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Mock-up of the sign the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hopes its members will put up in their windows promoting inclusivity. Image from Barbara Ransome

Little more than a month after the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and Stony Brook University hosted a cultural humility panel for businesses, chamber members are looking to make good on a promise to promote the village as open to all.

Director of operations for the Port Jeff chamber, Barbara Ransome, announced it had produced placards for its member businesses to put in their windows reading, “All are welcome here.” 

The item came as a suggestion from experts from SBU who presented in front of chamber members Sept. 24, and said simply putting a sign on a business noting it was open to all goes a long way toward making visitors feel welcome. 

“We’re supporting being open and welcoming,” the chamber director said. 

25-Year-Old Looks to Continue Legacy of Family Farming on North Shore

Marianne and Justin Bakewicz on one of their tractors. Photo by Kyle Barr

In Justin Bakewicz’ eyes, the world is sepia toned. Autumn has reddened the leaves and browned the plants on his farm in Wading River. The cornstalks of the corn maze he built have gone dry and stark as gravestones, while the last few pumpkins of his you-pick patch squat among rows of now bare plants. All the farm’s last vegetables are being packed up for the remaining few farmers markets and festivals before winter truly sets in. The farm is closed until spring of next year, and he and his family have started to get ready for what could be a snowy, cold winter.

Justin scratches Boss Hog’s belly while their dog Remington sniffs about. Photo by Kyle Barr

To Bakewicz, his small 11-acre farm along Route 25A in Wading River is a vintage photograph of a barn and fields, a lingering ideal he has worked for three years to make a reality. 

He calls that ideal a legacy from his grandfather, Henry Kraszewski Sr. Justin, a Rocky Point resident, remembers working with his uncle on his grandfather’s farm in Southampton as a kid. 

He too found solace from the drudgery of a desk job working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Riverhead by working on his farm, where they farmed eggs and potatoes. 

“He hated that job to all hell, but when he came home at night his favorite thing to do was to take off the suit and put on his boots and jeans and farm his own potatoes out there,” the farm owner said. That farm lasted until his grandfather passed away and went out of the family’s hands.

While other kids in Danielle Donadoni’s sixth-grade English class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School wrote about wanting to be sports stars, young Justin wrote about how when he grew up, he wanted to be a farmer.

Donadoni said she often visits the Bakewicz farm, saying she loves what the young farmer has brought to the community and how he has even left an imprint on her own children with a love for gardening and raising chickens.

“I remember asking him specifically, ‘What do you like about being a farmer?’” the teacher said. “I remember him telling me an uncle had a farm and it was right about this time of year. I may have given him a ‘Get out of here’ comment and ‘No way you’re working on a farm every weekend.’ Sure enough, that next Monday morning Justin exited the school bus with a pumpkin almost the size of him.”

Getting to where the farm is now was difficult. Already running a landscaping business and selling flowers out of their landscape yard, the Bakewicz family learned about the small patch of land for rent off Route 25A owned by Joe Manzi, of Rocky Point-based Manzi Homes East. 

Justin pets his two rescue calves Woody and Buzz. Photo by Kyle Barr

Justin’s mother Marianne has worked with her son on both the landscaping business as well as the farm. She called the whole project a family affair, with brothers, nieces, sons-in-law and others.

To say the farm has been a passion project for the young farmer would be an understatement. Justin’s mother said very few farms now can operate because even fewer people have the energy to put the work into them. 

“He’s worked really, really hard on this,” she said. “There’s not many young people willing to get up at 5, 5:30 in the morning and work 12-14 hours a day seven days a week. That’s why there’s not a lot of farms left.”

The farm started with barely enough tools to get the job done, even on such a relatively small property. Much of the land was “six-foot-tall weeds,” and borrowing a tractor from a friend, he planted corn for a corn maze and pumpkins. He would drive out to Southampton after working all day to return that equipment. 

Using a New York State grant they got for young farmers, he bought a new tractor to use on the farm. Other equipment came from as far away as Pennsylvania second hand. The plow is a two-bottom, one-way, meaning when he’s digging troughs, he makes one row before going all the way around the field to plow the next. 

Other equipment now sits near the playground as part of what the family calls an educational component to the farm, explaining what it is and how it’s used. 

