Editor’s Note: The video below was prepared for our 2019 Times Review Media Group People of the Year event in March. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were forced to postpone and ultimately cancel this year’s event. Over the next six Sundays we will be sharing the video presentations that would have celebrated each of the honorees that evening along with the original People of the Year features published in January. A special thank you to our event sponsor, People’s United Bank, for helping to make these awards possible each year. Anyone with questions about the cancelation of this year’s event can contact director of sales and marketing, Sonja Reinholt Derr, at [email protected].
It feels like a lifetime ago that Greenport Village had a small cupcake shop down near the end of Main Street.
Butta Cakes was the first small business venture for Marc LaMaina and it existed in a portion of what is now his very popular Lucharitos Taqueria & Tequila Bar.
It was actually Superstorm Sandy that prompted Mr. LaMaina to revamp the entire direction of his business, as flooding forced him to close the cupcake shop and he used the time off to develop a new concept.
In the seven years since, Mr. LaMaina, a graduate of Greenport High School, has transformed Lucharitos into one of the North Fork’s most identifiable brands with an almost cult-like following of both locals and visitors to the region. The Greenport restaurant has doubled in size and expanded to what will soon be four locations, each with a unique twist on the concept — including the first Lucharitos based off the North Fork.
But it isn’t just the ability to grow his business that prompted The Suffolk Times to choose Mr. LaMaina as its 2019 Businessperson of the Year. It’s in how the local entrepreneur has remained committed to core values that include creativity, diversity and hometown pride.
“We should all be operating with his kind of level of intensity,” said Rich Vandenburgh, co-founder of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. and president of the Greenport Business Improvement District. “He’s really going full tilt and I’m very impressed at his level of creativity and integration of the community.”
Mr. Vandenburgh got an up-close look at Mr. LaMaina’s passion this year when their businesses partnered on a pair of initiatives. The first was the creation of Lucha Lager, a Lucharitos-branded brew from Greenport Harbor that was created just in time for Cinco de Mayo, when the kegs were quickly tapped. They also brought professional wrestling to the North Fork with the Lucha Rumble, playing off the restaurant’s wrestling theme and its owner’s memories of similar events being held here in his youth.
Even as he worked to create these events this year, Mr. LaMaina, 39 — who lives in Aquebogue with his three young sons and wife, Jen, who owns the Bright & Early Discoveries preschool in Riverhead — still found time to expand to more locations. First it was announced that Lucharitos would be opening a new location on a corner farm property in Center Moriches. Plans were delayed when the government shutdown in January affected a small-business loan needed to get the restaurant off the ground, but by September they were serving tacos and wood-fired quesadillas out of a food truck on the property, where they also hope to grow food for the business and will soon open up a full bar and restaurant inside.
In typical LaMaina fashion, there was no slowing down there, and about two weeks later, it was announced that Lucharitos Burrito Bar is coming to Mattituck Plaza, where it will be connected to the movie theater. Lucharitos has also announced on social media that it is eyeing its first Western Suffolk location in Melville.
In each location, Mr. LaMaina and his team are offering something a little different. Greenport is still the largest location and continues to draw a crowd any time of year. It doubles as both a great Mexican restaurant and a community bar with a fun after-hours scene.
The second location in Aquebogue, which opened in 2017, is smaller but offers outdoor seating, including an igloo that was recently introduced. Center Moriches has the farmhouse twist and Mattituck will be more grab-and-go. A constant at each location is that Mr. LaMaina continues to employ a racially diverse staff, something that stands out in an East End food and beverage industry where diverse employment isn’t often visible or is otherwise lacking. Having a staff that reflects the entire community is a clear priority for Mr. LaMaina.
And Rena Wilhelm, who owns the nearby Weathered Barn in Greenport, found it important to point out that Mr. LaMaina treats his staff “as team players, not just random employees.”
“He is the definition of a successful entrepreneur,” she said. “He had the vision and guts to create a new food experience for Greenport — family friendly, great price point, quality ingredients and all in a festive and lively environment.”
Even as he continues to expand his business into new communities, Mr. LaMaina hasn’t lost touch with his hometown. He donated a new scorer’s table for the Greenport High School boys basketball program and hosted a pep rally and viewing party for the team as it made a run to the state final four last season.
“Marc has done a tremendous job,” said Kevin Webster, who calls the basketball games on the Webster Sports Network on Facebook, which broadcast live from the restaurant for the pep rally and also at the wrestling event in the summer. “His vision to expand the size of the Greenport location has made it a destination.”
Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips marveled at Mr. LaMaina’s ability to create a sense of family with everything he does.
“Whether staff, customers, visitors, supporting school and local events, it’s all tied into his love of the Village of Greenport community,” she said.
2018: Chris Manfredi
2017: George Giannaris
2016: Lucy Senesac
2015: Wendy Zuhoski
2014: Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.
2013: Charlie Manwaring
2012: Jill Schroeder
2011: Shelley Scoggin
2010: Peconic Landing
2009: Rocky DiVello
2008: John Romanelli
2007: North Fork Press/Academy Printing
2006: Soundview Restaurant and Inn
2005: Joe Frohnhiefer
2004: Dan Damianos
2003: The Arcade
2002: Kate McDowell
2001: Mattituck Chamber of Commerce
2000: The Harbes Family
1999: Sue Rempe
1998: Bob Scott
1997: Jackie Copas
1996: Richard Mullen
1995: The Claudios
1994: Jeff Strong
1993: The Hargraves
1992: The Rowsoms
1991: Mark Middleton
1990: John Wickham
1989: Ray Terry
1988: Dave LeFreniere
1987: Linda Livni