Dark Horse owner soon opening lunch spot in downtown park

Dark Horse Restaurant owner Dee Muma weeds the gravel in front of the pump house in Grangebel Park Monday evening. She’ll soon be selling lunch there. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Dark Horse Restaurant owner Dee Muma weeds the gravel in front of the pump house in Grangebel Park Monday evening. She’ll soon be selling lunch there. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Grangebel Park — likely the first park ever built in town, according to the town historian — will soon see yet another change in its 123-year-evolution.

Built in 1907 to power the town’s water-district infrastructure, the park’s now-vacant pump house, on the Peconic River, will soon see a new use: Dee Muma, owner of the nearby Dark Horse Restaurant, will begin selling lunch from the historic brick building within a few weeks.

“I really feel that [the park] is just the star of our town,” she said. “It’s a gem, and we all need to recreate more and use it. By putting a luncheon place there, it becomes a meeting ground for everybody.”

She began the process about two years ago and received approval from the town to transform the pump house. In exchange for paying for the renovations herself, she has permission to use the building as a lunch spot for 10 years.

Ms. Muma and her team have cleared the building of litter and scrubbed it with power washers. Soon, the house will be shining with LED lights. Iron bars will be installed on the windows so it can be locked up securely at night.

The luncheonette will serve four types of salad and four types of protein, all of which will be prepared at Dark Horse every day and carried to the pump house in to-go containers. Patrons will select food and drink from refrigerated containers in the house and pay for it there.

“It’s primitive but effective,” Ms. Muma said. “This is really a service for the town and the town’s people. This is not a moneymaker for me. This is for love of the town.”

Despite a long and storied history, Grangebel Park had struggled for some time with cleanliness and safety concerns. The town completed a $2 million renovation project on it in 2011 to counter such issues.

“It had fallen on really hard times,” Ms. Muma said. “All kinds of cool stuff is out there now, and yet people still remember the bad old days when the place looked like hell.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter described the pump house renovations as “just what the doctor ordered for Grangebel Park.”

“Her vision for that pump house will be the final step in the complete revitalization of Grangebel Park,” he said. “We have to remain vigilant to take those areas back.”

Mr. Walter said the new location should attract diners who live or work in town.

“There’s a lot of people that walk around in that park during lunch hours,” he said. “In the summer months and late spring and early fall, I think she’s going to do very well with people coming through the park that might like to get a bite, sit down and enjoy the magnificent views.”

Elizabeth Rosenberg, manager of the quilting section at the Vacuum and Sewing Center on Main Street, said she would certainly have lunch at the pump house when it opens.

“It’s good to have another place for people to eat,” she said. “The park is beautiful, and it’s probably underused. It should be enjoyed by people in the neighborhood.”

Kerry Kaczmarek, who works at the court building, said he hopes the luncheonette helps clean up the park.

“I could eat there if it’s nice,” he said. “I think it’s good for the area and for the community to get people other than homeless. It’s such a nice spot.”

Though no exact date is set for the opening, hungry parkgoers should not have to wait too long.

“I can taste those salads now,” Ms. Muma said. “I wanted the first day to be three weeks ago.”

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