Did You Know? (Smokin’ Jim, Joe Sanborn & Bob Kearsey)

Smokin Jim's Bar-B-Q on East Main Street in Gloucester
Photos by E.J. Lefavour

That the site of Smokin’ Jim’s Bar-B-Q was once Bob’s Clam Shack, and that Harbor Master, Jim Caulkett’s wife Judy’s father, Joe Sanborn was one of the carpenters who built it?  And did you know that Robert Earl “Bob” Kearsey, born in Gloucester on December 18, 1934, passed away at his home in Moss Point, MS on Saturday, March 26, 2011?  In 1953 Bob built, owned, and operated the famous East Gloucester seafood restaurant, Bob’s Clam Shack, where he served “The Finest Clam on Cape Ann.” Notice, he started that business when he was only 19.  After the Clam Shack and Marina were sold in 1980, he purchased an RV and traveled the United States, living and working wherever his next adventure would take him.  His memorial service was held this past Saturday, April 23rd at the UUC, 50 Middle Street in Gloucester.

Today was the opening of Smokin Jim’s Bar-B-Q and I stopped by to say Hi to Judy and Jim, who are great people with such wonderful energy.  I’m not a big rib person, but I did have some of Jim’s chicken, and it was great – so tender and the sauce just right, not overly sweet and cloying like some I’ve had.  I also have to say that their coleslaw, potato salad, Cajun rice, chili and corn bread are out of this world.  I don’t like gritty corn bread, and Jim’s (although I think Judy actually makes it) is fluffy and so delicious.  Seeing that I’ll be on Rocky Neck this summer, I have a feeling I’ll be a regular at Smokin’ Jim’s for the great and very reasonably priced food, for Jim and Judy, and for all the great people who come through there.  I met a bunch of really nice new people while I was there; a number of Good Morning Gloucester lovers, a couple of new converts, and saw House Doctor, Ed Collard and Robert Porter from Coveted Yarn. 

E.J. Lefavour


12 thoughts on “Did You Know? (Smokin’ Jim, Joe Sanborn & Bob Kearsey)

  1. Our Grandfather “Captain Joe” would bring whiting spawn and squid and other stuff over to Bob and he would fry them up at Bob’s Clam Shack and bring them back to the dock. some of the earliest memories from when Captain Joe and Sons had a full line as a processing plant back in the 70’s.


  2. Thanks for nailing a great seasonal opening EJ. The Rubber Duck has worn me to a frazzle lately and I’ve been distracted with beak repair. I am a rib person and that post made my stomach start grumbling.


  3. Hey Paul, Judy at Smokin’ Jim’s told me she saw a yellow rubber ducky at Brace’s Cove with black sunglasses on the other day. Was that your R. Duck?, or maybe a potential same species mate hanging out waiting for R.D. to show up and capture her heart away from the homie.


  4. Bob was certainly a maverick figure in the annals of Gloucester in the 1960’s and 70’s.
    Originally, Bob’s Clam shack was right on East Main St. Behind it was a Fish Flake Yard, where cod fish was salted and dried in the sun to preserve it. The original Bob’s Clam Shack place burned down mysteriously (over the years many other buildings and businesses nearby burned as well), and the present location was built. There was a huge boat yard where Capt’ Joes is now, you can still see the pilings. The smoke from that fire was a huge black plume that burned the buildings that were on those pilings right, right down to the pilings. The new Bob’s Clam Shack was set back from the road with take out windows for the fried clams. The cars would just pull straight up to the building and you could smell the fried clams a mile away. Later there was a big dining room and bar. If those walls could only talk….. It is hard to imagine in its present condition, what a “happening” place, Bob’s Clam Shack was during that time. Some very interesting events happened in that building and I guess you could say, they will still remain a mystery. Many people were very upset when Bob sold the property to the Unification Church in 1980. At one time locals picketed the place so people would not go to eat there because of the hard feelings. It is hard to believe that 30 years later all of that is forgotten and some of the more “interesting” events that Bob may or may not have participated in are hardly remembered. I never thought I would see a such a breezy review of his life and times. But time heals all wounds, I guess and people forgive and forget. The end of an era for sure.


    1. Hi Melissa,
      You are very miss informed on a lot of points. My father Bob did not sell the Clam Shack to the Unification Church. When he built the Marina in the back he had to re mortgage the restaurant and our house. It was a very expensive project which involved the army corps of engineers, dredging, and rebuilding the wharf with all new pilings. It was a project that would have paid off if he was aloud to open the Marina and rent the slips, but of coarse the city of Gloucester together with environmentalist denied the permit to operate after they had granted the permit to do the work. The money that was spent could not be made back and we were foreclosed on by the Cape Ann Savings bank . The property was put up for public auction by the bank, there were other bidders besides the Church but no one could out bid them and their unlimited funds. We lost everything, and yes there were picketers, but not until after the restaurant had closed and I was the only one left living upstairs until the auction was over. So it was I who was the one receiving the bricks through my windows every night. Also the land you are talking about was used for drying salt cod and was owned by Gorton’s. My grandfather Bob L Kearsey along with his partner Irving Kline purchased that land and started Gloucester Lobster Co. long before the restaurant was ever built. Some wounds never heal Melissa when people like you are still stabbing.


