A calculator and notepad sat on one of the four high-tops inside the bar at Truffles Bistro Monday morning, the only table that hadn’t been set up to accommodate diners.
It was quiet inside — with only Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” playing on the speaker — as the Wading River staple hadn’t yet opened for the day. The phone rang and Camille Naber got up from her seat and rounded the bar to answer it.
“Hi, John, yes I sold it,” she said into the receiver.
Ms. Naber was referring to her recent sale of Truffles after 34 years to Austin and Loann McDonnell of Wading River. That milestone places her among the longest-running female business owners in Riverhead Town.
“Truffles actually, back in the day, it was more of a pub style so I had disco lights,” she said. “I called [my customers] my children. And now they’re all married with children. So I went from disco lights to highchairs. It’s my family.”
Her career there began in 1980, when it was known as The Mushroom Cap. Ms. Naber had just re-entered the workforce after five years as a stay-at-home mom and worked as a waitress and bartender and eventually became the manager.
With her father’s encouragement, in May of 1984 she decided to purchase the restaurant, located in the King Kullen shopping center.
“My dad said to me ‘Camille, you work so hard for somebody else. Do it for yourself,’” she said.
“It’s not like we came from restaurant people, but I figured if I didn’t try I’d always go through life saying woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
Her dad also suggested she call it Camille’s, but Ms. Naber thought it sounded corny so she and her husband searched for another name. One day he looked up the word mushroom and got the word “truffles” as a result. The name stuck.
Ms. Naber said the McDonells don’t plan to change the name of the establishment or anything else about it.
“A big thing that we love is that people enjoy what was there already,” Ms. McDonell said. “We don’t want to make a big change. We want to keep it what it is. My husband is from Belfast, Ireland, and our big thing is Guinness so we’ll see Guiness on tap … That’s what we want to bring to the area, a little bit of Irish flair.”
Ms. McDonell, 36, said she and her husband, 40, had recently co-owned another business on the North Fork but are no longer involved. They were taking a break to figure out their next steps when they started talking with Ms. Naber, who is also their neighbor, about the future of the restaurant and her plans to retire.
The couple decided that owning the Wading River staple would be their next business venture.
“We’ve been in over the last few years, Austin has gone longer than I have, and one thing that we noticed is everybody knows everybody,” Ms. McDonell said. “Basically you walk in the door and you’re destined to know a handful of people sitting at the bar. And if you don’t know them, you get to know them.”
Regulars at the bar echoed Ms. McDonell’s sentiments Tuesday evening, pointing out that the buddies they were drinking with they had all met at Truffles.
“Everybody knows everybody else,” Jim Devereux said, adding that he visits Truffles twice a week. “Camille’s the best. The drinks are always here on time. It’s great here. I’m gonna miss Camille.”
Mr. Devereux said he’d witnessed at least three occasions when Ms. Naber drove home patrons who had too much to drink.
“She’s always got the best interest of her patrons on her mind all the time,” he added. “She’s always looking out for her customers.”
Ms. Naber, who works behind the bar once a week, said she can’t pick just one favorite memory of her years at the restaurant. Lucky for her the fond moments will continue as the Wading River resident plans to stop in and sit with customers instead of having conversations interrupted by work.
She said she’s looking forward to relaxing in retirement and spending more time with her husband, a retired butcher, and son.
“Truffles wouldn’t be here 34 years if it wasn’t for my family, friends, dedicated employees and customers. Everyone asks me what I’m going to do. Anything I want when I want,” she said with a chuckle.
Photo caption: After running Truffles Bistro for 34 years, Camille Naber is retiring and selling the Wading River restaurant. She said she’ll still be around at the restaurant, which was purchased by another Wading River couple, to visit with customers. (Nicole Smith photo)