Compared to the miles and miles of farmland just down the road in Riverhead, Bakewicz Farms is relatively small. The frontage is dedicated to a playground of sorts, all hand-painted cutouts of mythical figures and characters from popular fiction. Some were painted by one of the farmhands, some by Marianne, and others by a friend of Justin’s from Rocky Point, Jen Chiodo. It’s a small wonderland, a mix of down-home sensibility with modern pop culture, like a straw chewing cowboy putting his feet up on the soap box to watch the latest Marvel movie. 

The farm’s frontage has been a playground not just for kids, but for the farmer himself. Bakewicz built his own barrel train and hay wagon. The family created a life-sized cow out of a milk jug and tank, and a small scaled silo out of an old propane tank. Instead of just a run of the mill corn maze, the Wading River farm makes it a scavenger hunt based around a movie, from “Pirates of the Caribbean” to “Harry Potter” to this year’s theme of “Toy Story.” When kids walk through the corn maze, they are looking to find trivia about that movie and make a rubbing to show it off when they come out.

Marianne Bakewicz and their dog Remington at Bakewicz Farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Even the oft-seen farm animals seem to have come out of a storybook version of a farm. Many of them are rescues, such as Woody and Buzz, two calves that were saved from New Jersey by Port Jefferson Station-based animal rescue Strong Island Rescue. When the Bakewicz got the two young animals, they were both sickly. The mother and son raised them in their own house, taking them for walks and feeding them from a bottle as long as a grown man’s arm. Less than a year later, Woody and Buzz are as big as a small tractor and act more like dogs than cattle.

The story is the same for the other animals at the farm, from the chickens originally raised by a local school, the one duck rescued from students at the University of Rhode Island, the goats to the pig they named Boss Hog. All act more like pets than farm animals, and more and more animals keep ending up behind Bakewicz’ fences.

“They all act like that because they were human-raised,” the mother said. “That’s why people love them, so they come right up to you.”

The farm has increased in popularity over the years, the mother and son said, mostly due to word of mouth and posts online. As they’ve grown, they have made a larger impact in the community, having put up the fall decorations for the Shoreham hamlet signs and having a big presence at the Town of Brookhaven Farmers Market at Town Hall in Farmingville. Their advertising can even be found in such innocuous places like the People’s United bank in Shoreham.

Despite the popularity, Justin has lingering fears of losing the small plot of land. In February, Brookhaven and the property owner announced talks with the developer Tradewind Energy about building solar batteries on the property. Those batteries would only take up a small amount of farm space that Bakewicz had not used, mostly from previous owners using the space to dump branches and trees the farm had used for composting. 

The bigger fear is if that development does not go through. The other idea for the property would be to build homes in that location, pushing the small farm out the door. 

Bakewicz has not heard anything about the issue since earlier this year, but no matter what, he does not plan to stop farming and hopes to continue it on the North Shore.

“It’s the community is what made my farm possible — it’s because of the love and support from them,” he said. “We started family traditions for people.”

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Steven and Wayne Rampone Jr. hold images of the Ford dealership when they opened the Route 347 location. Photo By Leah Chiappino

By Leah Chiappino

With a vintage Ford planted in the showroom, the Ramp Ford Dealership in Port Jefferson Station evokes a feeling of nostalgia right as you walk in. Founded in 1944 by Alfred Rampone, the dealership is celebrating 75 years in business. As the oldest family-owned Ford dealership in Suffolk County, it has seen four generations of Rampone family ownership. Currently, Steven and Wayne Rampone Jr., are partners along with their father, Wayne Rampone Sr.

Alfred Rampone during the original founding of the dealership. Photos by Leah Chiappino

“I guess you could say [the business] is in my blood,” Wayne Rampone Jr. said.

The story goes that Alfred worked as a sales representative for Chevrolet, who denied his request to open his own dealership. However, when he reached out to Ford they came through on his request. They offered him a spot in Quogue or Port Jefferson. He chose the latter to make it easier to commute from his New Hyde Park home.

Originally, the dealership was located in lower Port Jefferson village at what is now the Chase Bank building. It operated with a handful of vehicles with a single salesperson and mechanic. The Rampones expanded to their current location on Route 347 in the mid-1960s. Today, they employ 45 people, who call themselves the “Ramp family,” and sell both vehicles and parts, as well as service vehicles. 

