Bay Burger Owners Put Restaurant Up For Sale

Joe and Liza Tremblay behind the counter at Bay Burger in September of 2018. Christine Sampson photo

Friday morning seemed like just another morning for Joe and Liza Tremblay, co-owners of Bay Burger in Sag Harbor and the handcrafted Joe and Liza’s Ice Cream brand. Mr. Tremblay hurried to turn over chairs and give the tables another wipe-down, readying them for customers, and he swatted at a few flies that had somehow invaded the place. As he did so, he recounted how his wife had just discovered the ice cream freezer had somehow broken down overnight, leading to a flurry of phone calls to repairmen and the delivery driver.

But this Friday was slightly different. Just one day earlier, the Tremblays had announced on Facebook they would be selling their 12-year-old family restaurant, a staple for affordable burgers, mouth-watering tater tots and, of course, free ice cream on Wednesdays. October 8 will be their final day flipping burgers and scooping ice cream in Sag Harbor. Their cell phones lit up and the Facebook post went small-town viral, attracting hundreds of emotional reactions.

“My children’s hearts will break to pieces!”

“No one could ever take your place!”

“I may need therapy.”

But for the Tremblay family, it was time for a change.

“I haven’t been able to leave the East End in the summertime in over a decade. I’d like to travel and explore,” Mr. Tremblay said.

“I’m looking forward to putting more time and focus into projects that have been on the back burner,” Ms. Tremblay added. “The East End Birth Network, which is my nonprofit — and all of those things that have had to take second fiddle to this. And we need to spend more time with our kids and each other.”

They will still live locally, as their two children attend Sag Harbor Elementary School. While they don’t have a collective “next step” — they’re planning to take the winter off to regroup, they say — Ms. Tremblay will be piloting a new venture with two other Sag Harbor women. Along with Amanda Millner-Fairbanks and Sarah Cohen, she will launch The SHED, a co-working space for women, on Tuesdays starting October 2 at Estia’s Little Kitchen.

“We’re grateful for these 12 years and we want to go out on a high note,” Ms. Tremblay said. “We feel like there is a high note.”

There were highs and lows every year, every week, every day. Finding staff grew more and more difficult, but growing relationships with customers was meaningful. One man got engaged to his fiancée there, writing his proposal on the wall in wiki sticks in the back room. Then there was the time Mr. Tremblay had to give a choking customer the Heimlich maneuver.

“Equipment failure, staffing problems, overcommitting yourself with catering and whatnot … there’s always a fresh problem and it’s so challenging,” Mr. Tremblay said.

“We’ve been in the business of crisis management for 12 years,” Ms. Tremblay said.

There were amazing moments, too — they once served ice cream at a Hilary Clinton fundraiser at Jimmy Buffet’s house where he, Paul McCartney and Bon Jovi performed for a little over 100 people.

“We got to be there,” Ms. Tremblay said. “That was surreal.”

The couple’s inaugural Lobster Roll competition in 2010 drew Matthew “Megatoad” Stonie for one of his first wins as a competitive eater. The 26-year-old is currently ranked fourth in Major League Eating and dethroned eight-time champion Joey Chestnut in the 2015 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest — considered the hallmark competitive eating event.

While they are selling Bay Burger, Ms. Tremblay said the couple will likely phase out the ice cream business around Thanksgiving because Bay Burger is its primary buyer. However, she said, “If someone was interested in taking my space and the equipment, it’s a turnkey wholesale ice cream production facility with a van, so I’d certainly be interested in that.”

The .77-acre Bay Burger property, with its 85 seats, is listed with Hal Zwick of Town and Country Real Estate for $3.25 million. According to its listing, the 1,600-square-foot restaurant and its equipment, septic system, electric and plumbing are “in top condition,” with a certificate of occupancy “for a full restaurant but it can certainly continue as a fast food casual business or renovated to a new owner’s concept.”

Mr. Tremblay said they have already had some interest from potential buyers.

“It’s important to us that it remain a family-friendly restaurant,” he said.

The popular Jam Session will have a new home, according to one of its founders, Claes Brondal. He said he is grateful to the Tremblays and co-owner John Landes for taking a chance on the idea of weekly jazz sessions at the restaurant, which began in the spring of 2009.

“It was a game-changer and life-changer for me and my family,” Mr. Brondal said. “They have been great supporters. It was like Times Square sometimes, so crazy. I owe them so much.”

He said Bay Burger will be missed by the community.

“It became, for many, many people, a gathering place where you could always count on a good experience,” said Mr. Brondal, who recalled the restaurant’s grilled cheese sandwiches were one of the few foods his wife could eat when she experienced morning sickness while pregnant.

Ms. Tremblay said she and her husband are “looking forward to actually attending the jazz as guests and sitting down.”

What people haven’t really said out loud, Mr. Tremblay acknowledged, is the coincidental timing of the restaurant’s sale in the same 12-month time period that also saw Sag Harbor lose two other favorite eateries, La Superica and Conca D’Oro.

“They haven’t been saying it but I’m sure they’re thinking it, and we’re thinking it,” he said. “We live in Sag Harbor. Whatever comes in here, we’re going to be customers. We mourn the loss of Conca D’Oro and La Superica. I missed both of those places this past summer and I know that people will miss this but hopefully it can be something similar and great.”

Ms. Tremblay added, “This is an opportunity for someone else to come in and create their dream in this space.”

Jam Session Heads to Union Cantina in Southampton

Union Cantina at 40 Bowden Square in Southampton Village will be the new home of the Jam Session, according to Claes Brondal, one of the founders of the popular weekly jazz event at Bay Burger. The day and time — Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. — will remain the same. The first Jam Session at Union Cantina will be October 4, and will be “a big party” accompanied by food and drink, Mr. Brondal said. “I’m looking forward to drawing people from different areas, from further west and Riverhead,” he said. “It’s inclusive to all, and Bay Burger was very conducive to that, but there will be more space and different areas for people to retreat to if need be.”