Brent is on the right; his manager Iris Welcome on the left
Q: American Beech is such a great space, particularly your plaza with a beech tree & bar at its heart. So warm and welcoming—what a change to Stirling Square. Remind people what used to be here, and tell us how the current incarnation came to be.
A: When I went into contract on the property in June 2014 there were five commercial vacancies and one apartment vacant surrounding the Square. In the building we’ve made into American Beech there were raccoon traps in the attic and the building was essentially falling down—we had to do a massive renovation.
Renovating the restaurant space
There was no foundation around much of the building—we put in a new foundation, footers, beams, joists, electrical, plumbing & HVAC—it was a much larger project than I anticipated.
Really thorough renovations
We put it back together to make it look like we didn’t do anything, but it’s a completely renovated structure. As part of the renovation we added five beautifully appointed hotel rooms above the restaurant.
A hotel room
We opened the restaurant in August 2015 and the hotel in November 2015.
The indoor bar & some tables at the American Beech restaurant
Two things I did right in the construction of this place was making the fireplace an outdoor fireplace, and building the bar around the tree.
The outdoor fireplace
Q: Wow, what an overhaul. Is this just the latest project for you in a long line of real estate development or restaurant and hotel creation, or is this something new?
A: New. I’m originally from Iowa, and my background is farming and law. My family has the only certified organic farm in Clinton County, Iowa, and after the kids went to college my mom started making wine. Now my parents have one of the largest wineries in Iowa.
In high school and college I worked in restaurants, but after college I went to law school in Oregon, then went to NYC and joined a firm. After a few years, I founded my own firm, which has now been in business for 10 years. In purchasing the Square I was looking for a tangible investment - I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be.
We had interest from people who wanted to lease the main restaurant space but nobody was willing to make the necessary improvements to bring out its full potential. They just wanted to put a coat of paint on, which I didn’t feel was good enough.
Q: Why Greenport?
A: I enjoy sailing and have a sailboat. So it was important to me to have a place with access to water, and I love the access to farms and wineries that we have on the North Fork, to fresh, local seasonal food.
And the community is great; we love being a part of Greenport. It’s been important for us to stay open year-round, because so many of our customers are either local or come out as second homeowners throughout the year. We’re very interested in building community. We want the square to be multigenerational, open to activities throughout the day.
We’ve had a lot of fun with special events like pumpkin carving, our Halloween party and an annual Easter egg hunt.
Carved pumpkins from the pumpkin carving contest
The Easter Egg Hunt
I’ve been talking with Burton Books about hosting a weekly children’s story hour this summer, likely at 3:00 on Sundays in the front of the Square. We are also looking for ways to collaborate with artists and galleries to bring interesting art to the Square.
Q: You mentioned your commitment to the community—I notice you’re listing an event, Blast for Cast—what’s that about?
A: Well, it’s a fundraiser party on July 13 for Community Action Southold Town (CAST); we’re closing the restaurant for the ticket only event. Since it’s a July Thursday both my chef and manager questioned our judgment—but we think CAST does incredibly important work in the community, and are proud to be a part of it. The event is from 6-9 on July 13th and will feature musician Gene Casey – it should be really fun and the event benefits a great cause! Tickets are still available on the CAST website.
Similarly we hosted the after party to Land and Sea last year, which raises money for the East End Seaport Museum, and hope to do that again.
Q: I notice you’re renovating a space on the north side of the Square. What’s happening there?
A: My boyfriend Alex Vinash is a fashion designer and he serves as the creative director of American Beech. We are working on opening The Shop at American Beech within the Square. The space is going to be beautiful and will serve as both hotel reception and a shop featuring “Alex Vinash” clothing as well as American Beech merchandise. Alex dresses many celebrities and has an amazing eye for fashion.
Alex and someone gorgeous wearing his clothes
We are happy with how construction has been progressing and I look forward to bringing Alex’s fashion to Greenport this July!
We’re also expanding the hotel from the current 5 rooms to 11 hotel units, 13 bedrooms—two 2 bedroom suites, which are perfect for families and friends traveling together.
We’re hoping to complete these units in July. As part of this project we’ve had to put a fire sprinkler system throughout the entire Square, but I feel very good about it, especially after Sag Harbor’s movie theater fire. These old wooden buildings didn’t have basic fire protections. And just like with American Beech, we’ve preserved the character of the buildings; they don’t look or feel as new as the structures really are.
We’re seeing an increased interest in corporate events, mid-week and shoulder season getaways. By being able to accommodate 26+ people the hotel will be able to attract groups looking to stay within the heart of Greenport.
Q: Since American Beech is a restaurant and food is so important out here, do you have a favorite menu item?
A: I love the Tuna a la Planca, but the whole menu is great—Kyle Romeo is our executive chef and he has been with us from essentially the start.
Kyle is incredibly hard working and he really gets farm-to-table. He grew up on the North Fork, his family has a farm here. He knows the farmers, he knows the baymen; he’s done an incredible job of reaching out and using local fresh products.
We’re now working with Widow’s Hole—I love having Widow’s Hole oysters available at the Tree Bar—actually I think people generally call it the Beech Bar, but I call it the Tree bar.
As important as the food is though, it takes more than a great chef to make a great restaurant. Iris Welcome is our general manager, and she’s done an amazing job of building and maintaining the team.
Alex Vinash prepares new uniforms each season and is constantly working to get the right look. For this season we have a palm leaf tropical theme, which is just fun. Alex has made the place beautiful, he really sets the mood. I love our team, they do an incredible job.
Q: You clearly enjoy this project and world. Any particular aspects of it strike you?
A: I’ve really enjoyed meeting people through this. I’ve really been impressed with the Village of Greenport government too. I appreciate how much the Trustees care about the community and are protective of it; I’ve also been impressed with the One Greenport initiative.
People may complain that it’s difficult to get things done here, but the difficulty is out of concern for the community.
While I enjoy being a lawyer, I love the sense of community here in Greenport and love getting to know our customers and community. If people haven’t stopped in yet, I hope they will. The restaurant is open year-round and will be serving dinner Wednesdays through Monday from July 4th through Labor Day as well as brunch on weekends.