When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Greenport Village, Ian Wile reacted just as he had to previous problems in the community: with a strong voice, innovation and optimism.
In March 2020, the Greenport resident and co-founder of Little Creek Oysters launched an initiative to keep the community together amid the ongoing lockdown. From hosting virtual happy hours to organizing a social media campaign to showcase the faces of Greenport, he strengthened bonds within the community and inspired others with the slogan “Hold Fast, Stay True.” The phrase, which was painted on the side of his restaurant by Alexa Suess, is used by sailors during intense storms and has served as a hopeful reminder to Greenport residents to remain resolute throughout the pandemic.
“The pandemic was one of those things that really showed me how much he truly cares about his community,” said Ms. Suess, owner of Greenport’s Common Ground Jewelry. “Ian spent so much time finding resources and connecting community members who could benefit from one another.”
“Whether it was sharing stories online or creating experiences to keep people safe yet engaged, Ian headed straight into the eye of the storm and navigated a course that many of us were able to follow,” added First and South owner Sarah Phillips Loth.
Wile witnessed the economic strain that the pandemic placed on Greenport and invented ways to safely revitalize local business. “Ian was first to reach out to lawmakers and officials to see what could be done to bring economic health back to the area,” said Travis Zurawski, a partner in Little Creek Oysters. In May 2020, Wile drafted an online petition to create car-free zones in the village on weekends and federal holidays to expand social distancing opportunities for pedestrians.
Today, Wile remains a strong voice on the North Fork, acting as a mentor and friend to local business owners, his staff and anyone who walks through Little Creek’s doors. For this dedication and commitment to the community, Ian Wile is Northforker’s 2022 Person of the Year.
Wile created Little Creek Oysters Farm & Market alongside his wife, Rosalie Rung, in 2014. He had previously come from the world of media — Wile was a film editor in Manhattan and lived in Greenport part-time for about 15 years before moving there permanently in 2013.
Around that time, Suffolk County had launched an aquaculture lease program, which would become Wile’s entry into the oyster industry.
“I had no great plan,” he admitted in a 2017 interview with Northforker. “I’d seen a public notice in The Suffolk Times announcing the lease program, so I applied and got one of the first rounds of 10-acre lease sites. It was a full jump into the deep end,” he explained. At first, Wile supplied Little Creek with fresh oysters from his own underwater farm, but as the business expanded, he began bringing in products from a variety of local oyster farmers.
Since its founding, Little Creek has served as a community hub. “If you ever spend ten minutes at Little Creek, there’s going to be ten people coming to talk to Ian from all walks of life,” Zurawski explained. “You’ll see tons of business owners coming in to vent, figure things out, gripe … and he’s always there to listen.”
For Greenport residents like Alice Falcone and David Benthal, Little Creek holds a special place in their heart. It’s where the couple had their first date and celebrated their engagement.
“You go there to feel at home,” Benthal said. “And to feel like you’re a part of something,” Falcone added.
From his career in media to his role in the oyster industry, Wile’s varied expertise makes him a valuable resource for business owners and young professionals like Falcone. “He’s got great advice. He is really willing to give insight into projects that you’re working on. Even just issues that you’re having — he’s a great sounding board for things like that,” she said.
When Joe Finora, co-owner of Hampton Oyster Company, first walked into Little Creek, he was met with warmth and helpful advice. New to the industry at the time, the oyster farmer says Wile welcomed his oysters into Little Creek’s menu, giving him one of his first sales.
“We’ve relied a lot on his experience, and he’s always been such a strong advocate for the industry,” Finora said. “Every time you go in there and see their new menu, it’s an elaborate story about where the product came from, who’s making it and filling in all those details to make such a great experience for their customers.”
Local businesses are the lifeblood of Little Creek. The oyster shack often collaborates with small businesses and incorporates local products throughout its menus, supporting local growers in expanding their brands. Little Creek also gives back to the industry by participating in the oyster restoration project. Since 2018, Little Creek has been working with the CCE Marine Program to recycle their half-shells, which are used as substrate for new wild oyster beds.
“There are not a lot of places that are able to make money while doing good for their neighborhood and their environments,” Finora explained. “I think they recognize that opportunity and have worked so hard to advance that effort.”
Wile has also used his business to support the future goals of his staff. “Ian really respects people working hard and if he can give back, he is the first one to do so,” said Zurawski. “We get a lot of young kids, mostly seasonal and just finishing out high school, and sometimes those kids are shy and don’t always take chances. It’s nice to help them grow into confident young adults.” In 2022, Little Creek launched an annual scholarship fund to assist aspiring employees with the expenses of higher education.
Angela Kollen, a freshman at Hartwick College in Oneonta, worked at Little Creek for two years and received the first $2,000 scholarship. “When I started working there, I was super shy,” Kollen said. “Ian has helped me a lot to get over that and I’m just really thankful for him and for Little Creek.”
One of the qualities that makes Wile a great boss, Kollen says, is his willingness to embrace change. “He’s always including our ideas,” she said.
“I think what’s great about him is that he’s ever-evolving,” Zurawski added. “There is always a new idea to come next.”
This past year marked the start of one of Wile’s latest entrepreneurial endeavors. Over the summer, he and Zurawski opened the Sun Shine Shack at Orient Beach State Park. In an interview with Northforker, they explained that the goal was not to create a pricey, high-end, inaccessible shop, but rather a snack bar that everyone who visits the park could enjoy.
Outside his business ventures, Wile has also participated in groups like the Long Island Farm Bureau, Southold Town economic development committee and the East End Seaport Museum and Maritime Foundation.
“To me, ‘person of the year’ means to be present in the lives of many for the benefit of all,” said Phillips Loth. “Ian strives for that every day.”