Michael Maroutsis of Conch Candles NoFo on Mattituck Beach at sunset
A striking feature of the North Fork is our dearth of chain stores and big corporate genericness. Filled with mom and pop shops and creative startups so small they retail through other shops and fairs, the North Fork is the place to find unique foods, art, clothes and items of all kinds. Though each entrepreneur here has her own story, they all share a love for the North Fork and most find a way to directly incorporate the bounty of the North Fork into their products.
Conch Candles NoFo, a new business by Laurel resident Michael Maroutsis is an example of the journey from North Fork childhood to North Fork-centered entrepreneur.
Q: How did you get to the North Fork?
A: My mother and father were both raised in Astoria, Queens, and their families had beach houses in Mattituck for generations--my great grandfather built the house I live in now. Even though my parents lived only a few blocks apart in the city, they met at the Mattituck Yacht Club.
Over the years the whole family would have parties on that beach, and our house would be filled with people. I was born in 1987, the oldest of three boys, and my earliest memories are of that beach and summers out east.
I caught my first snapper on that beach, and I was hooked. Pun intended.
Q: Did you become a fisherman then?
A: I spent summers working as a first mate on private charters, and I've been a fisherman my whole life.
Eventually I became a certified diver, and I've gone diving all over the world.
Q: Did you get connected to conchs through diving? And where do you get your conchs?
A: No--I started collecting conchs while snorkeling in the bay as a young kid. I would clean them, and sometimes my uncle would make conch fritters. We'd bleach the shells, and I decorated the house with them. Everywhere.
All the conchs I turn into the candles are local, 90% of them off that beach.
Q: When did you start turning the shells into candles?
A: After decorating family and friend houses with the shells for years, I wanted to do something different. One night I had a family dinner, and made shells into candles to decorate the table outside. Everyone loved them.
My neighbor next door saw them glowing (the shells glow when lit at night), and asked me to make some for him. That turned into his family and friends asking for orders, and it's spiraled from there.
Q: What kind of wax do you use? Do you scent the candles? Do you make styles beyond a straight wax-filled conch shell?
A: The wax is natural soy-based wax, and I add dye and scents. I give the colors North Fork names--tomato red, sunset pink, etc.
I'm also making bell jar candles with sand, tiny rocks and baby conchs and the like on the bottom, covered with clear jelly wax, so it looks just like the bay on a sunny day when the water is clear and calm.
I do fish bowl candles, dining room centerpieces, lamps and other custom work.
Q: Where can people find your candles?
A: Right now, through my Facebook page, my Instagram and at my table at Love Lane First Fridays, and soon my website. But stores have inquired about carrying them, and I expect to broaden my distribution quite a bit this summer.