2011 Business People of the Year: Dennis McDermott and Kayleigh & Tahir Baig

Dennis McDermott (right) and Tahir and Kayleigh Baig.

Two downtown area eateries, two very different concepts.

One is a chic, upscale restaurant that was named the best new restaurant on Long Island by Newsday and has been praised by nearly every reviewer, including a New York Times restaurant critic.

The other is a New York City-style deli and market where local police officers and sheriff’s deputies, town workers and court employees often stop for a morning cup of Joe and a muffin.

Both are fresh, unique additions to Riverhead’s food scene.

That’s why the News-Review has named both The Riverhead Project’s proprietor Dennis McDermott and Off Main Market and Kitchen owners Kayleigh Van Vliet Baig and her husband, Tahir Baig, as its Business People of the Year.

The Baigs opened their market — where they sell everything from fresh baked banana bread to breakfast platters with kielbasa sausage to cheeseburgers on ciabatta rolls — at the site of the former Peconic Baking Company on Osborn Avenue in August.

This is the first business venture for the young couple, who have been married for less than two years.

Ms. Baig, a Riverhead High School graduate, takes classes at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts school on East Main Street. Her husband previously ran a local gas station with family members.

Mr. Baig sold his share in the gas station and was able to invest that money in Off Main, said his father-in-law, Len Van Vliet.

And so far they’re pleased with what they have created.

“The food is different,” Mr. Van Vliet said of the menu, which the couple created themselves. “It’s something that is not really here.”

He said the whole Van Vliet clan pitches in to help, with Kayleigh and Tahir putting in countless hours every week.

One mile east sits a recently opened restaurant where, if East Main Street weren’t clearly visible outside its windows, patrons would swear they were in the Hamptons.

The Riverhead Project, where young and energetic waitstaff magically appear with new silverware the second your fork accidentally hits the ground, opened to much fanfare last spring.

But it was the cuisine that earned the eatery accolades from every public official in town and even a favorable write-up from the Gray Lady herself.

Mr. McDermott, formerly of the Frisky Oyster in Greenport, was also chosen by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce as its Business Person of the Year for 2011.

“Somebody has to be first to do something bold and different,” said chamber president and Tanger Outlets general manager Janine Nebons. “I think it helps ignite the flames for more reasons to come to Riverhead.”

She attributed Mr. McDermott’s success to his affable personality, self-marketing skills and ability to manage his staff. That and, of course, the food.

“[People] will travel out of their way to go to a restaurant where they can buy terrific food and that’s true whether it’s in Riverhead or New York City,” Ms. Nebons said. “Where Dennis has made the difference is in aiming for a much higher end of the market.

“And believing in his own reputation.”

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