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Eagle Realty Holdings

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Photo by Rita J. Egan

The members of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization board said protesters only know part of the story about their negotiations with the owner of a popular restaurant in Stony Brook Village Center.

After Pentimento Restaurant, owned by chef Dennis Young, announced on its Facebook page at the end of July that it would be closing Sept. 30 due to their lease not being renewed with Eagle Realty Holdings, customers and former employees began protesting the decision.

Eagle Realty, which this year paid $725,000 in real estate taxes, according to President Gloria Rocchio, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the not-for-profit WMHO. The realty company leases the commercial businesses in Stony Brook Village Center as well as a few offices and residential homes surrounding the shopping center.

In the last few weeks, protesters have rallied in front of the restaurant as well as Rocchio’s home. The supporters created a Save Pentimento Restaurant Facebook page and posted a petition on Change.org.

There were also campaigns to call and email all of the board members which include Richard Rugen, chairman of the board, and trustees Mary Van Tuyl and Charles Napoli. People have been calling the WMHO office, too.

Rocchio said a couple of times a box truck and car have been parked in front of her home with Save Pentimento signs, and at a Sept. 12 protest, a person was banging a pot.

Rugen said as president, Rocchio has taken “the black eye.”

The board feels the protests exacerbated the problem instead of letting the trustees work things out with Young and his lawyer. The trustees said they were working on the issue with the owner for eight months.

“That’s what’s so frustrating,” Rugen said. “The demonstrations and so on, especially in front of Gloria’s house, have actually exacerbated the problem to the point where it was no longer viable.”

Napoli said people don’t have all the facts and the board was just trying to get clarity, while the public has labeled them “demons.” The board members said they have had a good relationship with Young through the years, and he’s always paid his rent on time. Rocchio described Young as “a wonderful chef.”

Napoli said the protests were “counterproductive.”

“It was unnecessary,” he said. “It could have been resolved, just between us and Dennis.”

Van Tuyl, who has received numerous calls at home and her business, added that the protesters know who the board members are but the trustees don’t know who the people are calling and emailing them.

“That’s a scary situation for anyone to be in,” she said.

Rocchio said it was difficult for her and board members to comment on the lease situation to the press and residents as the terms of a lease and negotiations are normally kept between the lessor and lessee. She added that each lease is for a different length of time.

“These are landlord-tenant matters that are negotiated, and you really don’t discuss in public,” Rocchio said.

Young and the restaurant’s manager, Lisa Cusumano, said in previous interviews with TBR News Media that they were supposed to notify the landlord a year before the end of the lease term about the intention to renew. Young, who wants to retire in the near future, said he forgot due to trying to keep his business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. A few months ago, someone he knew wanted to buy the business, but he was told the lease could not be extended. If Young was able to sell the business, the restaurant would remain as Pentimento, and he and Cusumano would continue to work there as well as the current staff.

The board said they were open to extending Young’s lease but not for as long as he originally asked for. When they proposed a shorter length of time, their offer was rejected by him. The board members added that they interviewed the buyer Young suggested as well as others. They suggested a couple of them to Young. However, when the potential buyers contacted the restaurant owner, he didn’t provide them with the information they needed to make an offer.

There was one more caveat, Rocchio said, as obligations in a present lease have to be fulfilled before letting another person buy a business, and the septic system needs to be replaced. Cusumano said in a Sept. 16 The Village Times Herald article that Young has maintained the septic system properly and replaced it approximately 10 years ago.

Rocchio said the current septic system had been reviewed by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services when it was installed, and the architect who designed it used the standard specification for a restaurant with 125 seats. However, according to the board, the septic system that is a dedicated system for the kitchen, interior of the restaurant and outside patio has been overtaxed. It doesn’t handle or affect the bar area or the bar bathroom.

The owner had expanded the restaurant years ago by taking over a former clothing store. While he didn’t have enough funds to finish the project, the board said Eagle Realty Holdings put up the rest of the money. In the event that he sold the business, the realty company would be repaid.

“It was to our benefit for him to sell the business,” Rocchio said.

She said with the restaurant closing at the end of the month Eagle Realty will not be paid back the money, and it will be responsible for the new septic system.