Rampone Jr. says their business model has remained the same all this time. 

“We are a customer-focused and customer-centered dealership,” he said. “We take pride in me being able to say we are a family-owned business and we literally treat our customers like family. When they walk in the door, we know them by name. We take care of each other.” He added their bond with the community has been instrumental to their success.

As part of their business model, owners said the dealership attempts to give back to the community in place of traditional advertising. They sponsor Little League teams, contribute to church organizations, and are deeply involved with Hope House Ministries. 

 “We spend a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of energy in the community,” Rampone Jr. said. “We believe if we give back to the community, they will give back to us.”

Passerbys accept free flowers as part of the Society for American Florists Petal It Forward campaign from Flowers on Broadway. Photo by Kyle Barr

On a busy Wednesday morning, as people moved in between the parking lot and Planet Fitness along Route 25A in Rocky Point, two young women held fistfuls of flowers, arms outstretched. 

Carmen Pettus from Sunshine Barre Studio accepts flowers from Li Guo. Photo by Kyle Barr

As part of the trade association Society of American Florists’ Petal It Forward campaign, Rocky Point flower shop Flowers on Broadway looked to make people’s early day commutes a little more colorful. 

Taylor Wagner and Li Guo, who both work for Flowers on Broadway, handed out bouquets to those passing by. Some looked confused at them as they presented the flowers, others questioned if the pair wanted anything for the flower arrangements. They were free, they said, and would get two so they could pass one onto the next person they see.

One man offered a bouquet said, “I don’t do flowers,” while others, like Carmen Pettus, the owner of SunShine Barre Studio in Rocky Point, said the flowers “made my day.”

Wagner, a junior designer at the flower shop, said she’s often surprised how many people seem estranged by the thought of free flowers.

“We went to the Blue Grass concert last weekend, and we were handing out flowers, and most of the guys said, ‘No, I don’t want flowers,’ while a lot of the women said, ‘Oh yes, flowers,’ she said, laughing to herself. “It’s amazing, it’s just a bunch of daisies guys.”

Passerbys accept free flowers as part of the Society for American Florists Petal It Forward campaign from Flowers on Broadway. Photo by Kyle Barr

Over the course of the day, the duo stopped at three places, the RP Planet Fitness, outside the Pompei Pizza in Rocky Point and by Branchineli’s Pizzaria in Miller Place. By the end of the day, they had given out 300 bouquets to around 150 people.

Stephanie Navas, the owner of Flowers on Broadway, learned about the yearly event being put on by the flower society the past several years.

“We wanted to give back to the community that’s supported us all these years with a small act to brighten their day,” Navas said. “Through the positive effect of flowers, we hope to make someone’s day special, and provide a much-needed moment of calm amidst the hectic pace of life.”

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Gabriela Schwender and Deborah Scalione have created a mobile craft workshop, like a foot truck for hand made items. Photos from Schwender

“Why not bring the arts and crafts to customers?” thought Gabriela Schwender and Deborah Scalcione, who together run Long Island Crafty Ones, a mobile and traveling workshop based in Rocky Point. 

Now such an idea is a reality.

Children attempt crafts in LI Crafty One’s mobile workshop. Photo from Schwender

The duo, who both describe themselves as passionate about creativity and craftwork said the idea to create the mobile workshop came to fruition a year ago. They decided to join forces after Schwender posted a message on Facebook looking for someone to collaborate with on crafts. 

Initially the pair looked at retail frontage in the Rocky Point area but realized it wasn’t a good fit. 

“We looked at a number of storefronts, but the rent was too expensive, we just couldn’t afford it,” Scalcione said. “After that we were, like, ‘Why don’t we go to the people and travel around?’”

From there, the duo purchased an RV and decided to convert the inside into their workplace area. 

Schwender said they work closely with their clients to see what they are looking for. 

“We bring everything to them, and they are surprised when we tell them we can come to them,” she said. 

Scalcione said that they really try to customize customers experiences. She mentioned a recent birthday party they had worked at. 

