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He Kept His Nose to the Grindstone

Mon, 07/01/2024 - 10:19
Kyle Sanderson, left, has opened a Grindstone Coffee and Donuts on Race Lane in East Hampton. Brett Eskra, right, is managing it.
Liz Symon

"This is literally my dream shop," Kyle Sanderson, owner of Grindstone Coffee and Donuts on Race Lane in East Hampton, said from the shop's back garden. The store's grand opening was Monday. 

You'll go there for coffee and donuts, sure, but in keeping with the location's history, and its status as a "farm stand," expect fresh-cut flowers and organic fruit, too. Vintage coffee ephemera, Grindstone garb, and alternative pantry selections all fit snugly into the Grindstone niche. "I want to maintain the farmstand vibe here, but I'm staying in my lane," said Mr. Sanderson, as his stepfather, the celebrity chef Michael Symon, stocked a shelf. Mr. Sanderson's original Grindstone in Sag Harbor is one of the least "Hamptons-y" stores you'll find. "It's the record store of coffee shops," he joked.

This one feels different. The store is bright and open; while it's in a small, low-slung, A-frame building, the relatively large windows and white walls make it feel larger. Then there's the patio. "That's a focal point for sure," he said. There are 16 seats, spread among eight tables. A large cedar tree provides ample shade in a back corner, and blueberry bushes line a fence. The store borders Sam's Beverage Shop, and an Indonesian pop-up at the restaurant Buttero, but in the morning, when no one else is open, it's quiet. The hum of a nearby compressor lulls and a train whistle from the nearby station blows. The smell of cooking food gives the space an urban feel, in the most charming way possible.

Back in 2015, Mr. Sanderson was looking to open in East Hampton Village, even before he opened the Sag Harbor location. "There was nothing affordable, even back then. I almost gave up." He nearly left the area, but was waylaid when his girlfriend (now his wife), got into a bad car accident. In the pause forced by her recovery, he found the Sag Harbor space and poured his resources and energy into its success. "Everything happens for a reason," he said.

He has village roots. His parents live down the block, and he's worked at the Ladies Village Improvement Society. "I'm tight with all those ladies. They got a bunch of donuts for their fair."

Having the train, three nearby schools (discounts are available to teachers who present their school identification cards), and a constant stream of traffic fed by Toilsome Lane, the space has a bustling feel, and Mr. Sanderson thinks he will be steady year-round. "I really want this to be the neighborhood coffee shop out here." 

Now open, it's easy to look past a year's worth of bureaucratic hurdles that nearly threatened the charm away. 

After a chance encounter with Kristofer Kalas, who operated Hello Oma from the space for a few years, Mr. Sanderson bought the lease and equipment for $90,000. That's when his troubles began.

"I thought I would walk in, change the sign and open. That was my impression," he said. Wrong. He was shocked when both the Suffolk County Department of Health and its Department of Agriculture and Markets indicated they had no records of a store at the location. Chris Minardi, the village's deputy mayor, "used to work here when it was a fish market in the 80s! How could it not exist?" It seemed $90,000 had purchased the lease for a store that could not open. "This past off-season was bad," said Mr. Sanderson.

The Department of Agriculture and Markets insisted the store must have a bathroom. Fine, but there was no separate septic system. Turns out the store is part of a parcel shared by the neighboring businesses, but that septic system was already operating at capacity. To build his own, Mr. Sanderson would be out another $150,000, creating a $240,000 deficit to start. That's quite a donut hole to fill.

That's when he sat down with Mayor Jerry Larsen and both the village Planning and Building Departments. Because Grindstone is technically part of the larger lot, equipped with a septic system and bathroom, a work-around was agreed upon, where the Agriculture and Markets people gave Grindstone an "off-premises bathroom" variance, even though customers are not allowed to use the bathroom at Sam's Beverage Place. (A port-a-potty has been set up in the back parking lot.)

Now, thanks in part to that strange arrangement, Grindstone is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Brett Eskra, who has worked in Sag Harbor since its opening, is managing the store. 

"It's so cool to see familiar faces of people that would drive all the way to Sag Harbor from East Hampton, coming in all smiles, knowing they can pop right down the street for their coffee," said Mr. Eskra. "We're excited to create the same morning magic here."


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