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Jul 24, 2012 6:38 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Rumba Owners Are Trying To Walk A Fine Line

Jul 25, 2012 12:37 PM

The Caribbean-themed Rumba Rum Bar in Hampton Bays buzzes with activity most nights, with reggae music softly playing from speakers, and leaf-shaped fans—the kind diners would expect to find on an island destination—twirling above. On a busy weekend evening, empty tables are hard to come by, and an empty bar stool is even scarcer.

David Hersh said last week that he and his wife, Rachel, who own the waterfront restaurant off Canoe Place Road, had plans to move to the Caribbean—until learning that they were expecting their first child. They settled instead in East Moriches, where Ms. Hersh is from, and decided to bring the Caribbean to Long Island by opening Rumba in April 2010.

“If you went to an island, this is what it would feel like,” Mr. Hersh said, sitting on a wicker seat in a dining room inside his restaurant, which measures roughly 3,700 square feet, including decks and closed-in porches with seating. The main room behind him displayed a bar with shelves of aged rum, which he said he believed to be “the next spirit that is really going to come to life for our next generation.”

But Mr. Hersh added that Rumba draws in plenty of families as well. “I moved out here not to be a small restaurant owner in a large city, but to be an active and positive business for the community,” he said.

Rumba employs roughly 40 people, and offers a menu of Caribbean favorites, as well as an array of tropical drinks. Mr. Hersh, who rents the building from Bradley’s Fishing Station LLC, and has a 15-year lease, said he is in the kitchen cooking and washing dishes nearly every night.

Despite the success the restaurant has seen since opening two years ago, it has faced many roadblocks, not least of which is a recent move by the Southampton Town Board that authorizes the town attorney’s office to seek an injunction against the restaurant if it does not sharply reduce the number of patrons it serves at one time.

The restaurant can legally feature seating for only 16 people, plus five bar stools, under the occupancy limit set by the Suffolk County Health Department, though the fire code allows approximately 100 people to occupy the building if they are standing and there are no tables, according to Mr. Hersh. On an average Friday or Saturday, Mr. Hersh said he serves between 200 and 250 people during the lunch and dinner rushes.

He also said he submitted an application last year to the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to increase his occupancy limit, but that it is still pending. A Freedom of Information Act request seeking a copy of the application was not immediately honored by the town.

After complaints from neighbors and concerns from the town about increased traffic along Canoe Place Road, Mr. Hersh agreed to limit parking in front of the restaurant and instead began shuttling patrons on his “Rumbus”—a mini school bus that is painted green with tropical flowers—from a separate parking lot that he rents down the road. Last summer, the Town Board agreed to restrict parking on both sides of Canoe Place Road, near the restaurant, in response to concerns from neighbors about unsafe traffic conditions. Last year, Mr. Hersh said he stopped all outdoor live music shows, including hiring a reggae band with a steel drum, and limited his business hours to from noon to 10 p.m. seven days a week to address complaints about noise.

“Everything they ask, I do,” Mr. Hersh said, referring to his neighbors. “During the peak of the season, I’m closing at 10 p.m. That is by choice, to make the neighbors happy. It’s the right move for my neighborhood.”

Perhaps more consequential than those obstacles are concerns from local environmental organizations that Rumba’s overtaxed septic system cannot support such a volume of patrons and is, in turn, contributing to the pollution of neighboring Shinnecock Bay.

Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, said the restaurant is pumping out its septic system two to three times a week, and he has seen what he called sinkholes on the property, the result when soil becomes so oversaturated that it begins to break down and collapse. Recently, a section of the driveway collapsed due to problems with the septic system. The water table is high in that area, with the groundwater close to the surface, Mr. McAllister said, and if the septic system is sitting in that groundwater, there is a high likelihood that harmful pathogens are leaching into it and the nearby bay.

“My wish is not for Rumba to close but for them to make the necessary investment to upgrade the [septic] system to accommodate the number of patrons that this restaurant has every single day,” Mr. McAllister said last week, adding that pumping out the septic system each week does not solve the problem, because it is not a contained system. Waste needs at least 3 to 4 feet of dry soil to run through in order for pathogens to be die off before they reach the groundwater. He added that contained fiberglass septic tanks could be a solution, though any project of that sort could be costly for the business owner.

