Celebrating 20 Seasons on the Harbor

Beacon Restaurant Executive Chef Sam McCleland and Owner David Loewenberg at the bar of the restaurant, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Michael Heller photo

Twenty seasons in the Hamptons is a sign of real staying power for a restaurant, especially one that is as seasonal as the place it calls home. Just hitting this magic number in May, The Beacon in Sag Harbor was founded on decades of experience, friendship, and the idea of putting good food on the table. Overlooking Sag Harbor Cove, the elevated restaurant has evolved over the years while maintaining a simple and pure concept in terms of the dining experience. Reflecting on its history, business partners David Loewenberg and Sam McCleland share what it is about The Beacon that brings lines to the door.

Loewenberg’s résumé includes distinguished positions at restaurants from Manhattan to the Hamptons, including Tatou, Barocco, Periyali, Nick & Toni’s, The Honest Diner, and 95 School Street. The Bell & Anchor in Sag Harbor, which he also co-owns with McCleland, and Fresno in East Hampton are his other two successes. Living and working in a summer town, Loewenberg shares the way people are visiting the East End has also made an impact on the way he and fellow restaurateurs run their businesses.

There has been a shift in share house days to people being able to pick and choose their days and weeks out east, thanks to companies like Airbnb and VRBO making it easier to rent short term. This also allows tourists to explore different villages and places, something Loewenberg says has affected menu display. “I truly believe people have always known about the beauty of the East End but it seems like its exploding now,” he says. “We have always been farm-to-table, and slow food is something we embrace in all of our restaurants. Many restaurants do it, it’s not a new concept, but people now are becoming much more conscious of it. This has been a positive change.”

McCleland says the menu has evolved to be even more farm-to-table. “We’re dealing with a few local farmers,” the chef explains. “We have always dealt with local guys doing seafood, which will always stay the same. There are a lot of staples on the menu people keep coming back for. Over the course seven months when we’re closed, it is something customers really look forward to.”

At its start in spring 2000, The Beacon had the atmosphere of a fine dining establishment that, at first, didn’t work. Loewenberg and McCleland decided they needed to learn how to be simple. They don’t take reservations and as a result, lines at the door can fill the seats in just minutes. “You don’t really book a restaurant that way,” Loewenberg says. “We had to serve high quality, delicious food in a way that was possible to accommodate volume. Our bouillabaisse has even evolved. In this type of restaurant, you want something called ‘one pan pick-ups’ to cook and serve efficiently.”

The menu draws influences from the Mediterranean and Japan, with classic dishes like Beacon’s steamed mussels with garlic, white wine, lemon thyme, cream and tomatoes and pork belly pretzel buns with hoisin, creamy kholarbi slaw and Sriracha as some of the popular “starters” and lobster rigatoni with aged cheddar, roasted corn, basil and cream, and halibut baked in parchment with sun-dried tomatoes, tatsoi and toasted Israeli cous cous mainstay favorites on the entrée menu. Desert includes traditional items like flourless chocolate cake with crème anglaise, along with playful additions like the Beacon ice cream sandwhich with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

The pair found success inside the buzzy restaurant that is almost in the water rather than on it. Situated above the marina, there’s an energy Loewenberg says people love and sunset views that are hard to find elsewhere. Proper but inviting service adds to the restaurant’s menu and beverage program, earning them a loyal clientele season after season. They have watched first dates become much more, witnessed engagements, children growing up to have children on their own, and developed their own family connection with guests. When asked of some of his favorite memories over the years, Loewenberg laughs while recalling his daughter, Lucy, losing her tooth.

“Lucy has been managing The Beacon for the last 10 years,” Loewenberg says. “She’s legit, born and raised in Sag Harbor. As a kid, she wouldn’t let us pull out the tooth, but she had a special relationship with the sous chef and let him do it. She came running through the dining room with the tooth and as she approached the family table outside it dropped and fell through. We remained calm, drew a treasure map for the tooth fairy, which she found. It’s silly but great.”

Driving the restaurant forward is the lasting relationship between Loewenberg and McCleland, who met in 1991 while working at Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton. The front of house and back of house relationship allows them to feed off each other, and McCleland says they have much more than a partnership.

“David is a real foodie,” McCleland shares. “We like to go out to dinner and discuss food. We go into the city, and have even been on a food trip to London. We hang out together and work together. We’re good friends, not just business partners. I’m from the farm fields of Illinois and now I’m partners with a kid from the city, which is pretty cool.”

Beacon is located at 8 West Water Street in Sag Harbor. Visit beaconsagharbor.com for more.