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Vine Street Café opened on Shelter Island in 2003. (Courtesy photo)

Vine Street Café on Shelter Island showcases the talents of its chef-owners, Lisa Murphy-Harwood and Terry Harwood. Before their busy season begins, we asked Terry to share some insight into how they give their menus a distinct flavor and style.

Vine Street Café chefs Lisa Murphy-Harwood and Terry Harwood. (Credit: Doug Young)

Q: Tell us about your different backgrounds, and what each of you brought to the Vine Street cuisine.

A: Lisa started in television communications. In her mid-20’s she decided to follow her passion and enrolled in culinary school. I was working at Union Square Café when she joined the team as the pastry assistant. I had worked as chef in many award-winning kitchens and later I became a corporate executive chef in charge of several hotel kitchens. Because I traveled a lot, Lisa joined me on that route which ultimately led us to Shelter Island. 

In addition to raising our two teenage sons, these days Lisa focuses on desserts, maintaining our finances, and catering. Additionally, she manages the logistical side of our sauce bottling company, called Bottlehouse Foods. My daily schedule has me working side-by-side with Chef Hector at Vine Street Café as I create and execute menus for all of our businesses, and manage much of the day-to-day. For us, it is a balance that works.

Q: What led you to open Vine Street here in 2003?

A: My job led me to Shelter Island to head the startup of Sunset Beach. It soon became our goal to settle and start a family here. We found a run-down building for sale and made an offer that was surprisingly accepted. It took every penny we had, an indescribable amount of work, untold battles and sacrifices, just the two of us without partners or really knowing anyone on Shelter Island. We just quietly opened our doors to a curious crowd on a rainy Thursday in April. We were deeply moved by the local support we received that night. It was the thing that has allowed us to live our dream. 

Q: Vine Street is known for fresh ingredients from East End surroundings. Has it been challenging to source these ingredients?

A: Our primary goal is to support local farmers. We also grow many of our own tomatoes, vegetables and herbs here. We receive 100% of our wild seafood through Montauk. We are most thrilled to be supporting local oyster farmers and clam harvesters.

Q: You’re not only the chefs, you’re the owners. What changes did you make in response to the pandemic?

A: Our first thoughts became our mantra: Stay open no matter what. Continue serving our community in some capacity. Once again, the people of Shelter Island gave us tremendous support, so we were able to stay open, with take-out and our market, until we were able to resume in-house dining.

Q: Can you describe the consistent level of service you encourage in your staff, especially with manager Chris Calloway?

A: We met Chris over two decades ago when he was just 19. Lisa and I were driving across the country and stopped into an Outback Steakhouse in Tennessee. He was our server and we just loved him. After getting to know him that night, we felt he needed a home, so we offered him a position and he started work a few weeks later. He excelled at every role — server, captain, bartender, becoming general manager about 10 years ago. He’s a natural when it comes to the needs of our clientele and he trains our staff to be their best person inside and outside because folks can tell the difference.

Q: What’s planned for the spring and summer?

A: For nine months of the year, we’re open five days, Thursdays to Mondays from 5 p.m. on, dinner only. Summertime is seven days, opening at 5 p.m. We’ll introduce a few new items such as orecchiette with duck meatballs and parmesan broth.

Q: Any other thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?   

A: Families and businesses on Shelter Island need available and affordable housing and we need to find a range of solutions to accomplish this.      

Vine Street Café is located at 41 South Ferry Road.