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.