It’s been 24 years since Brian Kavanagh, executive chef at Claudio’s, took over the kitchen at the Greenport restaurant.
But last Sunday, Aug. 9, Kavanagh made his award-winning chowder there for the last time before retirement.
“We did some hugs,” Kavanagh said of his final day. “We had a gathering and I had to do a little speech, which I stink at, but it was nice. I’ve been getting hugs all week.”
Kavanagh began his career in 1965 working at the now-closed Greenport restaurant Porky’s over the summer while attending nearby Greenport High School. Initially considering a career as a Suffolk County police officer, he instead began working full time at Porky’s following graduation. After bouncing between a few restaurants, Kavanagh opened his own restaurant, Brian’s Song, in Greenport in 1975.
“It was the hometown place to go at the time,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody and the food of course was great. People today still talk about it.”
He later sold the business — Kavanagh said he had trouble keeping with the bookkeeping as well as the kitchen — and the property now houses a Hudson City Savings Bank branch.
After closing the restaurant in 1988, Kavanagh once again worked at a couple places until finally landing at Claudio’s in 1992. He had been a friend of the Claudio family for years prior to getting the job.
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“The rest is history,” he said. “It was a long road there. I had a lot of good times there. The work was hard but we were always working with good people, which makes it more enjoyable.”
Kavanagh, a self-described “pain in the butt,” said it’s his meticulous nature and desire to get everything right the first time that led him to win the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation’s chowder festival 11 times, the last time being June 2014, as well as becoming known to have the world’s best baked clams.
Now Kavanagh and his wife Nellie are leaving their home and friends behind to move to Florida, allowing them to be closer to family. While he has retired from the food business, Kavanagh said the couple is considering opening a small clothing or jewelry type shop in Florida down the road.
The future of the iconic Greenport restaurant remains unclear after the Claudio family put it on the market last winter. No buyer has yet been announced.
Although his restaurant career has come to a close, it’s clear Kavanagh has made his mark on the local dining staple.
“We’re gonna miss everything about Brian,” said Jan Claudio, co-owner of Claudio’s. “He’s the person I go to, the person I rely on. He makes Manhattan chowder like my grandma — we win the New England contest every time. He’s my go-to guy.”