The North Fork may be best known as Long Island’s Wine Country, a second-home haven where tourists flock every summer.
But some Suffolk County business owners have realized the North Fork has something more to offer than wineries and idyllic scenery: loyal customers. And those entrepreneurs are cashing in.
Last year saw several existing businesses open satellite North Fork locations, from popular food markets and restaurants to surf shops and animal hospitals. And several more are now in the works.
“The North Fork has always [been] a special place for us,” said Jerry Lombardi, owner of Lombardi’s Love Lane Market, which opened in Mattituck in September. Along with his siblings, he also owns Lombardi’s Market, Villa Lombardi’s catering hall and Mamma Lombardi’s, all in Holbrook, plus Lombardi’s On the Sound in Port Jefferson and Lombardi’s On the Bay in Patchogue. “It’s something we always talked about.”
Lombardi said the North Fork has always appealed to him and his family because it’s not as seasonal a location as the South Fork, which he thinks would practically shut down in the winter if they attempted to open there.
Then there’s the issue of clientele. Lombardi said he wanted to avoid the “Hamptons people,” thumbing his nose as he spoke.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Lombardi added. “The people out here? They’re terrific. They’re fantastic.”
It’s those people, the locals whose names he and his staff have already learned, that will be the base of their business.
“We’re about the local people,” he said. “We always take care of our neighbors … They’re going to help us. They’re the ones that are going to keep us alive.”
Lombardi admitted that his North Fork store’s central location between Riverhead and Greenport will help with the catering side of the family’s business. But he had his eye on a particular street in Mattituck for a while.
“We always liked the Love Lane area so when this came up as an opportunity we felt it was a good thing to us,” he said.
Lombardi’s opened a few blocks away from Goldberg’s Famous Bagels, another East End institution that recently added its first North Fork locations. The South Fork franchise launched stores in Mattituck and on East Main Street in Riverhead in the newly renovated Woolworth building.
Goldberg’s manager Chris Conlan said it’s easy to choose where he’d want to be.
“I like it better [here] than the South Fork,” he said while seated at a table in the Mattituck store. “People are so much nicer out here. They’re more laid back.” As he spoke, a customer walked into the eatery. Conlan shouted a quick hello and told him about the special order he had waiting.
The seasonal boom will likely help buoy Goldberg’s business, but Conlan said he’s not relying on tourists to make a living.
“If you can capture the locals, that’s the key,” the Calverton native said.
Farther west in Wading River, a popular Sound Beach Tex-Mex restaurant joined the shops along the Duck Ponds, down the street from where North Fork Bacon opened its first location in April. Mesquite, which debuted in October, is the second location for the popular eatery; owner Craig Scali said the location’s deal was too good to pass up.
“It was just the opportunity to get into that space,” he said. “You look for locations that are going to be profitable.”
It’s not just restaurants that have targeted the North Fork for new locations. Love Lane Toys, a spin-off from Mother Goose Toys in Sayville, opened in December at the site of the former Bookhampton.
Farther east, the surf shop franchise Flying Point opened up a new storefront in Greenport.
“Obviously, the North Fork is a very up-and-coming area,” said Flying Point Surf Shop co-owner Chris Rule. “It’s got a great atmosphere with all the vineyards and the agriculture … and it’s got good boating and fishing.”
Rule, a Hampton Bays resident, said customers have been happy to see water sports equipment for sale in Greenport. Paddleboards are a growing market, he added. Since the winter hit, the shop has shifted to selling winter apparel like boots, jackets, hats and gloves, winter sleds and ice skates.
“The reception from the local community has been really good,” he said. “We’ve been getting a ton of repeat customers back into the shop.”
2015 looks to continue the trend, with several restaurants poised to launch North Fork locations. The restaurant Greek Bites has opened in the same shopping center as Goldberg’s and Patchogue-based Perabell will open a second location this spring to fill in the space left vacant by Cody’s BBQ on East Main Street in Riverhead.
Co-owner John Peragine said he and his business partner, Scotti Campbell, see the same potential in Riverhead they once saw in Patchogue, which has undergone a recent renaissance.
Peragine said Riverhead is “right on the verge of exploding and getting huge. So when someone approached us about the location that was Cody’s we jumped all over it.”
The owners are waiting on a few building permits before continuing with their renovation, he said, adding that they’re hoping to open by May.
Peragine and Campbell plan to rework the storefront while also expanding the kitchen to add a wood-burning brick oven. Peragine said they hope to sell pizza late into the night to coincide with local events on the Peconic waterfront or at the nearby Suffolk Theater.
“Being able to just spend time on Main Street and see whats going on out there, we see that Riverhead is right there,” he said. “We’re excited.”