Perhaps after the past year — which has consisted of finding a space for a restaurant, conceptualizing it, drawing up plans, getting permits, removing a vault to make room for kitchen space and a list of other things — it was OK for Dennis McDermott to be a little overwhelmed on Saturday night.
"You're hurting my head," he said with a smile, when asked what he's learned about Riverhead since he started work on The Riverhead Project, a new restaurant taking shape at 300 East Main St. "I'm actually working right now."
And just like that, a guest pulled McDemott away and he was back to work.
Hundreds of guests — mostly McDermott's friends and family — swept in and out the door of the Riverhead Project on Saturday evening as the restaurant completed a handful of courtesy cocktail parties to kick off its upcoming opening.
Charmaine Guest, the marketing director, said they had hosted industry-specific gatherings throughout the week to introduce the community to the restaurant, located at the home of a former Chase bank.
McDermott called Saturday's gathering a "stacked deck," with the friend-and-family crowd, and said he's "very excited to have made it this far" thanking the town on a few occasions for helping him open as quickly as he hopes to. Though he hesitated to give a specific date the restaurant would open to the public, he said he's "hoping later next week."
The former bank - whose vault, teller windows, and lock boxes had all removed - was chosen for the Riverhead Project for a few reasons, McDermott stated in previous interviews. Having called Route 58 "saturated," he sees potential in downtown Riverhead. The full-facade windows on the west and south sides of the building provide ample natural light, and the stone's throw proximity to the Hyatt Hotel under construction - which will not have a restaurant of its own - will add to the ambiance and customer base McDermott hopes to draw.
"The design gets you in, and the service and food is what keeps you coming back," said Harold Gordon, a former regular at the Frisky Oyster, McDermott's previous restaurant located in Greenport.
McDermott and others have likened Greenport's downtown a decade ago, when McDermott opened there — vacant storefronts, room for potential — to Riverhead's today.
"He came in when Greenport was way down, and really helped bring it back up," said Sue Hanauer.