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This is all a prelude to the Town blasting through their Septic Tank agenda that will cost the average homeowners thousands of dollars. When it was boarded up and ugly (look at the CPI) that's ok. Amazing... Mr. Hersh would be smart to get out of this Town...
By The Real World (363), southampton on Jul 27, 12 8:28 AM
3 members liked this comment
The reporter missed the big issue here. Rumba has a permit for less than 20 seats but regularly has overflow crowds of 200. Neighbors are being driven crazy between all the cars and the noise and the town is doing nothing to help them.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Jul 27, 12 11:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
The article states he SERVES over 200 people on a busy weekend throughout the day. Not an overflow crowd of 200. What noise? There are no longer any bands playing there and the restaurant closes at 10. Will they be happier if a night club goes in there with loud music and dancing? After all they can have 100 people standing in there according to the fire code. Of course all the cars on Canoe Place Road are only going to Rumbas! Give me a break. This road is thoroughfare for many cars coming off ...more
By pcone (28), hampton bays on Jul 27, 12 12:26 PM
2 members liked this comment
The occupancy of the place is not 20 people. They are allowed to people up to their occupancy limit which they have been doing. To satisfy the town they moved their parking up the street and got a shuttle. When is enough enough? Why is the Town of Southampton against local businesses?
We have vacant storefronts and abandoned restaurants on Montauk Highway and yet we have our local government singling out and targeting a successful business that brings money into Hampton Bays. All the ...more
By Damon.Hagan (34), Hampton Bays on Jul 27, 12 12:11 PM
This was the same location - under a different owner - that had State Police dealing coke out of it back in the late 90's. I think the current use is better for the community.
By G (329), Southampton on Jul 27, 12 1:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
This place was a row boat rental place, and welding shop. How the hell did it get health dept approval for holding 200 people in a restaurant on the water?
By chief1 (2697), southampton on Jul 27, 12 2:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Because there was little money to be made in row boat rentals and welding. C'mon, was that a rhetorical question?
By dnice (2345), Hampton Bays on Jul 27, 12 3:20 PM
ETA: I love Rumba and hope that it stays open.
By dnice (2345), Hampton Bays on Jul 27, 12 3:29 PM
Sounds like a double standard going on, OK for Rumba, NOT ok for all the other clubs that get to be shut down "immediately" by Fire Marshalls for overcrowding, etc. Buying time is just a ploy to make more $$$$$$ while the pollution runs wild. It sounds like there's a connection between the Town and Gilmartin, wasn't he a former Town Attorney....hummmmmm.
By The Squirl (36), Red creek on Jul 27, 12 3:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
Perhaps the Supervisor is motivated by the campaign donation she received from Rumbas.

As for her public declarations of it being "selective enforcement", maybe the Town Attorney needs to put a muzzle on the Supervisor. One would think that the Supervisor of the Town of Southampton would be sending code enforcement officers out to all relevant establishments to ensure compliance with Town Zoning and health code requirements.

Then again the same Town Supervisor saw no moral or ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Jul 27, 12 9:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
A little institutional memory might go a long way in Town Hall right now. This property was the subject of a lengthy ZBA decision many years ago (probably mid to late 1990's). If I recall correctly, the seating limitations were imposed by the ZBA because of a lack of on-site parking which cannot be remedied by a shuttle bus. The health department limitations are a different matter and the fire marshall occupancy limits are irrelevant.
By Doug Penny (63), Lexington, Virginia on Jul 27, 12 5:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ever the believer in the rule of law, Mr. Penny. The Town misses you. As you can see only the faces have changed, the games remain ongoing.

