Riverhead officials have spent much of the past few years waiting for big development companies from the city to revitalize downtown with huge projects that encompass most of Main Street and involve tearing down old structures to replace them with new, modern buildings.
But one of the projects that actually is revitalizing the downtown was built by a local resident who’s been here for years. It occupies a building that’s been here for 82 years and had sat largely vacant over much of the last decade. Now, the place started jumping.
The News-Review’s Business Person of the Year award goes to Dee Muma, who opened the Dark Horse Restaurant on the corner of Main Street and Peconic Avenue in 2010.
Ms. Muma purchased the three-story building in 2009 and renovated it, creating five live-work duplexes on the upper floors and the restaurant on the ground floor. Ms. Muma and her husband, Ed Tuccio, also own the adjacent Tweed’s Restaurant, and Ms. Muma has run her Dark Horse Catering business out of Tweed’s for many years. The couple also raises bison on their farm on Roanoke Avenue.
So far, the Dark Horse Restaurant has gotten rave reviews as one of downtown’s newest additions.
“We fund projects throughout the state and I can honestly say that the work you’ve done here is comparable with any other project we’ve done in the state, and that includes the city,” Chris Leo, director of the New York State Main Street Program, told Ms. Muma at the restaurant’s grand-opening ceremony. Mr. Leo’s agency had provided a $150,000 matching grant for the project.
“The quality of work that you did is obvious and I can tell you really put your heart and soul into this,” Mr. Leo said.
Local officials were equally impressed.
“I think Dee Muma has done a fantastic job with the Dark Horse,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. “I’ve eaten there two or three times and it’s among the best food that I’ve ever eaten. The Art Deco feel for the building is just fantastic. Now I feel it’s even more incumbent upon me to make Main Street happen because she has put her heart and soul into that building, and it’s a testament to her love of Riverhead that she’s done that. This award couldn’t go to a nicer person.”
Ms. Muma said recently that the new restaurant was made out of many reused items and features a lot of green technology. An old bowling alley from the former Club 91 fraternal hall on Peconic Avenue was turned into the bar, the tables were made from recycled pine beams from remnants of the historic building, and the roof has plants that absorb water so polluted rainwater doesn’t find its way into the nearby Peconic River.
And Ms. Muma isn’t stopping with Dark Horse. She also has purchased the adjacent building on Peconic Avenue, which used to house a church, and plans to create about 10 efficiency apartments on the upper floors, as well as stores on the ground floor.
If and when downtown Riverhead does make that long-anticipated turnaround, Ms. Muma will have played a major role.