In a Sept. 16 The Village Times Herald article, Cusumano said that the restaurant’s last day would be Sept. 30.

“We walk away after 27 years with nothing,” she said.

Napoli said they were doing everything they could to help Young.

“No one on the board wants to hurt Dennis,” Napoli said. “Everyone, all the trustees, want him to get something for the restaurant. For 27 years, he has served this community very well and the community has supported him, and we’ve encouraged it. We’ve worked together. It would be only fair that he did get something.”

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Pentimento in Stony Brook Village Center File photo by Rita J. Egan

A 27-year-old staple in Stony Brook Village Center will not be around once the autumn weather arrives.

On July 29, the owners of Pentimento Restaurant posted to their Facebook page that they are unable to extend the term of their lease. The business, which added a small market to its restaurant during the pandemic, is set to close its doors Sept. 30.

“We thank our loyal patrons and our wonderful staff for all the support they have given us over the past 27 years,” the Facebook post stated.

Owner Dennis Young and restaurant manager Lisa Cusumano said in a phone interview they were saddened by the decision made by Eagle Realty Holdings and said despite suggestions to relocate and even considering it at first in their Facebook post, overall, it doesn’t make sense.

“A lot of people have called us and said you could move here, or we could have this spot or that spot but Pentimento belongs in the village,” Cusumano said, adding that Young invested a good amount of money into the business nine years ago when he renovated the place.

Young echoed the sentiment.

“We thought about relocating and looked at some places, but I think Pentimento belongs where it is,” the owner said. “It’s not going to be Pentimento otherwise.”

Young said he was supposed to request an extension of the lease, which expires at the end of September, last year. He said while trying to keep the restaurant afloat during the pandemic, renewing slipped his mind. Both Young and Cusumano said they didn’t receive any reminder from the landlord to notify them about their intent to extend the lease.

“We weren’t thinking about [the lease] because we were just trying to survive, to stay safe and  out of the hospital and to help the community,” Cusumano said. “We didn’t even know there would be a restaurant. Restaurants were closing left and right.”

According to Gloria Rocchio, president of Eagle Realty Holdings, tenants “must notify the landlord in writing of their intention to exercise the option to extend the lease term 365 days before the expiration of the existing lease.”

While Young is thinking about retiring in the near future, he said friends were interested in buying the business and keeping Pentimento as it is. They also planned to keep Young and Cusumano employed with them. However, their offer was denied by the landlord, according to Young.

Rocchio said that nothing is final yet due to a holding process and all other interested candidates needing to be interviewed to find the best tenant.

“The whole thing of other people buying it would be to keep the legacy and to keep Pentimento for the community, because we love the community and we know that the community depends on us,” Cusumano said.

Rocchio said in a statement on behalf of the realty company’s board of trustees that in addition to not receiving notice about Young’s intention to renew the lease, the tenant failed “to comply with the requirement to maintain the septic system” which is described in the lease.

Young said he couldn’t comment much on the septic system.

“There is a problem,” he said. “We have had extremely high costs to maintain the cesspool system, and it’s been a problem that’s not been resolved.”

Cusumano said they have maintained the property properly the whole time they have occupied the building.

“Over two years ago the tenant advised the landlord of their intention to sell the business and retire,” Rocchio said in the statement. “Recently the tenant informed the landlord they had a potential buyer and wanted an extension of the lease. The tenant asked for a much longer lease extension than is indicated in the present option to renew. The septic system issue must be resolved before a lease extension can even be discussed. The existing tenant to our knowledge has no intention to stay. So, we told the existing tenant we would interview their buyer and other candidates. That’s what was done. This is the present status.”

In response to Pentimento’s announcement that the restaurant is closing, restaurant patrons took to social media to express their dismay and showed support for the business.

Young and Cusumano said they have been overwhelmed by the response. While critics have posted on the restaurant’s Facebook accounts criticism of the landlord, the owners have only used their social media postings to inform the community of the closing and encourage customers to use gift cards previously purchased.

“Dennis and I are completely overwhelmed by the community support,” Cusumano said. “We had no idea that that many people would reach out and try to save this restaurant. It’s just unbelievable.”