Chef/owner Doug Gulija of The Plaza Café in Southampton started his culinary career as many do—by washing dishes—and has worked his way up to entrepreneurship.
He started at the Old Mill restaurant in Southampton when he was 13 and was taken under the wing of a French chef from Burgundy. It wasn’t until a short-lived college basketball career forced him to make a career path change and enter the culinary school at Johnson and Wales that he realized just how much that French chef taught him. “I knew how to make hollandaise, pate choux, demiglace,” Gulija says. “And I was so surprised that many of my fellow classmates couldn’t even pronounce some of these techniques, much less execute them.”
Upon graduation, Gulija started his career with Marriott Hotels under the tutelage of his mentor Chef Peter Montgomery. It was here that he was provided an environment to fully learn and develop his culinary skills. It was also here that he was provided with the business knowledge to successfully operate a kitchen.
After a stint cooking in France, Gulija ended up back in his hometown of Southampton landing a gig as sous chef at Mirko’s Restaurant in Water Mill, where he helped them garner their third star from Newsday. After working as the chef de cuisine of the original Laundry restaurant in East Hampton and then as head chef at Monterey Seafood Grill, the opportunity soon came to own his own restaurant in Southampton. Thus, The Plaza Café was born. The initial intention was to have a casual, low-key restaurant that focused on local and sustainable seafood. But the accolades soon turned The Plaza Café into a fine dining destination. Today though, Gulija has returned to the original plan with what he calls a “return to cooking” and not getting caught up in so much of the nonsense of this profession. And as one restaurant critic succinctly put it, “Chef Gulija feels at ease.”
The opportunity to have more space during the current COVID crisis has brought increased demand from buyers and renters to The Hamptons.
Join Behind The Hedges’ free online webinar and hear from local real estate agents who are experts on Hamptons real estate. They will provide an update on the current status of the Fall season on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m.
Agents will talk about the different hamlets on the South Fork, how to find a community that’s a good fit, timing, pricing, living in the Hamptons year round and what to expect going into the Fall/Winter season.
As we reflect on Labor Day Weekend 2020, it’s a time to look back on a summer like no other. If you’re Ian Duke, proprietor of Union Sushi & Steak, Union Burger Bar and Southampton Social Club, that look back goes beyond the season and over the 10 years since Social Club opened its doors. In that time, Duke and Executive Chef Scott Kampf and their teams have woven themselves into the fabric of the Hamptons—not to mention into the lineup of every iteration of Dan’s Taste of Two Forks, which would have celebrated its 10th summer this year.
In honor of these dual decade milestones, Duke is also looking forward to the night of September 17 and The Perfect 10 Dinner—when Chef Kampf will be creating a one-night-only, one seating only 10-course tasting menu at Southampton Social Club to be savored and celebrated by the few guests lucky enough to book their tables before they’re gone. Until then, though, Duke invites you to share a few minutes looking back and looking ahead. Your table is ready…
On Creating an Experience… I remember when I started out in the business and managers, owners, even teachers would talk about the most important two moments someone remembers about being in a restaurant—the “Hello” at the door and the coffee after dinner. I think it was having that spoon-fed to me one too many times that made me believe that, while those moments do matter, I actually would like to hope that there is an emphasis on the entire “experience” that makes a true memory.
And isn’t that what we are all really looking for? A great memory or a great story? I know for me it is. I think, like many people, I’m not looking for the best food or the best service. I’m looking for the best “experience.” Something that brings all of it together and makes it a lot more than just the sum of its parts.
On the Last Decade…
There have been so many amazing moments over the last 10 years, it truly would be hard to choose the best. Tearing it up last summer with Jamie Foxx and members of the Black Eyed Peas was incredible, as we got to do it two nights in a row—such amazing energy. Dinners with Jon Bon Jovi and his son, Jesse Bongiovi, Dwayne Wade, hosting events with Bruce Springsteen and family—all have been amazing. Then there’s all the friendships, the charities, the crazy parties.
But I suppose in the end, there really would be my one, favorite night. A night where all my friends, my daughter, Dylan, my stepson, Jack, and our whole family got to join me in celebrating getting married abroad in Malta to my wife Dina. I mean, how often is someone lucky enough to have everyone they love together in a place that they got to build with so many of the same people? I’m truly blessed.
On Change… I think quite a bit has changed, while much is also still the same. People eat significantly healthier now than they used to. Farm-to-table is nearly everywhere, people are genuinely far more health-focused and, of course, there are many more vegetarians and vegans dining out today than in years past. While that has changed, we are still seeing the large fun-loving tables of 10 who are looking to dine with us and party all night under the stars. Of course, we’re talking pre-COVID. Right now, this is certainly a very different time for everyone.
On Looking Ahead… As with all life-changing events, opportunities—whether we like to believe it or not—do arise. COVID has brought a lot of people out to the East End, and we certainly do anticipate many of them sticking around as NYC continues to have many struggles. As such, with our restaurants we are planning to stay open and monitor business on an ongoing basis. With Union Sushi & Steak’s nearly immediate popularity—thank you all, by the way—we are excited for the fall, as we are a venue that was actually designed for indoor dining and providing a safe environment through the use of private dining areas, even with the coronavirus still around, not to mention somewhere to enjoy some late-night entertainment.
On the Power of a Name… It’s simple. Who doesn’t love to be a part of something? Something bigger than ourselves? I have always loved the bond that people have with each other in this industry. And not just in a venue where people work together—I mean the entire industry. I think about events like “Tales of the Cocktail” held in New Orleans every year. Thousands of people from all walks of hospitality attend, and all are not only welcomed but accepted and treated like family. As I said, I have always loved that bond. Southampton Social Club and Union Sushi & Steak and Union Burger Bar all have those names as we hope to include all of our guests in that same mantra. Of course, now in these COVID times, we could all use a little more togetherness and maybe a hug.
On Being Essential… I remember when the Governor declared restaurant workers “essential,” and I had to laugh at first when comparing it to all of the other occupations that were left off the list. I didn’t laugh because it wasn’t true, I laughed because it was one of the first times that everyone who worked in hospitality was truly recognized for how important the roles they play are.
But I think for all of us, we have always known that we are the heartbeat of a community. The place where everyone gets to blow off steam together, cry together, laugh together and certainly love together. It’s such a shame, though, that it took a pandemic for us to see it first-hand. I mean, look at NYC—if we’ve ever needed a local watering hole more than now, I certainly don’t know when it was.
Everyone, Raise Your Glasses for a Toast… While I am someone who definitely can be accused of talking too much, in this case I will keep it reasonably short and sweet:
While I would never have imagined that we would be toasting 10 Years of Southampton Social Club and 10 Years of Dan’s Taste of Two Forks in such a difficult time, maybe perhaps that is poignant, as we have never needed, like we do right now, all of the friendships, the family, the teamwork and the love of everyone who has been on this road with us over the last 10 years. I thank you all for your support and look forward to the post-COVID life that we all certainly hope we see sooner than later. To 10 more years of memories, incredible stories and adventures, and health and happiness to all of you.
Don’t miss the ultimate night out in the Hamptons! To reserve your private, socially distanced outdoor table for Thursday, September 17 at 6 p.m. for The Perfect 10 Dinner at Southampton Social Club, visit SocialClub10.com.