COVENTRY — Where BrewMasters Neighborhood Tavern once served up pub grub and 50-some draught beers, a new establishment now beckons hungry diners with fresh-caught seafood and a relaxed family atmosphere.
“I think we found our niche,” Dave Thomas said Tuesday as he put the finishing touches on Benny’s Clam Shack before Wednesday’s soft opening. “I’m excited to bring this venue to Coventry — I really think it needs something like this
A Marine Corps veteran and a chef by trade, Thomas over the years has owned a number of restaurants around Coventry, including BrewMasters and Bella’s Sports Pub before that. In 2018, he expanded his culinary footprint into South Country, opening his first clam shack in downtown Wakefield. He opened a second location in Narragansett just over a year later.
Set away from the bustle of the beach, the flagship Benny’s Clam Shack has become a go-to spot among locals looking for New England favorites like lobster bisque, calamari, stuffies, fish and chips and fried whole belly clams.
The clam cakes and three varieties of clam chowder have proven especially popular in Wakefield and Narragansett. In fact, his New England clam chowder has earned Thomas recognition throughout the Ocean State.
Once declared the favorite at the Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, Thomas has continued to follow the same time-tested recipe that in 1996 won his New England clam chowder that important distinction.
It’s the fresh dill, Thomas said, that has helped his chowder recipe stand out above all others.
“It’s the secret to my award-winning chowder,” said Thomas, who’s worked for some 30 years in the restaurant industry. “It speaks for itself.”
His Rhode Island and Manhattan clam chowders are also “to die for,” Thomas said.
The menu at the new Coventry restaurant looks a lot like those in the other locations, serving items like grilled thin pizzas, calzones, burgers and wieners, in addition to seafood. There’s also milkshakes and a separate menu for the kids.
With more space at the Coventry location, however, Thomas said he also intends to introduce a few new items and specials. He’s considering hosting clambakes, for example, offering platters with all the fixings.
The plan, he added, is for Benny’s to become known as the “home of the one-pound lobster roll.”
Much of the seafood served up at the clam shack arrives daily to Point Judith. For Thomas, it’s important to offer locally-sourced food and to support other local businesses.
“Keep everything in state,” he said. “Why not?”
As he opens the door to his newest eatery, Thomas said he’s eager to stop catering to the late-night bar crowd that tended to frequent BrewMasters.
“The bar has taken a toll on me over the past 10 years,” he said. “The phone calls late at night, dealing with nonsense. I’m done with that.”
The new place does have a full bar, however, and although it doesn’t feature quite the array of beers that Brewmasters did, Thomas does plan to feature around 20 on tap at any given time.
The hope is to create a family atmosphere at the clam shack, which was named for his now three-year-old son.
“We’re setting a new standard here, and it’s going to be based upon families,” he said, as his wife Shantel was tidying up nearby.
Inside the restaurant, fishing nets holding plastic lobsters and crabs decorate red walls; a game room invites guests to play arcade games like Pac-Man and pinball. A river-side deck out back gives diners the option to enjoy their meals with the calming sound of the rushing Pawtuxet as background noise.
Thomas, who until recently lived in town, said he noticed a need in Coventry for a good seafood restaurant, especially since Coventry Seafood closed years ago.
“I was going to sell the building,” said Thomas, who purchased the building at 1152 Main Street three years ago after leasing it for a number of years. “But then I thought, why don’t I try to bring seafood back to Coventry?”
Thomas’ goal, he said, is to open several Benny’s locations in neighborhoods around the state where one might not expect to find a clam shack. He said he’ll likely begin looking for his fourth Benny’s Clam Shack location after this summer.
“It’s all about finding the right spot,” he said.
Benny’s Clam Shack is open daily at 1152 Main St., Coventry from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.