Riverhead is not the same place it was five years ago, or even one year ago.
Day-trippers lounge by the riverfront. Shoppers head south from the consistently congested Route 58. Locals walk to shops, restaurants and bars, and a flurry of new businesses have opened on Main Street.
“A lot has been going on down here that has been absolutely amazing,” says Carolyn Pontaco, owner of one of Main Street’s newest businesses—Vital-A-Tea (49 East Main Street), which opened in mid-August. The tearoom, smoothie and juice bar serves up more than 30 varieties of tea along with fresh juices, juice shots, soups and acai berry bowls.
The storefront is not just a business for Pontaco, though. Tea and juices helped her survive one of the most difficult times in her life. After her mom’s death in 2006, a friend introduced Pontaco to tea as a coping mechanism. And three years later, when Pontaco was diagnosed with cancer, she turned to holy basil and carrot juice instead of pain killers. Now the ingredients that helped her survive are also helping her thrive. “Every day I get to do what I love to do,” Pontaco says.
A few steps from Pontaco is Sweet Tart Frozen Yogurt (37 East Main Street), opened by Riverhead natives Miyoshi Cambra and her husband, James Foster in February. The couple and their three children would always have to travel to Mattituck or Shirley for frozen yogurt, but now they can walk to Sweet Tart from their home.
“Riverhead always had a pretty bad reputation,” Cambra says. “But I really, truly believe that with the next generation coming through and growing up, they have a different perception.”
Sweet Tart Frozen Yogurt also uses natural products for its 28 toppings and eight rotating flavors of frozen yogurt, not a powdered mix like most other frozen yogurt shops, Cambra says.
Another new business in town with an array of toppings is Two Brothers Take and Bake Pizza (49 East Main Street). Owned by East Quogue resident Brian Gurley, Two Brothers Take and Bake creates fresh, uncooked pies for customers to cook at home.
For sit-down dining, one of the most recent openings is Sonoma Grill (300 East Main Street), which opened at the end of August. The restaurant, which has another location in Holtsville, serves brunch, burgers, pizza, pasta, wraps and cocktails.
Another newcomver is Uncle Joe’s Pizza, the beloved pizzeria of the Hamptons, which has opened its new Uncle Joe’s Pizzeria Café and Restaurant (12 West Main Street) in downtown Riverhead.
“People are really warming up to us,” says Claudio Sciara, son of owner Joe Sciara. “A lot of customers from the Hampton Bays area have moved out to Riverhead. They come in, and it’s like a piece of their past. Their kids grew up on our pizza, so it’s a nice feeling to see my old customers back again.”
Beyond nostalgia, Sciara says the new Riverhead location has a lot to offer his old and new customers. “It’s at the crossroad of both forks, so there is a nice synergy between the three locations.”
And, of course, the Riverhead location offers the same “crispy-crusted” pizza we’ve come to know and love at Uncle Joe’s.
It’s only right that a Main Street filled with food should also have a gym. Maximus Fitness (126 East Main Street) opened in May last year. It was a momentous event for the town to finally have someone fill the void left by Woolworth’s closing in 1997.
Not far from the gym is Long Beard Brewing Company (24 East 2nd Street). Located in the Second Street firehouse, Long Beard’s brewery is within walking distance of Main Street. Owner Paul Carlin started home brewing years ago. After encouragement from friends and family, he partnered with Craig Waltz, who works as a marine mechanic alongside Carlin, and started Long Beard.
The pair hope to open Long Beard in mid-to-late spring. Right now, they’re going through the licensing process and getting the necessary permits. “We’re going to be brewing a lot of different beers,” Carlin says. Their featured beers are a Pale Ale and an IPA, but Carlin expects to expand to bourbon barrel ales, saisons, milk stouts, oatmeal stouts and particularly sours.
“We’re just two regular blue-collar guys dumping everything into it,” Carlin says. Long Beard is joining other Riverhead based breweries including Twin Fork, Long Ireland, Crooked Ladder and Moustache. The latter three breweries can be visited via Brew Crew Cycles, a new venture launched earlier this year whereby visitors pedal a 14-seat bicycle to each locale.
Empty storefronts have gone from being the norm to being the exception in downtown Riverhead. “There’s a new life force in a town that has been resuscitated,” Pontaco says. Maybe that sentiment is finally ringing true.