants they review, can sometimes be found — has been almost universally positive. One local customer went so far as to call Cowbells “probably the best breakfast in Whitman now.”
Still, the in-person feedback always means a bit more.
“I’m so glad you opened up, this place is fantastic,” said Dan Farrell of Whitman as he paid for his breakfast.
Such word of mouth is gold for Doyle as it resulted in a packed house for breakfast on Labor Day, and he had contemplated being closed for the holiday.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go because we’re new,” he said. “It was a holiday. It started out slow and all of a sudden, boom, the place filled up and it never stopped.”
Doyle and his daughter had even called one of the waitresses scheduled to work that day to tell her they wouldn’t need her just before the café got busy about 9 a.m. He did all the kitchen work — cooking and doing dishes — while his daughter waited tables and worked the cash register before her mother and sisters came to help.
It’s all part of getting a new restaurant off the ground for a man who puts the family in the phrase family business.
A sign in the front window and mementos inside dedicate the café to the memory of Doyle’s son in-law, Marine Sgt. Daniel Vasselian, who was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 23, 2013. Vasselian was married to Doyle’s daughter, Erin.
“A lot of people ask about him and how we knew him,” Doyle said. “People bring us flowers with flags in them. It’s nice.”
A gold-star banner, which hangs under a donated drawing of Vasselian, was donated by another man who works at New Englad Art.
Doyle borrowed a sign reading “Salute,” which Erin had bought at an antique shop as a gesture in memory of her late husband. That sign graces a wall behind the front counter until she moves.
“Our staff is all friends and family,” he said.
Diane Gillis of Abington is one of those friends who work at the café.
“Our kids grew up in the same neighborhood together, so we’ve been friends forever,” she said. “I bring a lot of people in — it’s a great place.”