The Riverhead Project closed for good: owner

Dennis McDermott, owner of The Riverhead Project, said the downtown eatery is closed for good.
Dennis McDermott, owner of The Riverhead Project, said the downtown eatery is closed for good. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

The Riverhead Project, the downtown eatery widely heralded as a milestone in the revitalization of Riverhead, has gone out of business, according to the restaurant’s owner.

“I’m not going to be able to reopen there,” owner Dennis McDermott told the Riverhead News-Review on Friday. “There are a lot of reasons why. It was a big gamble. Riverhead didn’t really turn around the way I thought it would in a timely fashion.”

Mr. McDermott, who opened The Frisky Oyster in Greenport before selling the business in 2010, opened The Riverhead Project in a renovated bank building in 2011. The venture was seen as such as success that he was named “Person of the Year” by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and “Business Person of the Year” by the News-Review in 2011.

Mr. McDermott said last week he had to temporarily shutter the restaurant after hitting a legal snag that invalidated its liquor license. But when reached this week, Mr. McDermott said it soon became clear the upscale dining spot will not reopen under The Riverhead Project banner.

“The building itself was a monster. I just didn’t do the level of business that I needed to do. The last two winters were really tough. This past winter just killed me. I’ve been looking for an investor and no one wants to invest in a restaurant in Riverhead,” Mr. McDermott said. “Maybe I’m just a little too ahead of my time.”

Mr. McDermott renovated the former Chase bank’s 4,000-square-foot main floor and built a 100-seat restaurant and lounge, separated by a large island fireplace. He noted that the gas and electric costs of running the space were high and that it was tough to fill the restaurant with diners every night, especially during the harsh winter of 2014.

Mr. McDermott said he is currently looking at other locations, including the site of the former Main restaurant in Greenport.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, whose office helped publicize the restaurant’s opening and who frequently mentioned Mr. McDermott’s upscale business as an example of the town’s revival, said Mr. McDermott helped ignite change in the blighted downtown. The renovated Suffolk Theater and the Hyatt Place East End both opened soon after The Riverhead Project.

“He was a tremendous asset,” Mr. Walter said. “I loved the fact that he came to Riverhead and he set the town on fire.”

Mr. Walter blamed the national economy for the restaurant’s closing, rather than Riverhead’s shortcomings.

“The economy is in the tank. The Long Island economy is still in the tank,” he said. “President Obama can say all he wants that we’re out of the recession, but we’re not out of the recession.”

The building’s owner, Christopher Pia, said that there are other projects in the works for the location.

“Interest is very high,” Pia said. “I believe the gentrification of Riverhead, albeit slow, is certainly coming.”

Mr. McDermott became active in the community during his time running the restaurant, hosting a North Fork book club at the restaurant and helping to develop the Riverhead Rocks triathlon.

He said he still hopes to see a vibrant Main Street in Riverhead.

“I still have high hopes for it,” Mr. McDermott said.

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