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Jan 20, 2010 11:40 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Poxabogue restaurant faces ouster

Jan 20, 2010 11:40 AM

Dan Murray has operated the Fairway Restaurant, his tiny coffee shop at the Poxabogue public golf course in Sagaponack, for 21 years. Even though the café has just 34 seats, including the famously squat stools around the barely knee-high breakfast counters, its broad popularity with local residents and weekend visitors alike has served Mr. Murray well.

He’s on time with the rent, renews his lease in a blink of an eye, and says his business is an ideal tenant for the town-owned driving range and nine-hole golf course.

But Mr. Murray says that Southampton Town’s contract with the company that manages the municipal driving range and golf course threatens to drive him out of business this spring if he does not agree to lease terms demanded by the management firm, Long Island Golf Management, that he says are unfair. A petition that sat on the Fairway Restaurant’s counter this fall carries the names of more than 500 people who very much want to see the café survive.

“It’s been very upsetting for us and for a lot of our customers,” Mr. Murray said this week. “They ask me what they can do, should they call the town. I tell them I am just hoping the town will solve this.”

Southampton Town Board members have been in talks in recent weeks with Mr. Murray and Ed Wankel, president of Long Island Golf Management, about the terms of the lease, in hopes of working out an agreement that will allow Mr. Murray’s popular business to remain.

“I’d like to see it resolved so that what we have there now, which seems to function very well, continues,” Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said last week. “When the contract was inked with Long Island Golf Management, the sentiment was there was an assumption that the management company and Dan would work together to continue the relationship that the town had with Dan. If there’s an issue, if there’s a point of particular concern, we’ll work with both sides. But I think we all hope that whatever differences there are can be resolved and we can continue that operation as it exists.”

Mr. Nuzzi noted, however, that if an agreement proves elusive, it will be a matter of legal interpretations of the contract with Mr. Wankel’s company.

Southampton Town and East Hampton Town pitched in to jointly purchase the Poxabogue property for $6 million in 2003 to save it from being razed for residential development. In 2005, the towns gave Mr. Murray a five-year lease on the restaurant. But to free Town Board members from having to deal with landlord issues, they also inked a long-term management agreement with Mr. Wankel in 2008 that included a provision allowing the management company to control the restaurant’s lease.

Mr. Murray said the lease proposal Mr. Wankel presented him with this summer includes a 16-percent rent increase—Mr. Murray pays $6,500 a month now—and demands that the café owner pay the golf company an additional 3.5 percent of its daily receipts as an operating fee. The contract, according to Mr. Murray, also requires that the restaurant—which is currently only open for breakfast and lunch, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.—be open for dinner six months of the year. Mr. Murray said Mr. Wankel also wants him to pay for a number of cosmetic improvements to the building.

“I didn’t have a problem with any of that, actually, but he was saying he was going to dictate what got done and who did it—the only thing we got to do was pay for it and take the risk,” Mr. Murray said. “I told the town it doesn’t matter who you put in there, they’re not going to be able to afford it with those kind of conditions.”

Mr. Wankel did not return phone calls this week seeking comment.

Mr. Murray admitted he has clashed with Mr. Wankel ever since the company took over the management of the course in 2003. He said the lease contract is so unfair he guesses it must have been intentionally designed to discourage him from signing so Mr. Wankel could bring in a new owner.

Mr. Nuzzi said Town Board members were surprised this fall when they found out that another restaurant owner, Michael Avella of Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck, had applied for a liquor license at the Poxabogue café. Alcohol has never been served at the property.

Mr. Murray said he believes Mr. Wankel, whose business is based in Cutchogue, already has a contract with Mr. Avella to operate the restaurant at Poxabogue and may have plans for an expansion of the golf course’s buildings.

Sagaponack Village Board members stated last month that were the business to seek alcohol sales at the property or a substantial expansion of the seating capacity, it would be a violation of the property’s zoning exemption and would require variances from the village.

Mr. Murray said that since the sentiment of many involved seems to be preferring things at the restaurant to stay the way they are, his hopes have been buoyed in recent weeks, and he’s more hopeful that the town will find a way to make sure his business remains the proprietor of the restaurant.

