Surviving and thriving in the food industry on the East End isn’t easy. Rents are high, customers are demanding and competition is fierce. Restaurants and specialty food stores seem to go as quickly as they come, with the landscape changing every season. Mainstays are the exception, not the rule.
And then there’s the Golden Pear.
Owner Keith Davis opened the first Golden Pear cafe on the corner of Main Street and Nugent Street in Southampton Village in 1987. Since then, the business has expanded to three other locations—East Hampton, in 1991, Bridgehampton, in 1996, and Sag Harbor, in 2006—all while becoming one of the most popular spots on the East End, year-round, to grab a cup of coffee, eat breakfast or enjoy a gourmet lunch. Mr. Davis, his family and his employees are celebrating 30 years in business this month.
Mr. Davis, who grew up in Moriches and now lives in Hampton Bays, started off in the food industry at the bottom, washing dishes as a 14-year-old. He studied engineering in college, but his passion was always for food. He was working at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems when a friend, Michael Goodison, invited him to come work at a new cafe on Main Street in East Hampton—Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa. He became the No. 2 guy to Mr. Goodison, entering the food industry for good.
He was working at another gourmet food store—The Prime Concern on Jagger Lane in Southampton—when the Southampton restaurant Le Chef vacated its corner Main Street property and moved to its current location on Jobs Lane. Mr. Davis jumped at the opportunity to fulfill his dream of opening a gourmet cafe, buying the business and installing the Golden Pear in the location where it remains today. He said he recalled people telling him he was “crazy” for opening in November, but he had faith, and said he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Before sitting down to talk about the 30th anniversary of his business at Golden Pear’s Sag Harbor location earlier this week, Mr. Davis was busy chatting with employees behind the counter, and ducking in and out of the kitchen with the industriousness of an employee rather than owner. Mr. Davis is animated when speaking about the Golden Pear, his passion coming through clearly as he speaks proudly of the growth and expansion the business has enjoyed over three decades.
He points out that his four top chefs have worked for him for more than 20 years, and that many of the employees who are second in command in the kitchen have shown the same kind of loyalty. He remembers the exact date he hired one outstanding pastry chef, in particular—Anne Adams, who became his wife less than a year later. The couple, who have been married 29 years, raised three children together—Sarah, 27, Emily, 24, and Keith, 21. Now a senior at the University of Albany, Keith Davis manages the Bridgehampton cafe when he is home for the summer.
His father, also named Keith, said that it’s possible his son might follow him into the family business, but noted that he is still considering pursuing his master’s degree. Regardless, Mr. Davis doesn’t seem ready to step away from the business anytime soon, and he’s committed to keeping the business in touch with the latest trends in marketing and technology. The company recently launch a Golden Pear app that allows customers to view the entire menu and place orders ahead of time for pick-up in the shop. The app currently allows customers to use that feature in the Southampton store, and Mr. Davis said he hopes it will be launched in all Golden Pear locations by December.
Making it in the Hamptons restaurant industry while raising three children was challenging, Mr. Davis recalled, explaining that the business can be “crazy” at times. Still, he does not hesitate when asked how he’s made it work.
He first mentions his Christian faith, saying he believes that God “opened doors” for him, but also says his passion for food and drive to succeed have been significant factors as well. A strong core of loyal employees has also been a key to his success, he said.
“Having a good team that respects you and will go to battle with you is very important,” Mr. Davis said.
The restaurant industry is often characterized as having high employee turnover, and restaurant owners and managers—particularly in those businesses that typically operate at night for dinner, which the Golden Pear does not—can often have unsavory reputations. It’s another example of how the Golden Pear stands out, Mr. Davis says, and several of his employees agree.
Alfredo Morales is the head bakery chef and also in charge of the kitchen at the Sag Harbor cafe. He came to work for Mr. Davis 28 years ago, after working in the restaurant industry in the city. He’s been happy at the Golden Pear for several reasons, he explained.
“Because I love food,” he said. “I love the place and I love what I do. I like to meet the customers; they know me, I know them. That’s why I’m still here.”
Mr. Morales added that the business provides a great atmosphere for its employees.
“We work like a family,” he said. “[Mr. Davis] is always there for us, and we’re always there for him.”