“It was an older girl’s birthday, and before we asked what she likes, her mother said she really likes to drink coffee and we thought why not marble some coffee mugs,” Scalcione said. “It turned out to be great — they had a lot of fun.” 

Schwender said they started out slow due to people not necessarily knowing what they offered, but the feedback they have gotten from customers has been positive. 

Gabriela Schwender and Deborah Scalione have created a mobile craft workshop, like a foot truck for hand made items. Photos from Schwender

“They are amazed with what we bring and what we offer,” she said. “They can’t believe we have an RV and think it’s a great idea.” 

Scalcione mentioned their services cater to children and adults. 

Recently, the partners joined the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce and said the connections with other businesses have very been helpful. 

For the fall season, the pair will have a table every weekend at the Bakewicz Farms Fall Festival in Wading River, doing face paintings and customizing “Toy Story” figurines that fit in with the local festival’s theme. 

In addition, the duo said they offer workshops aimed at a multitude of skill sets and they plan on offering seasonal craft sessions for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

“We really want [everybody] to be excited about crafting and get them to make something on their own,” Schwender said. “We want to help build up your skills.”

Scalcione said she is glad they are getting more exposure and more people are finding what they do. The duo hopes to continue expanding and possibly buy a second RV or a bigger vehicle.

“I think it is a lost art — we really want people to work with their hands and seeing what they can create,” she said.

The Walmart in East Setauket was cited for fire extinguisher and storage violations. File photo

*Click this link to see which stores in Brookhaven were cited for safety and storage violations.

Brookhaven Town has issued 22 summonses and 21 violations for numerous alleged safety violations of big box stores.

Town fire marshals visited 39 big box stores Aug. 30 to ensure they were in compliance with fire codes. The 22 summonses were for various infractions including blocked aisles and exits, and one for propane stored inside. 

“Our number one priority is the shoppers and employees who expect to be safe and able to exit the store in the event of an emergency,” said Brookhaven Town Chief Fire Marshal Christopher Mehrman. “Ensuring aisle widths are maintained and exits are not blocked by merchandise are just some of the things we are looking at. The town has a zero-tolerance approach to these violations.” 

Amongst multiple egress summons in some big box stores like the Kohls and Modells in Rocky Point, the Best Buy in Setauket was cited for an egress violation and the Kohls in Setauket was cited for a propane storage violation. Lowes in Stony Brook was cited for a Storage Violation and had two egress summons and one propane summons. The Walmart in East Setauket was cited for one fire extinguisher and one storage violation. The BJ’s in Setauket was also cited for one propane violation.

The fire marshals also issued 21 violations that did not warrant a summons and were not egress related. Each summons issued is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $10,000 and/or up to six months in jail. 

“A blocked aisle or exit could mean the difference between life and death during a fire or other emergency,” town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. “We will not tolerate any violation of our fire codes.”

People who suspect that any store or business is in violation of Brookhaven’s fire codes can call 631-451-TOWN (8696). 

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Raymond LaGala (center with white hair), wife Stephany (blue shirt) and the rest of the family. Photo from Thomas LaGala

For Raymond LaGala, owner of Hairport in the Village of Port Jefferson, cutting people’s hair is a feel-good business. Great service and treating his clients right — that is what he said has been bringing people back for the last 45 years. 

“You have to love what you do,” he said. “I’m glad that I still enjoy it.”

Hairport hair salon in Port Jefferson. Photo from Google maps

LaGala said he had the idea of one day opening his own shop since he first became a hairdresser. He learned the craft working at shops in Merrick and Great Neck, and in 1973, he decided to try opening his own business. 

The longtime stylist and barber had visited Port Jeff before and thought it would be a good place for his salon. In June 1974, Hairport was born and has resided in the same spot on Main Street since. 

The Port Jeff business owner said his shop was one of the first unisex salons in the area at the time. 

“As we got busier, we kept expanding,” LaGala said. 

They then expanded into barbering and along the way his children became involved in the family business. 

One of his sons, Thomas LaGala, began barbering at the salon when he was 17 years old, and was followed by his brother Jason, who said he wanted to learn hairdressing so his father sent him to a school in the city. 

From there, the two sons and a nephew of Raymond, James, began barbering in the back of the salon and it proved to be successful. 

