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Restaurants

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Restaurants in Port Jeff Village are banding together to form a subcommittee of the chamber of commerce in an effort advance common goals. File photo

Restaurants in Port Jefferson Village will now be functioning under a new, joint mantra: strength in numbers.

An organization called PRO Port Jefferson Association has been formally assembled with the stated mission to “promote and protect the economic interests of the Port Jefferson food and beverage service industry.” The organization will function as a subcommittee of The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, which to this point had few restaurants on board as dues-paying members and lacked a partnership with many lower Port businesses that fall under the food service category. The arrangement could mean more joint community events, better prices as a result of consolidation of buying power and an overall better dining experience for patrons.

John Urbinati, the owner of The Fifth Season restaurant on East Broadway and a director of the newly formed restaurant association, said restaurant owners in the village have long discussed creating an entity to serve their interests and present a united front in the community. He likened the new arrangement to a union, where people with common goals can create an open line of communication to improve sales for restaurant owners, who Urbinati said have a unique set of challenges to deal with in building a successful business.

“Every group of businesses has their own issues,” he said during a phone interview. “In the infancy stages of this group that’s been forming, it really came out of frustration. One of the great things for the progression and evolution of this group — it started out with a lot of frustrated business owners and it’s molding into more of a productive group.”

As part of the arrangement, members of PRO Port Jefferson Association will be required to join the chamber of commerce and will have to pay the $250 in annual dues, according to chamber director of operations Barbara Ransome, but will not be charged an additional fee as  a member of the association. The group intends to hold restaurant crawls or other similar events in an effort to raise funds, which they will then use to advertise for members, make charitable contributions and reinvest in the community, according to Urbinati.

“The chamber is here to support them independently,” Ransome said in a phone interview. “I’m OK with this arrangement, in fact, I’m grateful for it. I’m happy that they are showing initiative and energizing amongst themselves.”

Ransome added she was glad the restaurant owners were not divorcing themselves completely from the chamber. With the formation of the association, long-standing businesses like Roger’s Frigate and The Steam Room are joining the chamber for the first time in their history. Ransome said the association has funneled a few restaurants toward the chamber, which weren’t members previously, though she expects more when it comes time for businesses to renew their membership in November for 2018. She said the chamber would make restaurant owners aware of their new option at that time. The agreement also requires any promotion done by the restaurant association to include the chamber of commerce logo, Ransome said. The association is also working on having its own, freestanding website.

Steve Sands, the owner of Pasta Pasta and another one of the new association’s directors, said he previously believed the chamber wasn’t doing enough to benefit Port Jeff restaurants, but through the process of forming PRO Port Jeff, he has had a change of heart. He said the idea came from a similar setup in Patchogue Village, which Sands said he wants Port Jeff to emulate.

“Over the last couple of years business in Port Jeff has definitely been down, at least I know mine has been,” Sands said.

He said he thinks parking is a major deterrent for business and, with the restaurants banding together and interacting, it will be easier to tackle those types of issues as a group going forward.

Urbinati said his goal and the goal of all restaurant owners in the village is to create a welcoming environment to attract more paying customers.

“It really gives us an opportunity to be a larger voice for the restaurant and service community,” he said.

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A rice bowl at Slurp Ramen. Photo by Lauren Fetter

By Lauren Fetter

Something good is cooking up in the neighborhood.

With summer in full swing, the owners of new local eateries are preparing for the season’s arrival, when bustling crowds and waves of tourists will make their way to downtown Port Jefferson for sights, sun and good eats.

No one knows this change of pace better than Smoke Shack Blues owner Jonathan Levine.

A former fine-dining chef in Manhattan and Las Vegas, Levine served as the head chef at Wave Seafood Kitchen in the nearby Danfords Hotel & Marina for five years before opening up his Main Street barbecue joint in April.

Though Levine had many opportunities throughout his career to open a restaurant of his own, it wasn’t until a stop in the Carolinas during a family trip to Disney World that he decided to try his hand at a different type of cooking skill: real smoking and wood-burning barbecue.

“When I came back, I started experimenting. It was just amazing,” Levine said. “Something that was old was new again, and it just made sense.”

