At the beginning of March, when alarms started going off about the spread of novel coronavirus, cautious New Yorkers who had homes in the Hamptons began migrating east, and by mid-month, they were driving out in droves. Restaurants not usually open until Memorial Day, or used to having slower days this time of year, started increasing their hours and welcoming early crowds. French bistro Almond spaced its tables out, while Mediterranean seafood restaurant Calissa ramped up from three days a week to seven.
But just days later, everything had changed: As of March 16th, in-house service throughout the state was no longer allowed, only takeout or delivery. Restaurateurs had to shift gears once again, and overnight, what seemed like a silver lining in a terrible situation became just one more challenge.
“I’m doing everything I can to keep business running and staff employed but I had to let go the whole front of house,” said Maurizio Marfoglia, who owns the popular Dopo La Spiagia in Sag Harbor and East Hampton and just purchased a third location in Southampton, which was under construction and has halted for now. “I am devastated. I cannot afford to keep those people and I am taking the orders myself.” Marfoglia is preparing takeout meals from his Sag Harbor kitchen, and has turned the East Hampton location into a pantry to feed his unemployed workers.
Many of the other top Hamptons restaurants — including Nick and Toni’s, Sen, Bell and Anchor, Highway Restaurant, and Babette’s — are offering curbside pick up, with additional safety measures. Some are also incentivizing diners with family meals and special deals.
The Palm is offering four pounds of lobster for $99, with king crab legs for free and 50 percent off of wine. Ed’s Lobster in Sag Harbor is packing up wine with lobster rolls and expanding its pizza options. And Calissa owner James Mallios is offering his usual Greek classics like lavraki, salads and octopus, but also adding lower-cost comfort options like moussaka and meatballs, with packages of composed meals. One option — with grilled chicken, salad, tzatziki, and other side dishes — costs $95 and feeds four to six.
“There are both working class and affluent customers, and we want to show that we are not here to gouge them,” he said. He has also placed a large sign announcing the takeout option to those who drive by. “It’s something we wouldn’t do normally, but these are strange times,” he admits.
It’s not just comfort food that people are craving but also healthy fare. “People are wanting to strengthen their immune systems, so we are doing good business,” reports Barbara Layton, owner of largely organic celebrity haunt Babette’s. “We are selling a lot of juice.”
There has been a demand for restaurant takeout since not everyone has the culinary ability to prepare enticing meals at home, and supermarkets shelves were pretty bare thanks to initial hoarding. Typically in the off-season, grocery stores do not stock as much due to the reduced population.
Though things have calmed down on the grocery front, it left a lot of tension between locals and New Yorkers who have arrived en masse. At the Southampton location of the Golden Pear, a cafe with locations throughout the area, somebody put up a sticker on a bench saying “Kill the Rich,” according to owner Keith Davis. “There are definitely more New Yorkers out here than usual and someone was trying to send a hateful message which serves no purpose,” said owner Keith Davis. “Our customers are health-conscious, and many are affluent, but we are also open all year round and committed to serving the locals.”
Through the crisis, he plans to stay open without the dining room, and has been selling lots of coffee and prepared foods. “At the end of this I hope people will be more appreciative and kinder,” he said.
Layton of Babette’s said that many of the New Yorkers who go to the restaurant have been loyal customers to the restaurants for years. “The locals need to understand that everyone deserves a safe place to come to and that these people allow us to have our businesses and live in this beautiful place,” she said.”We can’t live in a world of us and them.”
And while so many of the East End restaurants have transitioned to takeout, none of the restaurateurs want to get too comfortable. It’s been a fluid situation, and nobody knows for certain what the next mandate could bring.
“The one thing we learned in the last week and a half is that what you think makes sense today can make absolutely no sense tomorrow,” said Lemonides. “Nobody can really have a plan B.”