Jason said he remembers coming into the salon when he was a kid and he would watch his father cut clients’ hair. The young man thought it seemed like a fun place to work. 

“For me it was a cool time growing up, working for my dad,” Jason said. “He taught me to always take care of the customer.”

Throughout the years, two other children, David and Joann, joined the business. James and Jason, after working at Hairport for some time, decided to open their own business across the street after some encouragement from their father. The pair now run the Men’s Room Barbershop on Main Street in Port Jeff, with James as owner and Jason as partner. 

“Running a business is not always easy. It is an uphill battle,” Raymond said. “You have to be able to adjust — it is forever changing.”

The father of seven stressed the importance of not assuming customers will come back just because you are around. 

“You can’t take them for granted. If you treat them right they will be back,” he said. 

Over the years, the salon has built up a loyal client base who appreciate the service and honesty. Raymond mentioned it is all about the relationships you cultivate with your customers. 

Jason said he is proud that the family-run business is still striving. 

“It is cool to have a successful business grow with the area it’s been in,” he said. “It has become a staple of the village.”

Jason said it has been nice watching a family man, in his father, take care of his family. 

Raymond said the key to success is that you can’t rest on what you did in the past; you have to keep going forward 

“We are still here, making noise,” he said. 

This post has been amended June 19 to better reflect the ownership of Men’s Room Barbershop.

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Harbor Grill says it will change its dress code to allow religiously significant headwear.

Harbor Grill in Port Jefferson said it has a policy against headwear during Friday and Saturday nights. Photo by Kyle Barr

A young Stony Brook University graduate said he was barred from entering Port Jeff’s Harbor Grill the early morning of Sunday, May 12, because he wears a turban, a religiously significant headwear.

Gurvinder Grewal, 23, who graduated in 2018, said he went out the night of May 11 past midnight to hang out with friends. His companions were already in the Harbor Grill restaurant and bar, and he was having his ID checked when he was stopped and told by a manager he was not allowed in with “a head covering.” Harbor Grill has a weekend dress code for Friday and Saturday nights after 10 p.m. restricting all headwear, though the policy made no explicit exceptions for clothing of religious significance.

Grewal, a medical scribe at CityMD, said he tried to explain his situation as he is a Sikh, whose religion stems from Punjab in northern India. Male practitioners wear turbans as articles of faith, and are not meant to remove the headwear in public.

“Never had any experience like this in my life.”

— Gurvinder Grewal

Not trying to hold up the line of people trying to get in, he went to the back of the line and came up a second time, only to be rebuffed again, and was told it was due to the restaurant’s policy on headwear.

“[I] was shocked and embarrassed,” the graduate said. “Never had any experience like this in my life.”

A Facebook post from Harbor Grill said Grewal’s black-colored turban seemed at the time “would be more widely perceived as the slang term ‘[do-]rag’ or a ‘stocking cap’ and not a traditional turban.” It said the original rule was put in place because a rule that singled out specific groups would itself be “discriminatory.”

Tom Schafer, the owner of Harbor Grill, said he has chided the manager in question and has told him to use his better judgment in cases like this. He added he plans to speak to the rest of his staff and implement a new Friday and Saturday night dress-code policy of no headwear excluding religiously required headwear, for example yarmulkes and turbans. The new code will be posted near the front door.

“I don’t have an inkling of prejudice in any way,” Schafer said. “The code was not meant to be discriminating, it was solely for the safety of patrons and staff.”

Grewal said that he was glad to see them changing the dress code, but he found the comment about his turban looking like “a do-rag” to be problematic, especially since he described it several times as a turban to the manager.

Barbara Ransome, director of operations for Port Jeff Chamber of Commerce, said the policy at Harbor Grill was to better identify troublemakers in a crowd and, as a private property, the owner is allowed to make that decision. Just as in the case of drugs cenforce that will be sold online. At the same time, the barring of a person over religious garment would cross over into First Amendment territory.

“Their staff may need to be educated,” she said.

The SBU graduate said he told the manager he had been let inside the establishment last year, back when Harbor Grill was then named Schafer’s. He said he was told the policy on headgear was a new policy.

Several other students and graduates of SBU, who did not wish to be named in this article, all confirmed watching Grewal be denied entry.

