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Hamptons Life

Aug 31, 2018 2:36 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

After 95 Years, Silver's Restaurant May Be Changing Out Of Family Hands

Garret Wellins is the third-generation family owner of Silver's. JD ALLEN
Sep 7, 2018 11:08 AM

Garrett Wellins started working at the family business in Southampton Village in 1962, when he was 8 years old.

Silver’s on Main Street wasn’t always the lunch-only destination it is today. It was originally Silver’s Cigar Store, and it was run by his grandparents Max and Mollie Silver.

Now, as Mr. Wellins approaches 65, he has put Silver’s restaurant, and the 1905 two-story building housing it, on the market.

“I am going to be here until it changes hands,” Mr. Wellins said. “I will be open six days a week in September. I’ll cut back in October, November and as we approach the holidays. But I’ll be here—until I am not.

“I have stewarded the care of this place for many years, and I would like to think I have done a good job at maintaining it and giving it the love that it deserves, because it has given me so much and my family.”

When Silver’s opened in 1923, Max and Mollie Silver had just moved to town after operating a cigar store in New Jersey. The original location of the cigar shop was next door, where the Village Cheese Shop stands today.

Children would come into the shop to ask Max Silver for help with their mathematics homework—Mr. Silver moonlighted as an engineer at Agawam Aircraft, making components for the Grumman Navy fighter planes during World War II.

The Wellins family were tailors in Southampton, and soon enough their daughter Bess Silver and Daniel Wellins were married and made a family of their own.

As a child, Garrett Wellins did menial jobs, like sweeping the floor and taking out the trash. All around was the hustle and bustle of a stationery and cigar store—complete with all of the candy, newspapers, paperback novels and magazines, as well as all of the accoutrements of smoking.

He does not remember ever stealing sweets from behind the counter. “My father had a keen eye on me—and, frankly, I never had to take anything,” Mr. Wellins said.

What he remembers clear as day: Sitting on his grandfather’s lap as Max fed him cookies.

The first time Mr. Wellins was brought to the family store, he was 5 years old. The village, in many ways, had a different character to it than the crowd it attracts now, he recalled. Southampton Village was enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. Many of the restaurants in the area began catering to a dining-out experience, especially at the Post House and Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square. Boutique shops were on the rise, but Saks Fifth Avenue was still the shop of choice. Celebrities were seen walking up and down Main Street.

“A lot of interesting people—the summer colony was sure full of characters. The local people were very Runyonesque. My grandmother came from Russia, and at that time we had a lot of Polish gardeners come in to get their newspaper, and it would be fascinating for me to hear them converse in Russian and Polish,” he recalled. “The hustle and bustle of the business transaction, and the activity level of people coming in on a regular basis and seeing the same faces—it was just fascinating.

“I said to myself at that time, ‘I like this.’ Also, I got to see Gary Cooper buy a pack of cigarettes. That was kind of neat.”

Hard times forced the Wellinses to re-brand the cigar shop to generate business, including selling Pringle of Scotland sweaters, British woolens, military surplus fatigues, pea coats, Levi’s and, later, electronics.

Silver’s didn’t enter the restaurant business until 1966—and, as Mr. Wellins puts it, he “loved contributing to the family farm.” It soon moved into its current space, where Landon’s had been, in the 1970s.

He worked alongside his father, who taught him “all of the marvelous lessons of life, the value of work and to be well-studied.” After high school, he went to Southampton College to study medicine, but chemistry “just wasn’t his thing.”

And, truly, he didn’t want to leave Silver’s.

“A lot of the kids I went to school with would come in here for lunch,” Mr. Wellins said. “So, every day was like a party. It was a wonderful social event.”

Although Silver’s has kept its old-timey charm—with high ceilings and stained glass, skylights and transom windows—Mr. Wellins has aged. The days start feeling longer. Waking up early in the morning to get to the market to pick out fresh vegetables, fruit and meats, the seasoned chef enters the restaurant with his arms full.

Then he begins cleaning and preparing the produce, cooking and holding down the restaurant during the lunch-hour rush. Serving up European and American cuisine, including $60 lobster salad, to seating 48 inside and 32 outside doesn’t happen on its own.

