Stroll through the North End as the Spaghetti Supper turns 41

by Karina Coombs

01b SpaghettiSupperLogoFB

Restaurants have a high failure rate:  60% close within the first year and 80% by year five. Inexperience, location, a lack of strong management and expansive menus are often to blame. And yet for the past 40 years on one night each October, Carlisle’s sixth-grade students and their parents have turned the lunchroom of the Carlisle Public Schools into the hottest pop-up restaurant around. On October 18 they will do it again, serving between 1,000 and 1,200 Italian dinners from a simple and classic menu that remains nearly unchanged since the Spaghetti Supper was first held in 1975.

Class of 2019 fundraiser

“The spaghetti supper for the outdoor education program came off quite well,” wrote sixth grader Nancy Shohet in 1977 for the Mosquito. “Fortunately, no one asked for orange drink after we ran out. Thanks to everyone who bought raffle tickets, donated vegetables, helped in the kitchen and anyone else who felt obliged to grin and bear it.”

Created as a sixth- and seventh-grade fundraiser for the school’s outdoor education program, the 41-year-old event now funds a number of additional middle school activities for the Class of 2019,  including seed money for the seventh-grade play, financial aid for the eighth-grade trip and funds to support the eighth-grade graduation ceremony and class gift to the school.

Embracing the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the supper includes salad, garlic bread, spaghetti with sauce (meat or vegetarian), dessert and beverages. Gluten-free options were added in 2012 and now include pasta, bread and cookies, the latter two options provided this year by the Ely and Rebbi families. In keeping with the kitchen’s long-standing policy, the food prepared on site is free of peanuts and tree nuts. For those unable to dine in, there is also a to-go option available. 

Spaghetti Supper raffle tickets are sold in two categories: Golden raffle and regular raffle. Golden raffle items have a value over $100 and this year include such prizes as a seven-night stay at Castaway Cove at the Wyndham Reef Resort Grand Cayman, an Apple watch, various camp and party discounts and an Amazon Echo among others. Regular raffle items represent items below the $100 threshold and include a variety of prizes such as gift cards and themed gift baskets, kids cooking lessons, rounds of golf, a Clark Farm flower share and more.

10aEH SpaghettiCookers2013

From 2013. Current Board of Selectmen Chairman Nathan Brown (left) and Chuck Farro strain pounds and pounds of pasta. (File photo by Ellen Huber) 

Sixth-grade parents take the reins

Transforming the Corey Dining Room into the neighborhood bistro  requires the involvement of the entire sixth-grade class, which this year represents approximately 70 students and their families. It also requires the ability to organize large groups of people and information, beginning in the spring of students’ fifth year as event chairs come up with the theme and begin planning using binders, websites, spreadsheets and reports from previous years. 

Sandy EisenbIes, Susie Neal and Fiona Sibley are sharing the duties as event co-chairs this year, and overseeing and staffing a number of committees that cover everything from publicity, tickets and the raffle to decoration, kitchen, wait staff and cleanup. Food committees are formed for each course: sauce, salad, bread and butter, beverage and dessert. A procurement committee solicits and organizes all food and ingredient donations while the raffle committee solicits all donations for the raffles and secures a permit from Town Hall. EisenbIes reported that they are at 85% parent participation at this stage, but imagines the number will grow as the event approaches.

For their part, students focus on sales and customer experience by actively selling tickets for the event ahead of time and serving a dizzying number of meals over a three-hour period as first-time servers. Students received ticket training during an assembly on September 22 and Eisenbies noted they seemed excited and asked a lot of questions. In the past students have sometimes been offered incentives as a way to increase sales, but Eisenbees said the decision was made this year not to offer them. Student sales ended on October 7, but tickets are still available for purchase at Ferns Country Store and at the door the night of the event. Students will receive wait staff training on October 17 and work in two shifts the night of the event. Servers will also eat for free.

10cJH SpagSupCookies2009

From 2009. Parents prepare cookies to be served at the sixth-grade Spaghetti Supper held in Corey Dining Room on Tuesday, October 6. Shown (left to right) are: Chris O’Leary, Geetanjali Ruthen, Sandy Eisenbies (one of the current co-Chairs) and Donna MacMullan. (File photo by Jane Hamilton)

The secret is the sauce

While parents have done the cooking for decades because of health and safety regulations—leaving students to sell tickets and wait tables—this was not always the case. Nancy (Shohet) West recalls that in the past, the sixth grade students also worked in the kitchen, prepping and cooking for the event. “We did every job,” she says. “That’s not to say we did them without supervision or very well… [but] I remember being there all afternoon cooking and it was a lot of fun.” 

Food preparation begins the Monday before the event when members of the sauce committee begin cooking in the school kitchen with the help of Director of Food Services Sue Robichaud. Continuing their long-time support of the event, Pastene donates the tomato sauce, cheese, olive oil and pasta, including the gluten-free option. In 2015 then committee co-chair Amy Versaggi noted that the company provided 11 cases of sauce, 260 pounds of pasta, two gallons of olive oil and one and a half cases of grated cheese. As they did in 2015, Walden Local Meat Co. is donating local, pasture-raised 100% grass-fed beef. Clark Farm, Idylwilde Farm, Whole Foods, Lincoln Liquors, Wegmans, Concord Ice, George Howell Coffee and Piantedosi Baking Company also provide donations. Versaggi noted that while not much has changed with the event over the years, “the [local food] has been a nice addition.”

In addition to the sauce, the cookies are also baked on Monday with the help of Robichaud and a parent volunteer. Because the event is held on an early release day, parents are able to get back in the kitchen early Tuesday to continue cooking while the dining room is transformed, with Robichaud and a colleague available on site for help if needed. Student servers begin arriving for their shifts starting at 4:30 with doors opening at 5. 

A true community event

10bMQ SpagSupChrisLando2007

From 2007. Christopher Lando ate some and wore some. (File photo by Mike Quayle) 

“We think the spaghetti supper is a wonderful, traditional event which families and community members have enjoyed for years,” said Elementary Principal Dr. Dennet Sidell and Middle School Principal Carrie Wilson. “This annual fundraiser has become the major way for sixth-grade students to raise funds for many of their subsequent events throughout their middle school years. It is so impressive attending such a fun, delicious and family-oriented event which community members, parents and children look forward to each year.” 

Not only does the fundraiser allow residents of all ages an opportunity to enjoy a homemade meal while also supporting its students, but also the communal dining provides opportunities to meet new people. And, as West explained, for many of Carlisle’s youngest children, the event is one of their first opportunities to experience the school campus before it becomes their own. “I used to make a point with my kids that they would go to school there,” she said, remembering the days of carrying her children in. Last year? Her kids drove themselves to the dinner while she had a quiet night at home. And she still even managed to win a raffle item. 

Ticket pricing information

The Spaghetti Supper will be held on Tuesday, October 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Corey Dining Room at the Carlisle Public Schools. Adult dinners are $8 and child/senior dinners are $5. Gluten-free and to-go options are available. Golden raffle tickets are $20. Regular raffle tickets are $1 each or six tickets for $5. You need not be present to win. ∆