Walking down Main Street, customers cannot miss the restaurant’s smokehouse aromas and the sound of blues music pouring out of an open window onto the street. An exposed brick interior, paired with deep reds, blues and homemade wood block tables branded with the Smoke Shack Blues logo bring a southern feel to the East Coast eatery.

Sauce selections in Smoke Shack Blues. Photo by Lauren Fetter
Sauce selections in Smoke Shack Blues. Photo by Lauren Fetter

Brisket. Ribs. Pulled pork. The restaurant’s traditional barbecue fare has customers flocking through its doors, reassuring Levine that that number will only increase over the next few months.

“We’re starting to see a lot of familiar faces, a lot of repeat customers,” Levine said. “At night during the week, that’s when we get the locals.”

In a community like Port Jefferson Village, it’s the locals that drive business year-round.

Amarilis Singh and her husband, Jiten, the owners of Local’s Cafe on East Main Street, opened their coffee shop in February to create a welcoming atmosphere for village residents and newcomers alike.

“We are locals and we love this town,” the wife said. “We wanted to have something that is from here, and at the same time it feels like you belong here.”

Despite their different backgrounds — Amarilis is from Puerto Rico and Jiten is from India — the couple’s love for coffee jump-started their business venture.

Using coffee beans from the Brooklyn location of Seattle-based Caffe Vita coffee company, the cafe serves specialty coffee drinks and small treats in a quaint shop on the street’s corner with East Broadway.

Customers quietly chat at wooden tables and chairs with steaming cups of coffee and hot chocolate in their hands. Fluorescent lights in the glass case next to the registers shine down on the dozens of macarons and miniature cupcakes made by local bakers sitting on the shelves.

All items on the menu are made in-house and made-to-order, with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available for no extra charge.

Though Amarilis Singh said she is looking forward to the summer season and the rush of customers, the fear of disappointing them remains in the back of her mind.

Cookies at Local's Cafe. Photo by Lauren Fetter
Cookies at Local’s Cafe. Photo by Lauren Fetter

“You want everybody to like your food, and you want everybody to have a good experience in your place,” Singh said. “You don’t want anybody to leave unhappy.”

Just a short walk from Local’s is Slurp Ramen. Located on Broadway, the Japanese restaurant focuses on serving “authentic Japanese ramen in a comfortable, friendly environment,” according to owner and village resident Francesca Nakagawa.

Opened in March, Nakagawa’s husband, Atsushi, who is originally from Osaka, Japan, previously worked in the kitchen at Toast Coffeehouse on East Main Street for three years before he and his wife decided to open their own restaurant.

The couple wanted to highlight and bring Japanese culture and cuisine to the village by hiring students from Japanese language classes at Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University to work there.

“Now it’s expanded out to kids who are really into Japan and like anime and manga, or who want to travel there,” Nakagawa said. “We have a great group of people who are excited about this restaurant.”

Workers welcome customers when they come through the doors of the ramen shop, eager to help first-timers walk through their menu of what Nakagawa calls Japanese comfort food and answer any questions.

Though the restaurant serves rice bowls filled with white rice, meat and sriracha, and salads topped with cold ramen noodles and mixed greens, the Slurp Classic, a ramen noodle bowl, is the most popular dish. Overflowing with bright green scallions, red ginger and different meats, the Classic is served in deep black bowls filled with steaming broth. Pair it with a honeydew cream soda imported from Japan, and a customer is ready to go.

“It’s so exciting to watch people try it and like it,” Nakagawa said. “We’re very excited for the summer.”

Smaller eateries could seat more, serve liquor

Smaller restaurants in Huntington may be able to expand their seating and serve a glass of wine with food. File photo

Huntington Town is looking for ways to allow smaller restaurants, like dine-in pizzerias and coffee shops, to offer more seating and obtain a liquor license in order to make them more competitive, officials said this week.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) sponsored legislation that attempts to help small businesses that serve food on-premises by placing them under a new classification. Currently, the town only classifies such establishments as either food shops or restaurants, but the former cannot have more than 15 seats and cannot serve alcohol, while the latter must have a floor plan of at least 2,500-square-feet. If passed, the resolution would create a new classification for bistros and allow one seat per 65-square-feet of total floor area, for a maximum of 38 seats in a 2,500-square-foot location.

