When asked this week how plans for her family to operate a café on the New Suffolk waterfront took off, Maryann Birmingham offered up a surprising answer.
“When did it all begin? I’d have to say way back in the 1600s, when my family helped found Southold Town,” she said.
In May, Ms. Birmingham, née Case, plans to open Case’s Place at the former Galley Ho property with her husband, Ken. The café’s name is a nod to Ms. Birmingham’s ancestral roots.
The Birminghams, who live in Mattituck and are the former owners of the Riverhead Beef butcher shop, signed a lease to operate the restaurant with the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund Monday. Mr. Birmingham has decades of professional experience in the kitchen and Ms. Birmingham is retiring this week from her position as a nutrition coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“I always said I have one more business in me,” Ms. Birmingham said shortly after signing the lease. “I still feel enthusiastic and energetic enough to fulfill a dream that we both have. How opportune to have a restaurant in that location and to be able to honor your roots with old family recipes?”
The New Suffolk Waterfront Fund issued a request for proposals for someone to operate the eatery back in September. Board members said they believe the Birminghams — who met at a school dance in East Islip in the seventh grade and have been married 44 years — are the perfect people to operate the eatery in the building, which the organization still owns.
“This is not just a lease and tenant situation,” said NSWF board member Patty Lowry. “They understand that we are a nonprofit and they like our mission.”
“We think they really understand our mission and that we are preserving our property,” added NSWF chair Pat McIntyre.
Rental income from the café will help offset the cost of maintaining the 2.5-acre property surrounding the waterfront.
The Galley Ho operated as a restaurant and bar before the property was purchased by the NSWF in 2007. The organization was established a year before that to purchase and manage the waterfront property and protect it from denser development. The building was later damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The restaurant project has garnered strong criticism, and even a since-dismissed lawsuit, from neighbors who have accused the group of wanting to hold special events, like weddings, at the site as a way to make money on a property that has long been viewed as a community treasure. Nevertheless, Southold Town granted the necessary approvals for the project to move forward in November 2014.
The NSWF will continue to use the building and the rest of the property for its regular events and other existing uses, including the community garden.
Building renovations are nearing completion and the interior will feature wainscoting salvaged from a barn that once sat on the property. While the original Galley Ho building was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, its mahogany bar survived and will remain in place when Case’s Place opens. Ms. Birmingham also plans to display family photos from the 1800s, present-day and childhood summers spent along the Cutchogue waterfront.
Locals may have tasted the Birminghams’ cooking before, as they have provided food for the community picnic that follows the New Suffolk Fourth of July Parade.
When Case’s Place opens for lunch and dinner this spring, the Birminghams envision a place where boaters can pull up to a slip and grab a meal to go, or a setting for locals to enjoy dinner against the backdrop of the New Suffolk waterfront.
Expect burgers made with Mr. Birmingham’s fresh ground meat and a raw bar offering a variety of local oysters and other shellfish. The couple plans to secure a liquor license to operate a full bar and they hope to hire another veteran cook to assist Mr. Birmingham in the kitchen.
Fresh local seafood will be the star of the restaurant’s menu, with items like fish tacos, sandwiches topped with homemade remoulades and Case’s Family Chowder — a Manhattan clam chowder made from Ms. Birmingham’s family recipe.
“It’s going to be local seafood,” said Mr. Birmingham, a member of the Greenport Fire Department. “Local everything, actually.”