“I am not a young man anymore. I am on the precipice of 65, and this is really a tough job. And I like it—I thrive in it. I have my oldest son, Ryan, working with me, and I couldn’t have stayed in it this long if it wasn’t for his help. My other son, Patrick, was a key figure here, too.”

He contacted Brown Harris Stevens to put the restaurant and the 3,884-square-foot building on the market, asking $5.8 million. The second floor houses office space for three tenants, though it’s unclear what will happen to that space in the transition.

Mr. Wellins said he expects to run Silver’s at least through the end of the year. It could be longer, but Silver’s will eventually be out of the family’s hands.

“I brought my son Ryan into this when he was 17 years old, because he was in high school, and high school kids do silly things,” Mr. Wellins said. “It was my way of keeping a tab on him and giving him a skill and a way to make money. I don’t think he really wants it, as he has expressed. There is a 95-year history over three generations not including my sons’ help. … It’s time to move on.”

At 31, Ryan Wellins said the thought of Silver’s selling is making him figure out what the next step is. “I feel like I might miss it,” he said. “It will be one of those things I look back on and remember how much it mattered.”

After the restaurant is sold, and with a heavy heart, Mr. Wellins and his son have been toying with the idea of branding some of Silver’s products and distributing them on the side.

“Ideally, I would like to spend more time with my wife, Anna Marie, without being on schedule or having to grind it out,” Mr. Wellins said. “I have had people come up to me distraught that we are leaving. It is very humbling and nice to know you’ll be missed, but I haven’t gone anywhere yet. I am not gone, until I am gone.”

He added, “The life of this—the life of anything—is a very big book. We haven’t got to the last chapter yet.”

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Silver's is super yummy, it's a treat to have lunch there, sure hope to get at least one more lunch in before it closes. Thank you to Mr. Wellins for decades of hard-work : )
By Aeshtron (130), Southampton on Aug 31, 18 3:57 PM
Yeah, the Silver $60 Lobster Roll. That's the ticket!
By even flow (757), East Hampton on Aug 31, 18 4:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
Lets purchase with CPF money !!!!!!!!!!
By pw herman (1098), southampton on Aug 31, 18 5:30 PM
Great story and a fine family business, but isn't the present location where Landon's used to be, with the Village Cheese Shop now in the location of the original Silver's?
By PBR (4877), Southampton on Aug 31, 18 8:21 PM
Someone will swoop in and pick it right up. I mean, where else can you get a $45 bowl of chicken soup and eat it on the sidewalk as dogs urinate against the building.
By even flow (757), East Hampton on Sep 1, 18 8:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
Gee, I can think of plenty of places where you spend a lot more for food that's half as good. As for the al fresco dining, the tables outside are coveted. I'm assuming from all of your negative comments that you must be contributing something fabulous to the community that none of us are aware of...Please enlighten us!
By Arnold Timer (302), Sag Harbor on Sep 10, 18 6:37 PM
Even flow, you disparage everything. There’s nothing wrong with eating outside on the sidewalk. Do you think Garrett maybe knows what he’s doing? He’s had a very successful career, and he’s a very nice guy. If nobody bought his $45 dollar soup, you think he’d still be in business? Great restaurant, great proprietor.
By Fred s (995), Southampton on Sep 1, 18 9:23 AM
I think you mean The Post House, not the Port House.
By nanworld (1), Southampton on Sep 6, 18 12:10 PM
Such fabulous history in the family and the business. So many of us worked there as young people. I learned knife skills and how to get around the kitchen so that everything was done and ready to eat at the same time. It is definitely time for a cook book, Borscht! Pierogies! Chicken soup! Seriously that chicken soup will cure what ails you.
ANd I remember his parents and grandparents as being intelligent and kind. Business like but good to me. Good luck.

By AL (67), southampton on Sep 6, 18 5:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
Garret! We grew up eating your BLT'S Delicious! Will you teach us your recipes and how to prepare your menu items???? Please?
By Alfredrenna (1), Southampton on Sep 9, 18 10:48 AM
BEST CRAB CAKES EVER!!
Garrett is a good man.

Will be missed.

By CEHJR (30), Southampton on Sep 10, 18 10:22 AM
The building is wildly overpriced. No different than the soup.
By even flow (757), East Hampton on Sep 16, 18 6:33 AM
He will get his price, no soup for you
By Fred s (995), Southampton on Sep 16, 18 7:29 AM
harbor hot tubs,