Saunders, Real Estate, Hamptons

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May 6, 2009 12:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Economy, roadwork convinces Lobster Inn owner to reopen for yet another summer

May 6, 2009 12:00 PM

The venerable Lobster Inn on County Road 39 in Southampton will open for its 40th summer tonight, May 7, even though the owners of the restaurant thought they were done with the business forever.

In December, owner Skip Tollefsen, who opened the Lobster Inn at age 25, received final approval from the Southampton Town Planning Board to build 25 condominium units on the 10-acre property. He planned to do that because he expected a planned redesign of the highway outside to kill business by making it too complicated for motorists to reach the restaurant.

But the slumping real estate market shelved the highway work and also convinced Mr. Tollefsen, 65, that the time was not right to be shopping the property to developers.

With his own preferred plans—to sell the property to Southampton Town for use as a shellfish hatchery and marine science education center—also derailed by the economy, the gruff restaurant owner says he decided over the winter that reopening the waterfront seafood institution was his only choice.

“I said to myself, ‘Well, I got to keep my people going,’” he said on Tuesday. “We’re ready. We’re good at it, but it gets harder and harder. You can’t get fish anymore.”

Mr. Tollefsen said he hopes rolling back prices—to those that were on a five-year-old menu he found in his office—and adding value-conscious items to 
the Lobster Inn’s offerings will draw customers back despite the financial difficulties besetting the country.

He acknowledged that he thought the Lobster Inn was closed for good when he shut the doors last fall. Construction work at the Sunrise Highway-County Road 39 merge had hurt business at the restaurant along the highway in recent years, Mr. Tollefsen said. The redesign of the highway, intended to ease congestion for commuters, prevented many of his customers, who used to stop in on their way to the Hamptons, from continuing on their journey east after dinner without taking a circuitous detour made necessary when North Road Shinnecock was blocked off where it meets County Road 39.

The final straw was a proposal to block highway access to the Lobster Inn entirely. Ironically, it was the failing economy and mounting financial woes at the county government that have shelved that project indefinitely and allowed the Lobster Inn to reopen this year, Mr. Tollefsen said.

The residential development application he filed with the Planning Board nearly two years ago, before a moratorium on development on County Road 39 was implemented, called for 25 units, a 48-slip private marina, swimming pool and a marina clubhouse. Five of the units would be designated for affordable housing.

“A developer might want to do senior citizen housing, which would allow more units,” Mr. Tollefsen said. “But with the economy, I didn’t think that 
would work. It’s not the time to go putting things up for sale.”

Even before he applied for the condo project, Mr. Tollefsen and officials from the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Science Center had been in talks about turning his property over to the highly regarded science program, which specializes in the growth of scallops and other shellfish, an issue dear to Mr. Tollefsen’s family. The buildings and marina would be used for a variety of research and educational programs and give the Cornell scientists a valuable outpost on the South Fork.

But Mr. Tollefsen and Southampton Town, which made an effort to buy the property using Community Preservation Fund money, could not reach a price that worked for both parties. Mr. Tollefsen said that he would still prefer to go forward with the Cornell plans and said he is hopeful that perhaps a private donor, or donors, could be found that would put up the money for the purchase.

“I would still prefer that,” Mr. Tollefsen said. “They’re the ones that do it right. They work with the clams and the scallops and they teach the kids the right way around the water. That’s what’s important.”

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Lets do a summer fundraiser!
By deKooning (106), southampton on May 6, 09 1:24 PM
Well Roger we will be in soon for Splat. Its one of our favorite dishes at your place. Always had that Island feel. I think with som epush on your part you can compete and make a living. With the exception of Hampton Bays there really isnt another good seafood joint until East Hampton. Exploit your niche.
INS: There are no "going rates" for appraisers. Its just like construction, time and materials. Alot of appraisers charge to little as they think all appraisal fit on the government fannie ...more
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on May 9, 09 6:59 AM
I've had a soft place in my heart for the Lobster Inn that started in Aug. 1971 when I was a freshman @ Southampton College as a Marine Biology major.
With so many warm memories connected to this place I'm sad that Skip may
convert the place......but i guess it is a sign of these times....
By hb (2), Patchogue on Jul 5, 10 8:31 PM