      1. I Never heard anything bad when I worked there. All I know Bob Kearsey was a great Boss to work for. Always nice to us workers. The funniest thing that happened at the shack when I worked there during the early 70’s was a guy that used to sneak in and “Streak” The restaurant. All of a sudden your working and here comes this naked guy slowly jogging thru the place. Everyone was in shock. One of the waitresses said after the event “That guy has nothing to be proud of!” 🙂


  5. Great Post EJ!
    I started working at Bob’s clam shack when I was 13. I was the waterboy and gofer for extra tartar sauce. I made about $50.00 a night on weekends. That was huge money for the time, 1974. That place was always hopping with the Tuna fishermen who had their boats tied up at the docks there. I learned a lot about life there!
    Thanks for the Memories!


  6. I never knew Bob or Bob’s Clam Shack, although all the talk about it is making me really crave fried clams. Glad to know the post brought back some fond memories, and possibility to forgive and forget (although I have no idea what that is about – maybe more digging is necessary). Smokin’ Jim’s doesn’t cater to chicken of the sea, but his BBQ’d land bird is great.


  7. Yes, E.J., you have only scratched the surface of the history of that property.

    Originally being a fish flake yard where fish was processed and salted in large wooden barrels and placed on racks to cure in the sun and then they were shipped around the world. Millions and Millions of lbs were processed in this way, on that property. This process was started by the earliest settlers in Gloucester (The Dorchester Company from 1623). In those days, it was the only way to preserve fish so it would keep for long periods of time.

    I actually have a copy of the “Bob’s Clam Shack Cookbook” and Bob writes about his humble beginnings in 1953 when the building measured 18 x 1 4 with a small porch and picnic tables. In the first shack, only boiled lobsters, steamed clams, lobster rolls, and potato chips were sold which customers would either bring home or eat on the 8 picnic tables. In 1955, a second building was erected and it measured 24 x 18 and the menu was enlarged to about 8 items including: fried clams, french fries, onion rings, scallops, fish & chips, hot dogs, and hamburgers. The prices back then were .75 for a boiled lobster, .65 for steamed clams, and .69 for a lobster roll. For the next 3 years the only parking was on the street and cars lined East Main Street for 1 mile on either side. During the summer of 1958 a fire destroyed most of the larger building and the summer season was finished out in the smaller building. In 1959 a new and larger building was erected about 70 ft. back form the road and measured 50 x 35. It had a good sized kitchen, take out windows, and a dining room which accomodated about 55 customers and off street parking for about 30 cars. After 1959, enlargement continued for many years turning the fish flake yards into a Marina.

    Bob’s Fried Clams Recipe
    from his cookbook which originally sold for $8

    1 pint freshly opened soft shell clams
    3 c. evaporated milk
    1 c. regular milk
    1/2 lb. yellow cornmeal flour
    2 fresh eggs
    1 qt. frying oil
    Mix eggs and milk to make batter. Dump flour into a mixing bowl. Using a deep fat thermometer, heat fat to 360 degrees. Using a small wire mesh basket, dip about 12 clams into the batter. Make sure all clams are battered. Shake off excess batter and place clams into flour to bread and shake well. Then transfer the clams into 360 degree oil using some kind of fry basket. Fry approximately two minutes. Do not try to cook too many clams at one time. I recommend not more than 12 clams to each quart of oil. Serves 6-8

    For more original Cape Ann Recipes from the 1920’s-1970’s check out my book:
    “The Legacy of Three Melissas” available at local Cape Ann bookstores or Amazon.com with recipes from The Blacksmith Shop Restaurant, The Easterly Inn, The Faraday Inn, The Cable House Bed & Breakfast, and The Anadama Bread Bakery.


  8. Hi Sharon,
    That sounds like a painful and traumatic time for you and your family. I do apologize for the misconception. If anything, this was an opportunity for you to set the record straight and for that I am glad. Peace Melissa


  9. Thank you Paul for your sense of humor, Melissa for your loving and compassionate post, Sharon for sharing your experiences (which I had no idea about and was starting to feel alarmed about causing to be resurrected), and Ellie for returning the focus to what the post was really about – how great Smokin’ Jim’s B-B-Que is.


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