Business Baroness: How Lisa Harris Set Up a Small Empire in PJ

Business Baroness: How Lisa Harris Set Up a Small Empire in PJ

Lisa Harris inside her business Prohibition Kitchen in Port Jefferson. Photo by Lisa Harris

By Leah Chiappino

Port Jefferson resident Lisa Harris is on her way to becoming a household name in the village. 

Having first opened the popular “Instagrammable” donut shop, East Main and Main, in June 2017, she has since launched three more businesses in 2019, starting with the eclectic Prohibition Kitchen in April, followed by the pie shop Torte Jeff in October and the southern, family-style restaurant, Fork and Fiddle, in December.

Harris’ experience in the service industry goes back 20 years. She became the second owner of Caffe Portofino in Northport in 2007 and quickly grew “concerned” by the fact that her customers were ordering high-carb, unhealthy foods every day. Looking for a healthier option, she began to develop a breakfast cookie. Eventually, she signed a contract with a supplier and expanded the Morning Sunshine Breakfast Cookie to 200 stores before selling it to health snack company Lesserevil. Struggling to find consistent foot traffic, she eventually sold Caffe Portofino as well.

A Miller Place native, Harris moved to Port Jefferson three years ago with her husband, working part-time in food consulting. 

“She believes in her community and I’m so fortunate that she’s investing here.”

Margot Garant

“I thought I had reached my tenure in the food business,” she said. 

One day she began talking with a friend about the businesses missing in the village. They realized Port Jeff was missing a donut shop. Harris and her husband agreed they would open one if the space became available. Sure enough, the right spot appeared, and they sold out every day for the first week after opening East Main and Main.

With the business doing so well, a friend mentioned to the landlord of the building that houses Prohibition Kitchen that they were looking to expand. “I’m not sure where they got the idea but that was the rumor,” Harris said with a laugh. When the landlord approached her to sign a lease, Harris confirmed she was happy with the current location, but realized she could use donuts “to create something fun, creative and electric for the area.”

Described as “illegally good food,” the restaurant serves items such as the Dirty Mother Clucker, a chicken sandwich on a donut and a donut grilled cheese. They also offer other eccentric items such as PJ Wings and mashed potato egg rolls.

Months later, the space for Fork and Fiddle became available and Harris once again jumped on it.  

“I dislike the idea of seeing great space remain vacant too long,” she said. 

She traveled to Nashville with her business partner, Thomas Fazio, where they got the idea of a southern tasting experience. The larger space gives them room to have private parties, live music and seat more people than Prohibition. 

“We’re really trying to create a Sunday dinner, southern family-style atmosphere,” she said. 

They offer a 14-course tasting menu and Sunday brunch, as well as smaller tasting experience and a traditional menu with items like lobster and grits, pork loin and deep-fried apple pie.

Harris one again fell in love with a vacant space and opened the pop-up pie shop just in time for Thanksgiving. 

“Port Jefferson is trying to rebrand as a more progressive village in doing things like pop-up shops,” she said. “I thought a pie shop was a great idea, but I didn’t know if it would work year-round, but after the holidays I decided to continue the business year-round and expand to dinner pies for the winter.”Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant offered tremendous praise for Harris’ impact on the village. 

“She believes in her community and I’m so fortunate that she’s investing here,” she said “What sets her apart from the rest is the way she treats her staff with special respect and esteem. We are very proud to have Lisa Harris and all her esteemed businesses.”

Harris has become involved with the Business Improvement District (BID) and has coordinated the Mac & Cheese crawl as part of the upcoming Ice Festival. 

“Lisa Harris has been a great asset to the village of Port Jefferson, as well as the Business Improvement District,” James Luciano, the secretary for the BID said. “Her passion has revived abandoned locations in the village and the pride she puts into each business is exceptional.”

Harris admitted she is pondering opening even more locations and hopes to bring in more partners to help her expansion. 

 “I always say I’m not looking to expand, but deep down I know that’s not true,” she said. 

She attributes the success of her businesses to “a tremendous amount of goodwill from the community, that comes from a creative, high-quality product with professional service … The response from the community with one business enabled me to start a second, third and fourth business in the same town.”

She claims that while the rents in the village are important to negotiate properly with landlords, adding they are “not disproportionate to another village district such as Northport or Huntington.” 

“If you build a destination, the customer will come anywhere,” Harris said.

This article was amended Jan. 16 to correct Harris’ ownership of Portofino, who her cookie company was purchased by, and the name of her business partner.