Since Albert Geldmacher bought a two-story building at the corner of Union and Division streets in 1986, the ground floor restaurant space has gone through one or two costume changes. It started out as the casual and unassuming Madison Street Market only to be taken over by Ralph Pagano, a chef made famous as the first runner up on the opening season of TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” who named his operation Fat Ralph’s Deli. After Pagano moved from the area, with the help of some colorful paint and Central and South American themed knick knacks tacked to the walls, Geldmacher transformed the place into Agave’s South of the Border, a Mexican take-out joint, a few years ago.
This week, the business will once again change hands, but this time the Latin flavor of Geldmacher’s operation will be maintained. Edgar Quezada, a local business owner, reported that he is in the process of inking a deal with Geldmacher and hopes to open his new establishment, Cilantro’s, by April 30. Cilantro’s, Quezada says, will remain a take-out place but will emphasize what he calls authentic Mexican cuisine with a focus on fresh and organic ingredients.
“Mexican cooking here is mostly American Mexican,” Quezada remarks on the central American fare available on the East End. “American food is mainly a lot of salt and pre-made food. Authentic Mexican food is fresh and cooked in the moment. It is really healthy because real Mexican food is from the earth.”
Quezada will maintain the current Agave menu and slowly incorporate new dishes into the mix. A few highlights to be added are chorizo and fish tacos, salads and Posole, a Mexican stew made with red chili sauce. Quezada plans to purchase the seafood for his dishes, like fluke and tuna, among others, from local purveyors. An added bonus of the new Cilantro’s operation will be a delivery service and Quezada hopes to offer catering in the future.
“A lot of my friends [who live in Sag Harbor] say no one delivers here and they don’t want to cook,” Quezada says. “We want to have all those services to offer.”
The summer season has almost started and Quezada plans to make only minor cosmetic changes to the restaurant before its grand opening. With the interior of the restaurant, Quezada hopes to turn the concept of a traditional Mexican eatery on its head. He is ditching the fiesta colors for earth tones.
“It will be a little bit more calm and rustic,” Quezada explains. By the winter Quezada will more thoroughly renovate the space.
In creating Cilantro’s, Quezada is taking a bit of a leap. He owns a hair salon and printing shop in Bridgehampton, and a few other operations in Florida. Cilantro’s marks his first foray into the restaurant industry.
“I always wanted to have something like this,” Quezada recalls. “I think Sag Harbor has a lot of potential for Mexican food. I like Sag Harbor. I came here 12 years ago. For the past few years I was trying to open a restaurant but everything was so expensive and now because of the economy it is better to start something.”
Geldmacher has no regrets about handing over his business to Quezada and says it will allow him to focus on his other restaurant, Agave Blue Cactus in Hampton Bays which offers full dinner service.
“Sitting behind the counter wasn’t a challenge for me anymore,” Geldmacher says taking a break from his duties restocking supplies at Agave’s in Sag Harbor. “I want to focus on the sit down dinner and I run the bar [there].
Geldmacher looks out the window of Agave’s at a group of men pulling up in trucks for a quick bite and the Stella Maris school employees stopping in from across the street during their lunch break.
“This business needs someone to be attentive,” he adds. “It is a good little business but it needs someone with passion and I don’t have that anymore.”
Given Quezada’s determination to open Cilantro’s a few days after the closing, it appears the new owner is diving head first into the challenges of running a restaurant in Sag Harbor.