By Marisa Maier
For 21 years, Dan Murray has operated the Café on the Green, or Fairway Restaurant, at the Poxabogue Golf Course in Sagaponack. But after months of disputing impending changes to his lease, Murray shuttered the windows of the famous local eatery on Sunday, March 28, much to the chagrin of scores of local patrons.
Last Thursday, Ed Wankel, President of Long Island Golf Management, the company which oversees the golf course, was called into an executive session with the Southampton Town Board and representatives from East Hampton Town in a last ditch effort to broker a reconciliation between Wankel and Murray. The two towns jointly purchased Poxabogue Golf Course in 2003 and five years later signed a five-year management deal with Long Island Golf Management.
In a press release distributed earlier this year, Wankel contends his original contract with the towns 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.”
Beginning last year, Wankel planned to raise the rent from $6,500 to $7,500 a month or a tenth of collected revenue, to be tracked by a yet-to-be installed point of sale system which documents all transactions through the business. He asked that the restaurant correspond with the hours of golf from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., instead of the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule that has been in place. In addition, Wankel wanted the lessee to invest in structural improvements to the restaurant.
According to Murray, these new lease terms proved to be onerous. After airing his side of the controversy in local publications, the circulation of a petition signed by 500-plus people to keep Murray at Poxabogue and the intervention of the towns, Wankel remained firm and planned to hand over the lease to Mattituck-based caterer and restaurateur Michael Avella when the lease expired on March 31. Wankel believes Avella will be ready to unveil his new cafe, dubbed Love Lane Kitchen, at the beginning of May.
Of Thursday’s executive session, which was attended by Wankel, Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said, “Obviously we are bound by what was written into the prior contract. To the disappointment of both towns involved, the community and Dan weren’t able to resolve [this issue] and it looks like Mr. Wankel will go in another direction. The position of the towns was to keep the same concessionaire [Dan Murray].”
Nuzzi added the diner-style eatery is a well-known place for community to gather and nosh on inexpensive comfort foods.
Every Wednesday morning in the off-season, local surf caster Adam Flax met with his clutch of fishing buddies at Fairway.
“It was a nice, good local place where they could accommodate six guys and we could be pretty loud and no one would bother us,” noted Flax. “It kept [the fishing] group together. We would tell stories from the previous year. We talked about new lures and equipment.”
Having grown up in Tenafly, New Jersey, Flax is a home-grown fan of the diner and says eateries of this ilk are few and far between on the South Fork.
“We are searching to find a replacement place,” said Flax. “Old time places, where you can order something simple are a dying breed.”