Larry Hoffman is president and operator of many diverse and successful businesses, mostly local to Long Island. He has a large real estate portfolio and a wide variety of entrepreneurial skills that include savvy business experience, experience in dealing with town government and local municipalities, a wide knowledge of business law and years of general business experience in financial and operational aspects. Hoffman has been successfully operating a variety of hospitality venues on Long Island for over 25 years.
Larry Hoffman is the current owner of Dockers Waterside on Dune Road in East Quogue. Dockers has been a Hamptons’ staple for 24 years and is regarded as one of the area’s top dining and social destinations year in and year out, attracting an affluent and sophisticated clientele.
Hoffman earned his degree in electrical engineering and computer design from the University of North Carolina in 1984. After completing his studies, Larry worked for aerospace giant Northrop Grumman for 10 years as an aerospace computer engineer working on computer systems for such aircraft as the F-14 fighter jet and the Northrop Stealth Bomber.
His first step into the food and beverage business was as a bartender at the Neptune Beach Club on Dune Road from 1981 until 1987. He bought his first food-related business in 1988, purchasing Hot Dog Beach and converting it into Hampton Beach Club. In 1989, Hoffman purchased the Coach Bar in Hampton Bays and turned it into the well-known Polo Grounds and finally, Larry purchased Tequila Sunset and turned it into Dockers in 1990.
Hoffman is also involved in a variety of other projects and consulting ventures for the hospitality and other industries where he can lend his extensive business acumen and his unique combination of skill sets. He also runs a successful hospitality consulting company that focuses on marketing, management and hospitality business advice.
What’s your background?
I am a computer design engineer but worked my way through college (University of North Carolina) as a bartender.
Where did you grow up?
Queens, then Sayville, NY. But I still have the Queens in me!
Who sparked the interest in food and restaurants?
I love to make people happy and I was very good in the hospitality biz!
Can you share the Dockers Waterside background with our readers? 28 years is some amazing run! What have been the keys to that success?
Location, sunsets and great food. No better place than at Dockers and I give it a Vacation-like atmosphere!
What was the niche that you saw that you were trying to fill in the East Quogue community?
Places on the waterfront in the Hamptons are very scarce. I saw an opportunity to open a waterfront place and jumped at it in 1990!
How has the East Quogue customer changed? What have you had to do to respond to those changes?
Originally we catered to the summer share-house crowd but as we saw the town start to get rid of them we decided a full service restaurant was more appealing to residents, new homeowners who were buying up the share houses and was conducive to the area.
Curious what did the first menu look like in 1990 when you opened?
Lobster dinner in 1990 was $8! Wings, nachos, and burgers with pitchers of cocktails with live music and a rustic atmosphere!
What was in that circa 1990’s kitchen to prepare that menu? Did Bar-Boy and Mr. Bob help you open?
Bar-Boy has always been one of our primary supporters. Bob Mendelsohn was actually working for a competitor of Bar-Boy when we met him but we bought from him as well. When he moved to Bar-Boy, we started using them exclusively. The owners, Lenny and Eddie DeFelice helped us through both the good and difficult times.
How has that kitchen evolved?
Top quality ingredients, steak, lobster, and sushi grade tuna from Hawaii. People know and can taste the difference between fresh line caught striped bass and frozen flounder filet and they don’t mind paying for quality. We invested in better equipment because it helps with production and improves quality – combis/convection etc. We are doing a major kitchen renovation this fall but they don’t know it yet!
How does Bar-Boy support your needs?
Quality products and support all the time.
Are your customers looking for healthier fare?
We feel that butter, fat and salt are the main requests even for those eating out. They splurge when dining at Dockers but some do order a salad with “everything” on the side.
What’s your approach to how you plate and serve?
We test everything in the kitchen first for taste and production. Once we’re satisfied, we figure out presentation. When we do 1200 people a day, you’ve got to be concerned that it’s not too fancy that it slows down the kitchen and yet not too easy to look like a diner (I like diners though).
Do you look to Bar-Boy to help you create/update your tabletop?
We guide them more than they guide us but they do keep us informed on new products and provide samples upon request.
We’re open 147 days a year but we do have efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle.
How has the beverage side of the business evolved?
Wines and Rosé!!!! Can’t keep enough in stock! Nobody drinks domestic beer anymore.
Rosé one year, martinis the next?
Rosé has been growing monumentally for years. The 60 and over crowd still drink the classic martinis with olives!
I love your take on reservations.
Sounds to me like you’ve never let an amazing location get in the way of making sure that customers come first? We don’t take reservations during the season but we do make accommodations for long-time customers, friends and family. Many people, including some celebs, we won’t take a reservation for.
How do you attract and keep a great staff?
A good name brings good people but even still the quality of the staff is a challenge for all operators across the country at the moment. One word, Millennials!
How has the new minimum wage changed the way you operate?
Reduced hours to cut down on over time has hurt workers. When the rate was lower, operators didn’t mind the overtime rates, but now at $15 per hour it’s a killer. Consumers demand increases to workers but refuse to pay higher prices of menu items to support their demands. In 2016, some restaurant workers received a 50% wage increase, which created a 20% increase in the cost of a menu item.
What’s in the Crystal Ball?
Buy low, sell high and don’t ever invest in a restaurant unless you need a tax deduction!
To learn more about Dockers Waterside, visit their website.