By Marissa Maier
For 21 years, Café on the Green at the Poxabogue Golf Course in Sagaponack has been a famously community-oriented eatery. The interior is a bit quirky with its well known pint-sized stools and counter top. The menu is modest but dominated by staple comfort foods, like pancakes drenched in maple syrup and cheesy omelettes with a side of home fries. And the clientele is anything but uniform. On a Monday afternoon, one patron is meeting with his team of accountants at a corner table and at a nearby table a solitary patron stirs a bowl of chili and reads a book. Despite the sluggish winter season, the café is full by 12:30 p.m.
Above: Manager Mike Grant oversees the lunch time service at Cafe on the Green in Sagaponack. Due to new lease terms, the Cafe might move to another location in the spring.
“Thank God we are very busy,” remarked owner Dan Murray. “We get all the local people, the New Yorkers and all the famous people. Everyone mingles and eats together.”
Following an ongoing dispute with the golf course’s management, president Ed Wankel of Long Island Golf Management (LIGM), Murray says he may soon be forced out of the Poxabogue space. In previous reports, Murray contends he cannot meet the new lease terms proposed by LIGM, which are scheduled to go into effect by April 1. The monthly rent is slated to increase from $6,500 to $7,500 or a tenth of collected revenues; and Murray was asked to invest in a renovation of the cafe and expand operations to dinner service.
Poxabogue Golf Course was jointly purchased by Southampton and East Hampton towns in 2003. By 2008, LIGM had a winning bid to take over management of the nine-hole course.
“This contract gave more leeway to the management and what he can ask of the lessee,” noted Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi. “In the end [the terms] have to be accepted by the town. The terms have to be reasonable.”
In a press release, Wankel contends the original bid called for “a new concession fee schedule … a requirement to put in a point of sale system and to make a minimum of $70,000 in capital improvements. Improvements that include the renovation of the rest rooms … as well as … to provide dinner service to the public.”
After Michael Avella, who owns the Mattituck-based Love Lane catering business and restaurant, alerted the Sagaponack Village Board last December that he intended to apply for a liquor license for the café space and expected to take over the location in April, the bad blood between Murray and Wankel reached a boiling point with the dispute being hashed out in local publications. Southampton Town has been taking the lead in attempting to work out an agreement. Nuzzi met with Wankel and Murray almost two weeks ago. Murray is refraining from making any further public comment until the town decides whether the new terms of the lease are unfair.
“The town has asked me not to go to the press,” noted Murray who said he might learn of a verdict by the end of this week. Nuzzi confirmed the Poxabogue concession lease will be the subject of discussion at an executive session today, Thursday, February 25, following the work session.
In the meantime, Avella is still preparing to expand his Love Lane empire to the South Fork come April 1.
“We want to duplicate what we do in Mattituck. Our price point is reasonable. We focus on local products from local farms,” said Avella, mentioning the wainscoting and old barn wood tables and counter tops that would be incorporated at the Sagaponack spot.
Murray, meanwhile is looking at alternative locations, though he declined to disclose which village or town he was considering for relocation until an agreement is finalized.