“The code was not meant to be discriminating, it was solely for the safety of patrons and staff.”

— Tom Schafer

Bansri Shah, a digital media/pre-law student at SBU, posted a message to Facebook about the situation, saying she felt it was especially concerning considering the diversity of students from the nearby university.

“Honestly, I never expected this type of action taken from an establishment in Port Jeff considering the racial diversity in a college town right next door, Stony Brook, but I think it’s really messed up,” Shah said in her original Facebook post.

In a conversation over Facebook messenger, Shah said she arrived as several people were trying to talk to the bouncer about what happened, but they were ignored.

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said she had messaged both Shah and Grewal and had told the latter she was sorry about what had allegedly happened to him, and that “this does not reflect the tenor or tone of the policies of the Village of Port Jefferson.” She also suggested to him his first step would be to file a police report if he wished to commit to any penal or civil legal action.

“I didn’t want that incident to become a black eye on the village,” the mayor said. “Anybody of race, color, sexuality, we embrace and invite everyone here.”

The graduate said he plans to file a police report and pursue some sort of legal action.

“I was just really surprised that something like this happened to me at a college bar,” he said. “I always read online and on social media about Sikhs and other minorities facing similar situations, but never thought that I would face the situation in my life living on Long Island.”

This post has been amended to correct the origins of Sikhism.

Raga Indian Restaurant and Bar closed April 28 and will reopen this summer as an Old Fields Barbecue. Photo by David Luces

A familiar face is bringing some barbecue cooking to East Setauket.

After Raga Indian Restaurant and Bar on Old Town Road closed April 28, new owner David Tunney and his team got right to work creating plans to turn the building into an Old Fields Barbecue. 

Tunney, who grew up in Setauket and graduated from Ward Melville High School, said he had his eye on the location for the last few years, and he recently made a deal with Raga’s owner. Tunney is best known on the North Shore as the owner of the Old Fields restaurants in Port Jefferson and Greenlawn and Old Fields Barbecue in Huntington. He is also one of the founders of the Besito Restaurant Group along with his brother John and part-owner of Besito Mexican restaurants in Huntington and Roslyn. The former owner of Honu Kitchen and Cocktails in Huntington said he gained experience in the business running establishments such as Oheka Castle before venturing into owning a place of his own.

“I’ve been around the block, and I’m back in my hometown,” Tunney said.

While he now lives in Greenlawn, the 53-year-old said he has a lot of memories of growing up in the Three Village area where his love for the restaurant hospitality business began. His mother, Marilyn, worked in the TBR News Media offices for 25 years, and one of his first jobs was at the Arby’s that once was located where the Setauket Main Street firehouse is today. Tunney said his first job was with the former Dining Car 1890 that was located on Route 25A and Nicolls Road, where he started as a dishwasher.

He said he feels residents will welcome a new restaurant that is moderately priced. The barbecue place will serve dishes such as fried chicken, Mahi fish sandwiches, pulled pork and hamburgers cooked in cast iron as well as sides including cornbread and mac and cheese.

“It’s really for everybody,” he said. “You can bring your kids there. You can come with a date. You can come with business people.”

Tunney’s partner in the new restaurant is Rory Van Nostrand, who has worked with him since 2006 when the latter started as a busboy at Honu. The executive chef will be Israel Castro, who began working with the pair when Tunney bought the Greenlawn location in 2010. Castro became executive chef when Old Fields in Port Jefferson opened a few years ago.

Before opening up Old Fields Barbecue in Huntington, Tunney, Van Nostrand and Castro traveled down the East Coast to states such as Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and others to research restaurants that specialize in barbecue. Van Nostrand said during their travels, in addition to stopping at known places like Franklin Barbecue in Texas, they would ask people where their favorite barbecue places were, and Castro said they weren’t hesitant to stop at no-name places along the side of the road.

“We really ate our way through barbecue,” Castro said.

Van Nostrand said a lot of chefs were willing to share tips with them along the way.

“It’s really more of a technique food than an ingredient recipe food,” Van Nostrand said. “It’s very much an art.”