If a business were to be approved as a bistro spot, it would have to meet specific parking requirements, could not have a drive-through, and could not dedicate more than 5 percent of its total gross floor area to prepackaged retail products, Edwards’ legislation said.

“Creating the bistro classification will help preserve the type of unique, local businesses that are present in our small strip malls as well as in our local villages and hamlets,” Edwards said in a statement. “This measure is important so that small businesses continue to have economic growth within the town of Huntington.”

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said that it’s important for town code to keep up with the times and the culture of what consumers now want in a restaurant.

“For example, today, many people like to have a glass of wine or a beer with a slice of pizza,” Petrone said in a statement. “This change will help small eateries that traditionally are owned by local businesspeople satisfy that demand and not lose customers to restaurants that already have capability.”

Residents and business owners of Huntington echoed this sentiment at a public hearing during a Huntington Town Board meeting Tuesday night.

Vito Defeo, owner of Viajo’s Pizza and Pasta on East Jericho Turnpike in Huntington, said that it’s an integral part of a restaurant to be able to offer a glass of wine or a beer with a meal.

“So it impacts our small businesses very greatly,” he said at the meeting. “Anything that can be done to move this forward, not just for myself, but for all the other small businesses in the town that are really restaurants but can’t be classified as such, I think is great. There are a lot of small operations that make amazing food that people would considered to be a restaurant, but unfortunately are not.”

Lisa Dvoskin, an attorney and lifelong resident of Huntington stressed the importance of maintaining smaller businesses in the area.

“I think we can all agree that the local businesses in Huntington are the lifeblood of this town,” Dvoskin said. “It is my hope we can have this new classification, in ‘bistro,’ to allow small businesses and restaurants to fairly compete and be successful.”

In addition to adding a bistro classification, Edwards said she also wants to simplify the bar classifications. Currently, a tavern or bar is under a sub classification of a restaurant, and with the new proposal, the distinction between a restaurant and a bar would be that a bar does not need to have kitchen facilities for food services at all times and is not required to have seating available for 90 percent of the lawful amount of patrons.

Edwards said after the meeting that based on the positive response from public comment, she expects the bistro law to be voted on at the next board meeting in January.

Restaurant is first in village to attempt rooftop dining

Skipper's wants to create outdoor rooftop dining. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Skipper’s Pub of Northport Village has set its sights on the sky with plans to create rooftop dining at its Main Street eatery — but the proposal saw a bit of grounding by village zoning officials and residents on Wednesday.

Representatives of the restaurant came before the Northport Village Zoning Board of Appeals at a public hearing with hopes of gaining area and parking variances to create a 109-seat seasonal rooftop dining area atop Skipper’s. The plan raised eyebrows and exclamations from ZBA chairman Andrew Cangemi, who questioned whether the ZBA even had jurisdiction over the proposal and brought to light parking issues with the plan.

This is the first time a restaurant has attempted to gain approvals for rooftop dining in Northport Village.

“What we’re doing is a little different than a couple of tables and chairs, Mr. Chairman,” Chris Modelewski, the attorney for the applicant said.

Skipper’s needs a variance from the code for about 37 parking spots, as they want to build a 2,750 square foot rooftop deck. The deck would add 33 additional seats to its eatery and plans to remove a number of sidewalk dining seats and tables.

A view of what a proposed outdoor rooftop dining space would look like at Skipper's Pub in Northport. Photo by Rohma Abbas
A view of what a proposed outdoor rooftop dining space would look like at Skipper’s Pub in Northport. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The plan also includes adding a bar and bar stools, a stairway and fencing to the roof.

Officials and residents at the hearing questioned where those spots would come from, in a village that is already strapped for parking spots during the busy summer months.

Another issue Cangemi raised was whether the ZBA should even be reviewing the application. Modelewksi said the rooftop dining complies with the village’s outdoor dining code, which allows restaurants to create sidewalk dining for a $50 annual permit fee. Those applications don’t require ZBA variances, Cangemi said, according to the code.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

Modelewski said he needed variances for parking and other issues, and that he wanted to secure them in case the law changed in the future. Cangemi replied that the applicant basically wanted the ZBA to assume a legislative role and “play village board.”

“Chris, I hear what you’re saying, but it seems like you’re asking this board for cover.”

