Column: ‘Frisky’ owner had help in Greenport, and will need help in Riverhead

You can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.

That’s the explanation, according to Dennis McDermott, founder and former owner of The Frisky Oyster in Greenport, for the rather surprising quote that appeared last month in this newspaper.

In a story written by News-Review editor Mike White about Dennis’ plan to open a new downtown Riverhead restaurant, to be called the Riverhead Project, he was quoted as saying, “Greenport looked a lot like Riverhead does now; there were a lot of empty storefronts. With the success of The Frisky Oyster, there’s been this whole gentrification of Greenport. But it wasn’t our intention to sort of turn a whole town around; it sort of just happened. That demographic — affluent, cosmopolitan — was always there. We just tapped into it.”

In a phone conversation this week, Dennis did not deny saying what Mike White quoted him as saying, but that earlier comment does not fully reflect his true feelings about Greenport’s renaissance, he said.

“In no way do I think I’m responsible for the gentrification of Greenport,” he said on Monday. “That’s just not me.”

He went on to credit former Greenport Mayor David Kapell’s “master plan” and the subsequent arrival, after TFO opened in 2002, of such high-end eateries as Fifth Season and Scrimshaw. “They saw that a restaurant could succeed in Greenport, and that’s all I did,” he said. “End of story.”

Well, not exactly the end. Even before 9/11 and TFO, there were some pioneers who precipitated Greenport’s resurgence. They include, but are not limited to, businesses like there-since-the-beginning Claudio’s, The Cheese Emporium and The Greenport Tea Company, all of which Greenporter/La Cuvée owner Deborah Rivera — who, not incidentally, came to town in July 2001 — credits with first attracting her to the village.

And Dave Kapell himself told me this week that he and his family might never have moved to Greenport if weren’t for Mayor Joe Townsend Jr. in the 1970s.

Which is to say — as most of us, including Dennis McDermott, seem to agree — that Greenport’s recovery began well before 2002.

As for downtown Riverhead’s long-awaited recovery — which Dennis hopes to participate in and facilitate with the opening of his new restaurant sometime this spring — I wish him well but, based on recent and not-so-recent history, he best be prepared for the long haul.

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