Maximizing the Montauk Sunshine

 
 

It’s another sun-soaked summer weekend in the Hamptons, and it’s clear I’m going to need another glass of rosé. My good fortune is that I’ve got a beachfront table at Navy Beach, Montauk’s fashionable watering hole of the in-crowd, where refills of the colorful, lovely wine are rarely a problem.

As I savor the remains of my salmon tartare, I watch servers gingerly march through the sand carrying seemingly endless bottles of wine and other drinks to guests perched atop crisp blue-and-white daybeds or banquettes, shaded by matching blue umbrellas. The wines hail from France and Long Island, and the bottles range in size from the typical 750 milliliters to magnums, double magnums, jeroboams, and methuselahs, which are typically six-liter bottles of wine that look large enough to sink one of the sailboats bobbing unsuspectingly in the blue waters of Fort Pond Bay ahead of me.

I’ve come to meet with two of the owners—my clients Martin Cabrera and Franklin Ferguson—to talk about food, wine, . . . and data. Waiting for them to finish up with smiling guests gives me a chance to do what I love to do here: watch the Technicolor sunset, an eruption of reds and pinks and oranges dancing among the waves and nuzzling the sand of the restaurant’s private beach.

When the sun’s just right, Navy Beach feels like the most beautiful spot in the world. When guests post photos of their adventures on Instagram or Facebook, every shot looks like something out of an ad campaign: gorgeous beach images artfully overexposed by a luminous sun shining over the bay.

The town of Montauk sits at the very tip of Long Island’s South Fork, about 120 miles from New York City. Getting here takes about three hours by car or train. When you finally disembark at the final stop of the LIRR’s Montauk line, you feel as if you’ve ridden to the end of the world. And, in a sense, you have. The train stops not far from Navy Beach; any farther and you’d hit the wooded tip of the island, home to a pair of state parks and a two-hundred-year-old lighthouse commissioned by George Washington. The parks themselves are studded with massive concrete bunkers erected to protect the island against Nazi invasion during World War II. At one time the US Navy tested torpedoes in the waters just offshore from where I sit today, which is how Franklin and Martin’s little slice of heaven got its name.

Despite its history as a working-class fishing village, Montauk and the rest of the Hamptons, the collection of tony towns at this end of the island, today serve as the  summer playground for New Yorkers. But come Labor Day, when the sun sinks below the horizon, the summer people flee and Montauk returns to its fishing roots once again. The winter surf pounds the shore and erases those summer memories for good. Suddenly you are reminded that you are at the mercy of nature, weather, and time. As beautiful as the view is, few out-of-towners care to see Montauk in January.

It’s a harsh environment, in more ways than one; to understand the setting is to understand why businesses here have always had difficulty surviving from year to year. A few years back, when Franklin, Martin, and their partners signed their lease, they committed to forking over rent for all twelve months of the year, even though the Montauk “season” reliably brings guests in for only three of those months. Montauk’s businesses are not alone in this predicament, of course. Visit any seasonal business in the United States, or anywhere in the world, and you’ll meet people who cater to the desires of the summer trade. Whether they hawk T-shirts and other souvenirs, frozen custard, fried fish or shrimp baskets, or kayak or boating excursions, nearly all of these entrepreneurs scrape by to survive. And yet Navy Beach has survived profitably for five years and is heading confidently into their sixth season as I write this.

How do Franklin and Martin do it? How do they manage to maximize every single hour of the short, fleeting summer season? How do they exploit nature, weather, and time?

They use math and data.

 

Reprinted from The Underground Culinary Tour: How the New Metrics of Today's Top Restaurants Are Transforming How America Eats Copyright © 2016 by Damian Mogavero. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.