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By ride the truth wave (125), southampton on Jan 25, 10 11:55 AM
Signing on a profit-making management firm was a mistake. The two towns' parks and recreation departments could've run this modest facility easily. All they had to do was hire a manager. The site was acquired not just to save local golf, but to keep the place (on the EH-SH town line) mostly rural and open. Attempts to build an all-hours, alcohol-serving restaurant there should be strongly opposed.
By rss0246 (23), East Hampton on Jan 25, 10 12:19 PM
2 members liked this comment
Mr. Wankel definitely wants Mr. Murray to leave. Having liquor there should be opposed by the public and both towns. Mr. Wankel should be the one to go. In in for the profit it seems. That golf course should be left alone.
By housewife (79), east hampton on Jan 25, 10 1:21 PM
1 member liked this comment
Wankel .... that pretty much says it all .
By AndersEn (173), Southampton on Jan 25, 10 2:09 PM
Here is the perfect chance for the new town administration to step up and defend a long time business person. Ignore public outcry and get kicked out of office. The new mantra, just ask Democrats.
By Rayman (64), southampton on Jan 25, 10 2:09 PM
The scenario that Mr. Wankel has put into play is obvious. He is trying to force Mr. Murray out so that his man can run the restaurant. Rather than simply refusing to renew Murray's lease, which would look bad since he is such a good tenant, Mr. Wankel has made the new lease terms onerous. He is so confident of his success that he has even had his man apply for a liquor license for the restaurant that he does't yet run.

When Mr. Avella is in charge, Mr. Wankel will make all the changes ...more
By highhatsize (4187), East Quogue on Jan 25, 10 5:30 PM
3 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 25, 10 8:11 PM
over 500 people signed the petition to keep dan at the fiarway (poxabogue). does this mean nothing to our so called elected officials? there are 500 people who will not visit the fiarway again ( i hope). what is the matter with this town that it takes away a good, solid business from a local businessman and leaves the future to a so called management company who has NO interest in our community. FOR SHAME SOUTHAMPTON AND EAST HAMPTON TOWNS!!!
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 25, 10 8:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
Very simple..... void the contract with Mr. Wankel.
By Bel (86), southampton on Jan 25, 10 9:20 PM
simply amazing... our political hacks just give away these little gem places to the highest bidder.
By littleplains (305), olde england on Jan 25, 10 9:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Does anyone support Wankel's position?? Everone I have spoken to likes the current diner. It is family friendly, offers good food, is reasonably priced and you occasionally see a celebrity there. Why is Wankel allowed to pursue this course of action. His firm works for the taxpayers.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Jan 26, 10 1:00 PM
I can't believe our tax dollars are being used to pay this shady creep Wankel to "manage" town property. I wonder how much Mr. Avela paid Mr. Wankel for the rights to open a restaurant in Poxabogue? Dirty, dirty, dirty... As a taxpayer I demand an investigation into this potential abuse of authority.
By HEJIRANYC (32), Sag Harbor on Jan 26, 10 4:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
I frequent Love Lane Kitchen and is a wonderful restaurant. Mr. Avella is a reputable person and his good name is being smeared here. It's up to the two towns to decide on the appropriate new rent and improvements necessary. If Mr. Murray is unwilling to pay this new rent w/ improvements etc, then, they should look for a new tenant who can.
By great east (2), southampton on Feb 1, 10 1:20 PM
Maybe the town of Southampton should hire Long Island Golf Management to manage all of the townships affairs... Seems like they're having a hard time running things o they're own...
By Soundview (89), Hampton bays on Jan 26, 10 5:48 PM
i smell a rat
By asurest (117), easthampton on Jan 26, 10 6:20 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Jan 27, 10 2:40 PM
Come on, Anna, take the reins on this!

Mr. Murray's Fairway is an asset which should not be lost.

It's the only fair way!
By PBR (4954), Southampton on Jan 27, 10 6:49 PM
Why was my comment removed? The content was both appropriate and directly relevant to the subject of the article.

I would like an explanation.
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Jan 27, 10 7:32 PM
the article sounds as if Mr. Wankel is doing all the rent hike and asking for improvements etc., but in fact it's the two towns that are requiring this. let Mr. Murray stay if he can pay this new rent and improvements, and if he can't, let's get someone else.
By great east (2), southampton on Feb 1, 10 12:38 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By local golfer, Wainscott on Feb 21, 10 2:46 PM
the fairway restaurant has greatly impacted my life. i started working there when i was 13 years old. i met billions of people - some famous some local some nice some not. i continued to work there on weekends and vacations straight through high school and college and up until i began teaching. i still have my offer on the table with danny to fill in whenever necessary. he is like a second father to me, a great man, a local guy who you can find walking around on any busy sunday morning talking ...more
By khc (2), sag harbor on Feb 21, 10 7:09 PM
hi i would like to say I have worked for Dan Murray for 12 years i was there in the begining Dan and his wife janet has put there heart and soul in to building up his buisness.In the beginning things were very difficult.He built up the customer base from nothing .you have a good guy
By mags (1), limerick on Feb 27, 10 4:56 PM