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Hamptons Hibernation: Inside Sag Harbor's Bay Burger

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While we eagerly await this summer's new East End restaurants, we're reminded of our favorite Hamptons eateries that go into hiding during the off season. Specifically, what goes on behind the scenes when these seasonal businesses shutter for a long winter's nap. To find out, we chatted up Liza Tremblay, co-owner of our favorite burger joint on the East End: Bay Burger in Sag Harbor.

Curbed Hamptons: What's the hardest thing about running a seasonal business?
Liza Tremblay: The hardest thing by far is that we make all of our money in about 12 weeks and the rest of the year is trying to stretch that money so that we can stay open as long as possible for both our staff and our loyal local customers. Right now we are closed from November to Easter and we wish we didn't have to close for quite that long, but financially that's the way it works right now.

CH: How was business last season? Did you feel the effects of the bad economy?
LT: Summer 2009 was our best season yet and I think our price point had a lot to do with it. In 2005 families might have taken young children to very expensive restaurants on the East End but things have changed. We felt that we were embraced this past season by a younger crowd, and those tend to be the folks getting hit the hardest by this job market. Bay Burger will always be a place where you can grab a delicious, homemade meal for less than 15 bucks.

CH: What do you do during the offseason?
LT: Joe (husband and co-owner) and I always take a big trip in January or February after we've spent the holidays with family. Last winter we spent a month in New Orleans in this great little cottage in the French Quarter. This winter we spent a month traveling through Southeast Asia: Thailand, Singapore and Bali. All of our trips revolve heavily around food!

CH: When are you opening up for the new season? What's on tap for summer 2010?
LT: Bay Burger reopens for the season on April 1st, April Fool's Day. I think the biggest change this year will be more special events in the Spring and Fall. The past two years we've done our Crab Boil Dinners on Fridays in September, and that has been a big success. The Thursday Jazz Jam has also been a great development and will be returning opening night and continue every Thursday night. We want to experiment with more events like the Crab Boils, maybe a Suckling Pig Roast or Fried Chicken Dinner.

CH: Do you have a funny or nightmarish story from your experience starting up the business?
LT: We opened Memorial Day 2007 and we were open just for lunch service that entire week, and on the Friday following Memorial Day we were going to do our first dinner service. We survived the five days of lunches, but by the time Friday night rolled around we got completely slammed. By 7:30 we had run out of everything: ground beef, homemade buns, hot dogs, grilled cheeses, absolutely everything. I had to walk around the dining room handing out coupons. That was awful.

CH: Any plans to expand Bay Burger to other parts of the Hamptons?
LT: At some point in the future we'd like to open a free-standing ice cream shop selling Joe & Liza's Ice Cream, our homemade ice cream that we currently make at Bay Burger. Of course more Bay Burger locations or a Bay Burger Truck to serve at local beaches are a possibility as well.

CH: What are some of your favorite places out east?
LT: Joe and I always seem to end up at David Loewenberg's restaurants on date night, most often Fresno in East Hampton. We love the menu, the atmosphere, and the bartender knows how to make a real whiskey sour from scratch, no bottled sour mix. We also love World Pie and the Tavern at the 1770 House.

CH: Is there a good restaurant concept that's sorely missing here?
LT: There is no good Greek restaurant out here and that is something I think would do very well in the season. We were also very sad when Sen Spice closed, their Indian food was fantastic and they were the only Indian place in the Hamptons. I have my fingers crossed that someone will open an artisanal bakery too, there is a major lack of good, homemade bread on the East End.

CH: Words of advice for future East End entrepreneurs?
LT: Don't assume anything. Don't assume you'll be able to hire the staff that you need at the wage you can afford. Don't assume high school students will be banging down your door for summer work, it's not gonna happen - they can work at Ralph Lauren for double the money and less work. Owning a business in the Hamptons is not like owning one anywhere else in the country and learning the cycle of the season and off-season and adapting your business accordingly is what makes or breaks entrepreneurs out here.

Bay Burger, 1742 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, Sag Harbor, 631-899-3915

Bay Burger

1742 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Tpke, Sag Harbor, NY 11963 Visit Website