With the ongoing corporate development of the East End, finding multigenerational family businesses that are staying relevant while maintaining their authentic local charm is becoming a more challenging feat.
Leo Daunt, third-generation owner of Daunt’s Albatross in Montauk, invited Dan’s Papers out to The End to try proving that the motel’s recent renovations and restaurant acquisition have placed it on that short list of relevant, authentic local institutions.
Daunt’s Albatross History
Daunt shares that his grandparents, Rich and Frances Daunt, began coming to Montauk in the early 1970s and would have friends and family come to visit frequently. As the guest list grew, they ran out of beds and space to accommodate everyone, and as luck would have it, the nearby Albatross Motel was for sale, along with its sister business, the Albatross Café.
They seized the opportunity to purchase the motel, but with no desire to jump into the restaurant game at that time, left the café on the table.
By 1981–82, it was time for the renamed Daunt’s Albatross to complete its first major renovation, adding a new wing to the original 1958 building. By this time, Rich and Frances’ son Jim, Leo’s father, stepped up to help run the place, eventually taking over in 1999 when Frances passed away.
Then came Leo, who in 2014 had just completed his undergrad with plans to pursue a career as a history professor.
That summer, he was put in charge of the pool but quickly proved himself capable of greater responsibilities. While playing a larger role in the family business, he began envisioning ways in which it could grow and evolve.
“I came back that first year and I very quickly went from taking care of the pool to managing the office that summer. And then it was more of a gradual realization of what Montauk was becoming and this idea of how we could fit into it,” he says. “I just kind of fell in love with what the Albatross was but also what it could be. It was kind of like, to me in a lot of ways, this blank canvas that we could paint on. At that time, there were a lot of places that were moving toward this boutique sphere in Montauk, and I kind of dreamed that we could do that too, but we could do that in a way that was really localized.”
Over the next several years, Leo Daunt devoted more time to the motel and gained more responsibilities, and in 2019, his father passed him the reins. Ready to see his vision for Daunt’s Albatross through, he began planning a major renovation, which COVID-19 did unfortunately hinder but couldn’t stop.
Daunt collaborated with Oliver Haslegrave of the Home Studios design firm to create a cool and casual atmosphere that welcomes socialization while also promising privacy. This philosophy is most evident in the courtyard where patio tables have been swapped out (relocated to the growing outdoor pool area) for natural-wood Adirondack chairs around fire pits.
The rooms are airy and bright, illuminated by the wide wicker-covered ceiling light, large windows and (depending on your room) private balcony door. The décor can be described as seaside minimalist with light wood furniture, an HDTV, a wall tapestry over the beds and a charming kitchenette. The bathrooms offer a nice contrast to the blues of the suite, sporting a soft pistachio green and standing glass shower.
“A lot of people wanted to do a very similar project to what I think has already been done in Montauk, but when we spoke to Oliver at Home Studios, he very quickly understood that we were trying to lean into our history as a place that’s been here since the ’70s and a family that’s been here since the ’70s,” Daunt explains of the redesign.
“He had a very unique vision for how he could do that with the design — how he chose materials, how he prioritized space, even down to how to do the kitchenettes and the types of wood to choose and stuff like that, how to look at the courtyard as a communal space for guests.”
Daunt adds that the difficult task of confirming a contractor amid all the pandemic-inspired home renovations was well worth the effort because Thomas Lavin of Thomas Lavin Construction (TLC) “was like a godsend.” And the motel redesign wasn’t the only project Lavin had to organize.
During the process, the former Albatross Café became available for sale once again, and this time, Daunt chose a different path than his grandparents did. With the restaurant renovation added to Lavin’s plate mid-project, Daunt was impressed by the organization and speed of TLC.
The motel closed for renovations on November 1, 2021 and was able to reopen on May 1, with the café, now Bird on the Roof, purchased in March and reopened by May 18.
“He knocked it out of the park,” Daunt says of Lavin. The Bird on the Roof, located steps away from Daunt’s Albatross, offers brunch items for dining or takeout, and it even has a shop inside stocked with jewelry, hats, clothing, sunscreen, cold brew coffee and more.
Next on Daunt’s mind are expansions to the motel lobby space and the restaurant menu, as well as further upgrades to the pool area. And with each next step for the motel’s brand, he’s keeping his family’s legacy in mind.
“My grandpa doesn’t live in Montauk anymore; he lives in Florida. So from when we closed to start doing the work to when we opened, he didn’t see it. He only comes back once a year. So he came back in June and for the first time saw the renovated, new Albatross where we tried really hard to pay homage to him, the family and story, and it was a very touching moment for myself, my dad and my grandpa to all share that together,” Daunt says.
“Another rewarding moment is that we have a lot of guests who have been coming back for like 30 years and have been really long-term and in some ways watched me grow up and keep coming back every year. Seeing their reactions when they come back and they see the work that we’ve done and what we’ve invested in the place has been extremely rewarding. They’ll come up and hug us and say, ‘Thank you,’ and it feels really good to know that these people who’ve been patronizing the Albatross for longer than I’ve been alive, some of them, are really excited about what we’ve done and still feel like it’s their home and it’s not this different place.”
The Daunt’s Albatross Experience
While this reporter did have to work during a three-day stay at Daunt’s Albatross, it was a workcation well spent.
The personal AC unit keeps the room comfortable at all times, day or night; the kitchenette table and chairs make for a fine desk when paired with the complimentary WiFi; and the abundance of natural light is a blessing on tired eyes. Even for a night owl, it’s difficult to resist the allure of those soft beds and cool sheets, and the next morning, the high-up, large shower head and powerful water pressure give the sensation of standing under a waterfall (cliché, but accurate).
While this reporter can only speak on the Double Deluxe room, it can be said that the Two-Room Suite, Koda Suite, Deluxe King, Ada King and Standard Queen all share similar baseline amenities, with additional perks varying per room. The Koda Suite, for instance, has two bedrooms, full kitchen, soaking tub, daybed, fireplace and a living room.
The beach and Montauk village are all easily accessible on foot, so guests can pretty much leave their car in the motel parking area for the duration of their stay. Though as an Albatross-exclusive alternative to the beach, this reporter would have to suggest hanging by the pool with Daunt’s friendly dog Koda.
For those working on vacation, having Bird on the Roof’s delicious to-go options across the street is incredible. The lattes and coffees hit all the right notes and at the perfect temperature, which makes the one-size cups feel just a tad small, especially in comparison to the breakfast and lunch options, which feature mostly large servings. The egg sandwich, for instance, is an entire folded omelet on a brioche bun, and the smoked salmon toast is more fish than bread.
One of the highlights of the stay was picking Leo Daunt’s brain about Montauk, local attractions, restaurant recommendations and other insider details. He and his staff have a deep knowledge of the area and a willingness to help guests maximize their time at Daunt’s Albatross and fall in love with the area that’s been synonymous with the Daunt family for three generations.