By Kathryn G. Menu
During the course of his 14 years as the proprietor of Sag Harbor’s Ice Cream Club, and later the adjoining Vincenzo’s Pizza, Dan Salsedo was often the one found behind the counter of either business. He spent his days serving up frosty cones of mint chip and steaming slices of grandma-style pizza, occasionally taking a break on the Main Street bench just outside the doors of his businesses.
For the East Hampton resident, doing business in Sag Harbor in 2012 is quite a different situation than when he first started in the village over a decade ago. The expense and concurrently the demands on a business owner to thrive in a village that is growing and changing at an almost exponential rate are the main reasons Salsedo happily cashed out last year. He has sold his lease at 7 Main Street to a new business owner ready to roll up her sleeves in Sag Harbor.
Salsedo came to the Ice Cream Club in 1998 through his younger brother, Reno, who for many years ran the now shuttered Whalers Cleaners and Tailors just one door down from the ice cream parlor.
“My brother basically walked next door and asked George Sterling if he was interested in selling the business,” Salsedo remembered.
A handshake later, and Salsedo became the new owner of the Ice Cream Club.
“It was great,” said Salsedo. “Prices were not crazy like they are today. The rent was reasonable, you were able to make money, business was seasonal, but still good year round. It was a good village to do business in.”
After his younger brother failed to find success in a hot dog business next door, followed by a failed crepe store in the same location, about six years ago Salsedo opened Vincenzo’s Pizza.
Sag Harbor village has traditionally been a close knit community protective of its longtime local businesses. Salsedo felt the wrath of opening a competing pizza place to longtime village staple, Coca D’oro.
“I got a lot of heat in the beginning from the locals,” he remembered. “But after awhile, I got my feet on the ground, and a lot of people came to like my pizza. It did take a while though.”
Salsedo’s first true obstacles lay mostly with the Village of Sag Harbor, he remembered, who would not allow him to have seating in the pizza place. The village was so strict, Salsedo said he was fined for having a few stools for patrons along the small counter in the pizza place, which was not much larger than a small bedroom.
“They should have stood behind small businesses like blind justice,” said Salsedo. “We are working very hard to pay exorbitant rents in what is a seasonal economy. It is a beautiful, unique area, and I am so grateful to our customers — I thank them still — but come the winter it could be very difficult. Over 14 years, I watched a lot of small businesses come and go in Sag Harbor.”
Salsedo said that as time went on it became clear that unless you owned the building your business was in, operating a small business in Sag Harbor was going to be an uphill battle.
The 7 Main Street building, which includes the neighboring cleaners space (now for rent), Provisions and the former Style Bar is owned by the limited liability corporation Sag Harbor Pooh LLC, managed by Manhattan Skyline Management. Sag Harbor Pooh LLC is registered to Manhattan real estate developer Donald Zucker, who has several real estate properties in Sag Harbor, as well as East Hampton.
“It’s the landlords that are creating a rent explosion in Sag Harbor, and you can’t really blame them, they want to make their money too, but it makes it hard to do business,” said Salsedo. His last lease with Sag Harbor Pooh LLC was for $8,000 a month to run both the ice cream club and Vincenzo’s Pizza.
“When you are selling things for $2.75 an item, it’s hard to make a living,” added Salsedo.
Rent increases, he said, were gradual, but over time became impossible.
“You have to give people credit who stick it out and sit in there seven days a week, because you are married to the place in this kind of situation,” said Salsedo. “I was watching my kids grow up so fast and I always was at the store. I couldn’t go anywhere.”
Salsedo is grateful he was able to sell the lease on the business, cash out and move on, possibly to another food business after he takes the summer off and focuses on his family.
“I feel extremely fortunate,” he said. “I needed to start enjoying my life and my kids are getting older. This person who bought the store loves the store, is nice and the landlord approves of her. I hear she is going to renovate the place.”
That person is Livia Hegner, originally from Switzerland, who with the help of private chef Marianne Farrell, will open a store named Pepalejefa this summer.
The child of a diplomat, Hegner has traveled the world and cooked on several continents, with her professional life focused on hotel management, hospitality, arts and culture and culinary pursuits. Still working on her menu with Farrell and the overall concept of what will be a gourmet food shop offering to-go items for lunch and dinner, Hegner said she hopes to bring a European flavor to Pepalejefa with a modern twist.
“I just love coming here and going to the farm stands and fish shops and butchers,” said Hegner who has visited the East End regularly for 25 years and recently has moved to the village.
She said she hopes to use local products in the shop’s cuisine and that she was drawn to the village for its small town feel.
“I think one of the reasons I like Sag Harbor better than, let’s say East Hampton, is it is much more charming,” she said in an interview last week. “I love the fact that you can have Tiffany’s and Ralph Lauren in East Hampton, but that it is not in the community I have my shop.”