Two decades ago, Stephen Wirth was a 23-year-old bartender slinging drinks at Digger’s Fine Food and Spirits while looking for a career after a stint studying political science at SUNY Cortland.
Today, Wirth, 43, is the bossman at the Riverhead restaurant, which was recently renamed Digger’s Ales and Eats. He owns the downtown building and establishment and oversees a full-time staff of 22 bartenders, servers and kitchen workers. He also helped launch Crooked Ladder Brewing Co., which is located adjacent to Digger’s.
Wirth lives with his wife, Chérie, and their two daughters above the restaurant.
Q. How did you get here?
A. It was the first job I got when I came here to Riverhead after college. I went from a part-time weekend bar to eventually taking over. It was kind of the only job I’ve ever had.
Q. What’s the best part of owning a business?
A. Being your own boss is the best part. There are lot of parts that stink, but having to answer only to yourself is pretty great.
Also, Digger’s is a fabric of the community and we enjoy that part. We’ve been here a long time and it’s amazing how many kids were buskis who are now teachers. A good restaurant is a hub of where people come and go, so it’s nice to be part of that.
Q. What are the challenges?
A. The challenges are like anyplace else. The economy has an effect on everything we do — something like the national beef price can affect us. As far as negative perceptions of Riverhead, I think the town is doing a good job of fighting those detractions. I’ve been here 20 years and it’s come a long way.
Q. What does the future hold for you?
A. I see the future being much like it is now. We’ll still be rocking in the community; we’ll still be a place where people like to come to listen to a good band and watch a sports game. I don’t see that changing for us, so long as we continue to do our job right.
Digger’s is located at 58 West Main Street in Riverhead,
This interview was originally published in the 2015 edition of northforker Business.