2016 Businesspeople of the Year: PeraBell Food Bar East

PeraBell Food Bar East co-owner John Peragine has said he thinks downtown Riverhead is on the brink of “something awesome.” And since its June 2015 opening, the restaurant has become an integral part of the area’s mission to re-establish itself as a destination.

“I think PeraBell and the team are a very important example of how the right business can make a difference in downtown Riverhead,” said Steve Shauger, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association. “I see their success as encouragement for other businesses to be a part of the revitalization of downtown Riverhead.”

In recognition of their success and the example their restaurant sets, Mr. Peragine and PeraBell co-owner Scott Campbell are the Riverhead News-Review’s 2016 Businesspeople of the Year.

The owners have done more than open a popular eatery. This past summer, they helped organize Riverhead’s first Alive on 25, with thousands gathering on Main Street to enjoy local food, drinks and entertainment. The street festival series, sponsored by the BIDMA and held a total of four times, turned a profit close to $15,000 and is expected to return this summer.

Jim Klein and John Peragine

Essentially a giant block party, the event is modeled after Alive After Five, which has been held for the past 15 years in Patchogue, where the original PeraBell has been popular since its 2006 launch.

“It’s been a huge success and it’s helped out revitalization,” Mr. Peragine said. “So being in Riverhead, being in the same situation that Patchogue was 10 years ago, I figured it’d be a good event to draw a lot of new people to the area and support the local businesses, get people coming out to Riverhead more often.”

Riverhead Chamber of Commerce president Bob Kern called Mr. Peragine a man of action and said PeraBell has done a “tremendous amount” for downtown.

“I can tell when somebody knows what they’re doing and when they don’t, and he clearly knows what he’s doing,” Mr. Kern said of Mr. Peragine, who sits on the BIDMA’s board of directors.

A scene from the first Alive on 25 in Riverhead in July. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)
A scene from the first Alive on 25 in Riverhead in July. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Mr. Peragine said his goal is to see more businesses open downtown, since he knows from his experience in Patchogue that having options is what makes for a successful Main Street.

The challenge in making Riverhead a bona fide destination is creating more success stories. While PeraBell has enjoyed success in the past year and a half, two downtown businesses closed in 2016.

“It’s having 10, 12 different restaurants, different shops, so when people drive to Riverhead they just park the car once and they can experience what Riverhead has to offer rather than going to eat at one particular restaurant and getting in their car when they’re done and leaving,” Mr. Peragine said. “Instead of having coffee and dessert with me, they’ll walk around. They’ll hit the yogurt store or the coffee shop.”

Mushroom truffle pizza with four cheeses. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Mushroom truffle pizza with four cheeses. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Riverhead has the best of everything the North Fork has to offer, he said, with its wineries, farms and more.

“When my partner and I decided to come out here, it was because we felt the same feelings we did when we started in Patchogue,” he said. “I think this could potentially be the next Patchogue or bigger. There’s a lot more options out here. We’re excited to be here, we like being here and we hope for a great 2017.”

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Top file photo: PeraBell Food Bar East chef Jim Klein (left) and co-owner John Peragine on the evening the downtown restaurant opened in 2015. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Previous Winners

2015: Jim and Barbara Cromarty
2014: Riverhead’s craft brewers
2013: April Yakaboski
2012: Richard Stabile
2011: Dennis McDermott and Kayleigh & Tahir Baig
2010: Dee Muma
2009: J. Gordon Huszagh
2008: Ray Pickersgill
2007: Ray Maynard
2006: Jack Van de Wetering
2005: Jeff Hallock and Dr. Frank Arena
2004: Massoud Family
2003: Andrew Mitchell
2002: Christine & Peter Loew, EastEnders Coffee House
2001: Jan Burman
2000: Fred Terry
1999: Jim Bissett, Joseph Petrocelli
1998: Swezey’s Department Store
1997: Pat Frankenbach
1996: Chip Cleary
1995: Ed Merz
1994: Bill Talmage
1993: Joe Fischer
1992: Liz Strebel
1991: Barry Barth
1990: Bobby Goodale
1989: Mike Kent
1988: Stan Hagler