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May 18, 2018 2:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hamptons Branding: What's In A Name?

Franco Lee, owner and head chef at the Sagaponack Bar and Grill in New York City.       COURTESY FRANCO LEE
May 22, 2018 1:32 PM

A growing gourmet sandwich chain that will soon boast 10 locations has the attention of outside investors, and shares its name with the easternmost township on the South Fork.A bar and grill is located in the heart of one of the world’s largest and most famous cities, yet derives its name from Southampton Town’s newest and, arguably, most bucolic village, one that just so happens to be one of the “top 10 most expensive zip codes” in the country, according to Forbes magazine.

So what do the East Hampton Sandwich Company, which operates shops throughout northeast Texas, including Dallas and Fort Worth, and Manhattan’s Sagaponack Bar and Grill have in common, aside from being in the food industry?

Exactly the same thing as many East End businesses—regardless if they’re selling booze (Montauk Brewing Company), confections (Hampton Chocolate Company), dental care (East Hampton Dental Group), more booze (Sag Harbor Rum), coffee (Hampton Coffee Company), smokes (Hampton Cigar Company), pest control services (Hamptons Pest Management), or even more booze (Westhampton Beach Brewing Company).

They’re cashing in on the world-famous “Hamptons” name, a brand that, though it varies a bit depending on what’s being peddled, implies that potential customers deserve fresh, high-quality and stress-free experiences.

But individual motivations vary significantly from one business to the next, meaning that some are more interested in selling a generic and often inaccurate image of what the Hamptons is like, while others—namely, those who live or have spent significant time in the area—are simply trying to highlight the East End’s authentic virtues.

A Sandwich Empire

Though his representatives did not respond to multiple requests for interviews—a very “Hamptons thing” to do—Hunter Pond, the founder and CEO of the East Hampton Sandwich Company, shared in a 2014 interview with the Dallas Eater website that his name choice was designed to feed off (pun intended) the East End’s stellar culinary reputation.

When asked about the name, Mr. Pond, who had recently turned 30, stated: “Everyone thinks of East Hampton as an upscale area, and that’s one of the reasons I thought it was a good fit for our concept. Our prices are probably 10 to 15 percent higher than the Jersey Mike’s and Potbellys of the world, and I wanted to make sure people understood they were getting a premium product out of that as well.

“You can still come into East Hampton and get out of here for lunch under 10 bucks,” he continued in the 2014 interview. “The lobster roll is expensive, but where are you going to get a nine-dollar lobster roll? It’s funny, I see people comment on Yelp about the lobster roll being expensive, but ours is the cheapest lobster roll in Dallas.” (Fast-forward four years and, while still inexpensive by Hampton standards, Mr. Pond’s lobster rolls now cost $18.95 each, according to the company’s online menu.)

A year later, in an interview with the Dallas Observer, conducted shortly after he was named one of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” young entrepreneurs to watch, Mr. Pond admits that his connection to The Hamptons is slim at best. When questioned about his decision, Dallas’s “Sandwich King” said he visited the area “as a little kid, but the main reason I chose the name East Hampton Sandwich Company is because I wanted something that elevated the expectations for customers before they even walked in the door.”

He later added: “The Hamptons immediately came to mind as a place that was super bright, clean and fresh. When you think of the Hamptons, you think high quality. And that’s what our sandwiches are.”

His formula seems to be working, too. In August 2017, CIC Partners of Dallas, a middle-market private equity firm, announced that it was investing in the East Hampton Sandwich Company, noting that it had been “named one of America’s 21 best sandwich shops in 2017,” according to a company press release.

Wining And Dining

The motivation driving Franco Lee, owner and head chef at the Sagaponack Bar and Grill in New York City, is perhaps a bit more rooted in personal experience. In a recent interview, Mr. Lee explained that he first learned about Sagaponack, the village, when he and his then-girlfriend, Yuna, visited the Wölffer Estate Vineyard several years earlier.

Ironically, he had no hand in naming his popular restaurant—the prior owner whom he bought the business from three years ago had picked it. Mr. Lee said he jumped at the opportunity to take over the eatery, mostly because it would afford him the opportunity to show off the skills he learned in culinary school and, immediately after graduation, at Morimoto’s restaurant in Chelsea.

He also seized the opportunity to fill his seafood-centric menu with locally grown and harvested items. As noted on his restaurant’s website, his oysters are raised at the Fisher Island Oyster Farm, north and east of Sagaponack Village, and one of the more popular dishes is his Long Island duck served with a balsamic glaze.

“We try to source most of our products from New York and [the] Long Island region,” Mr. Lee said, noting that much of his produce comes from Satur Farms and Koppert Cress, both in Cutchogue. “We only carry locally brewed beer like Montauk Brewing Company, Fire Island, Blue Point, etc. And, of course, our biggest, Wölffer winery.”

He also said that his restaurant’s unique name is frequently the subject of impromptu conversations among his diners, while it has also drawn in some fairly famous customers as well. “It’s amazing, because I feel as some guests know it, and some have no idea,” he said of the Sagaponack name. “They even have a hard time pronouncing it!