The representatives delved into the details of the application. When pressed on parking figures — Cangemi asked where the applicant would create 37 additional spots — Modelewski said he reasoned many of the individuals who come out to eat at night are out-of-town visitors who arrive by boats and moor up to the neighboring marinas and village dock, therefore not requiring parking. Representatives also mentioned there are available spots open to the public at Woodbine Marina.

About 10 residents weighed in on the proposal at Wednesday night’s hearing. Those who critiqued the plan did so on the parking issues. One person who spoke in favor of the plan noted that the village is home to a number of large-scale events like the farmers’ market and the Great Cow Harbor 10K Race, and people manage to find parking at those events.

Former Northport Village Trustee Tom Kehoe also made an appearance and spoke on the application. The original author of the outdoor dining legislation, Kehoe said it was initially drafted years ago when vacancies and inactivity were a common sight in Northport. Officials then were looking for ways to stimulate activity in the downtown.

He said everyone has had a hand in “the Renaissance of Northport,” turning it into a destination.

“Sometimes you just have to be careful what you wish for.”

Cangemi said the public hearing would be held open until Sept. 16 for any additional comments to be entered into the record.

A restaurant is proposed for the old Suffolk County Water Authority building, above. The owner of Schafer's restaurant says the development will block the view from his building's deck, which can be seen in the background. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A proposal to build a restaurant at the old Suffolk County Water Authority building on West Broadway has one neighboring businessman crying foul, saying the establishment would block his customers’ view of the harbor.

At a Port Jefferson Planning Board meeting on April 16, representatives for property owner The Crest Group LLC and President Enrico Scarda shared plans for the roughly 1/4-acre lot on the north side of the street, right off of the harbor. According to Port Jefferson Station-based engineer Allen Bernhard, the restaurant would include a second-floor outdoor deck with a footprint almost the size of the building itself — just shy of 2,000 square feet. The deck would start on the side of the building and wrap around to the north side, facing the harbor.

At the public hearing, Bernhard said the existing building at the site, which would stay, would block most of the deck when viewed from the south “so it’s not interrupting views.”

Even with planning board approval, the restaurant would still need a permit for outdoor dining from the village board of trustees.

The deck was the main point of contention during the meeting. Attorney Zachary Beriloff, of Ronkonkoma-based Gruenberg Kelly Della, who is representing Schafer’s owner Tom Schafer, said the dining area would actually block the outdoor “observation deck” at Schafer’s restaurant, on the other side of West Broadway.

“It obstructs the view of the water from across the street,” Beriloff said.

But attorney Linda Margolin, of Islandia-based Bracken Margolin Besunder LLP, countered that the issue was a matter between private landowners, not something regulated by the law.

“The issue for this board is not whether the view from Mr. Schafer’s observation deck is important to him,” she said. “I’m sure it is. The question is whether the view from Mr. Schafer’s observation deck is a view of particular importance to the public. … That’s not a public view of significance.”

Beriloff also took issue with three variances the zoning board granted for the project, on the restaurant’s size, parking area and distance from other restaurants. He said Schafer was not properly notified of the proposal and asked the planning board to hold off on any decisions until the matter is resolved.

The board adjourned the hearing, which will resume on May 14.

Aside from the addition of the deck, the proposal does not call for many changes to the outward appearance of the site. Bernhard said the owner would keep much of the original architecture but add large windows on the north side of the building. He also said the owner would plant some trees where possible.

The proposed restaurant could be in limbo for a little while, however, because of a parking issue at the site.
The old water authority building sits at the edge of the Brookhaven Town marina parking lot, with some of the town parking spaces immediately to the north and west of the site and the lot’s entrance to the east. Brookhaven Town has plans to cede control to Port Jefferson Village of those roughly 30 nearby parking spaces in a deal the two municipalities arranged to make up for a deficit of spaces at a mixed-use project up the road, at the historic First National Bank of Port Jefferson. The town owns the bank building and the building next door on East Main Street that used to house the tax receiver’s office and is selling the property to a developer who will put in retail space and apartments. But as the details on that project are not finalized, the marina parking spaces at the harbor are not yet officially in the hands of the village.

There are no other parking spots near the water authority building, possibly linking the fate of the restaurant proposal with that of the parking space deal between the town and the village.