The episode could be entitled "a restaurant too small to fail".
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Jul 27, 12 9:28 PM
Why should offsite parking combined with a shuttle NOT be a viable remedy...unless we are simply looking to punish a business? Quite a lot of business punishing has gone on in decades past by past town boards and supervisors. Maybe that's part of the reason we have so many empty commercial properties.
By VOS (1183), WHB on Jul 28, 12 11:57 PM
2 members liked this comment
Why is everyone beating up on David Hersh?
The violations go to the landlord who was well aware of the property limitations before renting to a young entrepreneur starting his first venture.
Every lease gives a landlord the ability to immediately terminate if there are violations of local codes. This operation exists under the tacit approval of the landlord, who no doubt provides for periodic rent "adjustments" to his 15 yr lease, and is laughing all the way to the bank.
David is caught ...more
By aging hipster (183), Southampton on Jul 28, 12 7:17 AM
I am very torn about this. There are other restaurants on the bay that operate over capacity, and don't follow every rule. Why is Rumba being singled out? On the other hand, David's "policies" of not hiring locals or women above his age, makes me upset. If you want to make money here, you should employ locals. Unfortunately, this happens a lot here. I feel he has done his best to appease his neighbors, and people should have more going on their lives than to try to control other people's businesses. ...more
By Spencer (3), Hampton Bays on Jul 28, 12 7:38 AM
Where do you get your information regarding locals not being hired by David Hersh? My daughter works there and is a Hampton Bays HS graduate as well as many of the employees there are. Also, there are Mercy graduates there too. He has been employing locals for a long time, so you information regarding his hiring practices are incorrect. David has bent over backwards to appease his "neighbors" but it is one "neighbor" in particular that is causing most of Mr. Hersh's problems. I agree with the ...more
By Terbear (77), Southampton on Aug 1, 12 1:03 PM
there are certain people (at least two) who are in high positions of responsibility (elected or otherwise) in this town who reside in close proximity to this establishment, who don't belong to the same political party of ATH, who do not like caribean food/music. 2 + 2 = ???
By CaptainSig (707), Dutch Harbor on Jul 28, 12 4:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
Oh Captain Sig, thank you for posting this! I also know the one "neighbor" in a politicial position that has been causing all of Rumba's problems. I have been trying to get the word out about it and I'm glad other people are finally posting about it also :)
By Terbear (77), Southampton on Aug 1, 12 1:05 PM
Seriously, for such a Republican area-- higher-ups should really drink their own Kool Aid and overlook a few things, in support of the small business owners, who ultimately do this area a huge solid and carry the economy--by bringing in customers, employing the locals, exposing and promoting the area as a valid vacation spot, and contributing to the area in more positive ways than any small negatives.....please--make it easier for people to run a successful business by not looking for small ways ...more
By irishlad (3), Southampton on Jul 28, 12 11:02 PM
2 members liked this comment
I have only been there twice, because I prefer most meals at home. He runs a nice operation and is an asset to the community. We need more David Hershs to invest time and money to shape Hampton Bays into its potential. The Town, Mr. Hersh and the landlord must find a way to resolve all of the issues at hand without cost to the environment and neighbors. All this can be done over the long winter. Right now the right thing to do is allow this man to concentrate on his coming August business so that ...more
By Summer Resident (232), Southampton N.Y. on Jul 29, 12 10:45 AM
1 member liked this comment
Don't fool yourself about the owners not knowing the zoning. If you drive behind Rumba there are literally 8 parking spots and no where for off site parking. The ZBA also gave the restaurant 20 or so seats in the restaurant so how would the owner ever think he can do what is going on there now? Although I think the town should work out something with the owner because he does run a good operation and does try to comply with regulations. I think the real problem in HB is the Boardy Barn there are ...more
By chief1 (2697), southampton on Jul 30, 12 8:20 AM
1 member liked this comment
you forgot to mention Neptunes
By Summer Resident (232), Southampton N.Y. on Jul 30, 12 10:55 PM
Careful Chief - the BB is the Sacred Cash Cow of the PBA & GOP. Any criticism will only be met with threats & comments about what a great community place it is. You see, the GOP likes the fights, the drunks and excessive vomit all over the old KK Center. They had an anniversary party recently that went out of control and everyone got pepper-sprayed! But hey, they never over-serve right? Just this week a blotter story had a DWI that admitted drinking over 8 beers at the BB. And Hampton Bays wonders ...more
By G (329), Southampton on Aug 1, 12 1:30 PM
Suffolk Designer Lighting, Tent Sale, Renovation Sample Sale