When it comes to the Old Fields Barbecue menu, Castro listed the brisket and pork among his favorites, while Van Nostrand said he loves the chorizo sausage and corned beef and also eats the smoked chicken, which is cooked with no oil or butter, regularly.

“It’s a small menu as far as a restaurant goes,” Castro said. “There’s a core group of food items that need to be excellent. So, we put all kinds of effort into making them the best we can.”

Tunney said he leaves the cooking to his chefs, even though he admits to making a great grilled cheese — something he made for the first time when he was five years old at a Setauket diner when the owner invited him into the kitchen. Most of all he enjoys the hospitality side of the business, something he credits to his brother John for teaching him.

“The part I really love about it is making people have a great experience and that they just love all the food, the service, the ambiance, how they are taken care of,” he said.

The restaurateur is hoping to open the new restaurant at the end of July or the beginning of August. 

“This is where I grew up, this is where my roots are, and it’s amazing to come back to it,” Tunney said.

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Site projections for Conifer Realty LLC apartment building. Photo provided by Port Jeff planning department

The eponymous Uptown Funk project in the upper portion of Port Jefferson village may soon be coming to a head.

Plans are under review at the Port Jefferson planning department for a new affordable apartment complex in the property known locally as Bada Bing for the now decrepit cafe that once occupied the site. 

“This is 100 percent attainable housing,” said Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant.

Site details include it as a four-story project with 60 one-bedroom apartments. The site will also include 4,500 square feet of retail located directly adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road train station. Project notes said the site will be located in the Comsewogue School District.

Photo provided by Port Jeff planning department

The $4 million property development is being led by Upper Port Jefferson Village LLC, owned by Parviz Farahzad of East Setauket-based Little Rock Construction, which was in charge of building the retail complex across from the train station in Stony Brook. The developer is partnered with Conifer Realty LLC, a real estate development firm with projects across New York State and south into Maryland. Recently Conifer was at the head of the Peconic Crossing development in Riverhead, a development of 45 apartments giving preference to artists.

“We think Conifer is such a well-known name — they’ve done so many projects on Long Island and New York State that they’re a real credible partner at the table,” Garant said.

This project also includes plans for an underground parking garage incorporating 60 spaces, and the developer will need to pay a Payment in Lieu of Parking fee for all the spaces that would be required for retail, according to Port Jeff planning department documents.

Alison LaPointe, the special village attorney for building and planning, said Conifer has already submitted a formal site plan application for the development, and the planning board awaits amended plans from the applicant before continuing the environmental review process and to schedule public hearings.

All future plans for uptown port now depend on when the developers starts to put shovels in the ground. Uptown Funk was meant to be completed in three stages: the first being the Texaco Avenue parking lot, the next being the Metropolitan Transportation Authority parking lot, and the last being the creation of Station Street running just north of that train station lot.

This year the MTA has finished construction of the new parking lot at the Port Jefferson train station as part of a growing effort to modernize the more than century-old terminal.

In an update to its website, the MTA said the parking lot has been repaved and was officially open for use as of Jan. 9. The new parking lot includes new repainted lines that Port Jefferson village officials said were widened from before. Garant had said those old lines were too narrow for some vehicles. The end product means there are less spaces than there were previously.

“This is 100 percent attainable housing.”

— Margot Garant

This work was all part of the ongoing Uptown Funk project aiming to revitalize the upper port area. In 2017 the village was awarded $250,000 in jumpstart money to start plans on the project, and the village also applied for a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a state entity, for $500,000. Texaco Avenue parking lot, at 85 spaces, was planned to cost $850,000 when it started in May 2018. The village needed to wait until construction was finished on the LIRR parking lot, phase two of the project, before working on Station Street. The village has to wait until Conifer demolishes the Bada Bing site before starting construction on that new road.

The site construction includes a 10-foot setback on the property for the village to come in and develop Station Street, which will pass by the LIRR parking lot on the north end and connect to Oakland Avenue. 

Conifer is currently seeking approval for attainable housing partnership funding from New York State, according to Garant. She added the process for getting uptown revitalized has been long, from getting the state grant funding to finding developers willing to craft new spaces acceptable to the vision village officials have for the uptown area.

“I really have good feelings about what’s going to start happening up there, but it’s like pushing a boulder up a hill,” the villagemayor said.