“But we did have Jimmy Fallon come in randomly, and he said, ‘I have a house in Sagaponack.’”

While he does not live on the East End, Mr. Lee said both he and Yuna, whom he has since married, are frequent visitors, adding: “We love the short weekend getaways.”

Other entrepreneurs, notably those in the field of fashion and those pushing luxury brands, cannot help but focus their marketing on the region’s rugged, organic and natural feel, while oftentimes playing off its rapidly deteriorating “exclusiveness,” especially when it comes to the easternmost tip of the South Fork.

Beach Paradise Lost

Even though Montauk, or “The End,” is far from being “off the grid” these days—just ask anyone hanging out near the train station on any given Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday in the summer—that has not stopped the creative and artistic types from continuing to paint a false picturesque setting.

Or perhaps they are just pulling from romanticized memories that no longer accurately reflect reality.

In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, Adam Mar, who founded his self-named menswear label in 2014, shares that he would go surfing almost every morning in Long Beach before heading to work at a world-famous fashion firm in New York City.

Explaining that he would sometimes forget to bring a towel for his ocean escapades, Mr. Mar said his forgetfulness inspired the creation of “The Montauk Oxford,” a lightweight, 100-percent cotton terry cloth shirt with brass snaps that features side seam “stash pockets.” Available at www.adammarclothing.com in either ivory or “stone blue,” the shirts cost $160 each and, according to the article’s author, boast a design that could help Mr. Mar write his name “in the fashion history books.”

He also writes that Adam Mar’s style “parallels Montauk’s vibe,” and that the designer decided to open his first brick-and-mortar store in Montauk last year after “having spent 15 years surfing, camping, and summer days on the beach”—though it is not completely clear if that means Long Beach or Montauk proper.

While some are unknowingly romanticizing childhood or teenage memories, other marketers often reek of insincerity as they appear to be trying to trick those who have never themselves gone camping or shopping on the South Fork into thinking that they are really buying a piece of a beach paradise—one that, with each passing summer, is rapidly devolving into a beach paradise lost.

Why ruin that image, right?

Just think of the pure enjoyment that comes when one is allowed to spread out on their high-end Hampton Bay outdoor chaise lounge chair—of course you splurged for the “Woodbury Wicker” version that’s offered exclusively by The Home Depot and comes with a delightful “Chili Cushion,” and boasts a durable steel-and-aluminum frame, all for only $379 (not including tax and shipping)—while sporting a pair of crisp white “Sag Harbor Essential Capris” that you purchased with a few clicks of your mouse for the sinfully delicious price of $18.99 from JCPenney.

What’s In A Name?

That’s not to say that every business that happens to sport a familiar East End name is trying to fool potential customers by capitalizing on the “exclusiveness” and “uniqueness” of all things Hamptons.

Dave DesRochers, store manager of the Hampton Furniture and Mattress Gallery in The Dalles, Oregon, explained that his parents, Angie and the late Don DesRochers, purchased the business in 1967, and that it is actually named after its original owner, C.S. Hampton. According to the son, Mr. Hampton founded the furniture business in 1923 and, four decades later, his son Rusty Hampton sold the company—and the family name—to Don DesRochers.

“I can definitely see the advantage in today’s marketing world,” Dave DesRochers said, when asked what he thinks of those business owners who are trying to capitalize on The Hamptons name. “There’s probably a lot of that.”

But he also said that was never the intention of his family: “If you bought a Subway, you wouldn’t change the name, right?” He later added: “My father paid for the name.”

And then there are those companies that inadvertently suggest that they have an East End connection when it turns out that their name was essentially picked at random.

Though it is named after the Native American tribe whose members once inhabited swaths of forests on the southernmost tip of Long Island, Montauk Energy has absolutely no local connection—and it does not pretend that there is one. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the company has streamlined the mining of methane gas from landfills, filtering out natural gas that, in turn, can be used to generate electricity.

And the renewable energy business is booming.

“We’re one of the largest companies in the country that does this, but we’re still only about 100 people total,” said Dan Bonk, the director of engineering at Montauk Energy, explaining that they currently operate methane-conversion facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and California, as well as in other states.

An offshoot of the Duquesne Light Company in Pittsburgh, Montauk Energy was originally called Montauk Energy Capital when it was formed in the 1990s, when many electrical utilities were shedding their “generation assets” in an effort to take advantage of various tax incentives, Mr. Bonk explained. One of the company’s first actions was to buy GSF Energy, once part of Getty Synthetic Fuels and among the first in the trade to start mining methane from landfills to generate renewable energy.

So, why did the powers-that-be pick Montauk Energy for the name of their new venture?

“There was an executive for Duquesne Light at the time, and this executive was put in charge of Montauk Energy Capital. And he had an affinity for Northeast Indian names,” said Mr. Bonk, later adding that an old subsidiary of the company was called Amagansett, though he cannot recall its area of focus.

Though he does not recall the name of the executive who picked the company name, Mr. Bonk shared an interesting fact: “Montauk Energy was, frankly, plucked out of the sky.”

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