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By Carrie Doyle | August 7, 2015 | Food & Drink
Bridgehampton’s Candy Kitchen celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, and for more than three decades, a member of the Laggis family has been at the helm.
“I know it sounds silly, but sometimes you just want the classics,” one Candy Kitchen diner explains after gushing about the “best tuna melt with french fries and a side of pickles and cole slaw” she has ever consumed. It doesn’t sound silly at all; in fact, it’s compliments and food cravings like those that have kept Bridgehampton’s Candy Kitchen in business since 1925.
The name alone conjures up childhood nostalgia (how exciting to eat at a place with “candy” in its name!), so it’s worth waxing poetic about the old-fashioned soda fountain, homemade ice cream, and diner menu that embraces carbs. It’s no fluke that this blast from the past still has lines out the door, nine decades after its opening.
Originally founded by George Stavropoulos (a local figure so popular his name now graces the street where the diner is located), Gus Laggis bought Candy Kitchen in the summer of 1981. Laggis had worked for 15 years at Sip’n Soda in Southampton as well as Shippy’s and other popular Southampton dining spots, so he was ready to run his own place. “That was my goal,” Laggis explains from behind the counter he has worked at for 34 years. “I wanted to have something for me and my family. I wanted to lay down roots for them.” Instead of publicity, fancy talk, and anything out of his natural realm, Laggis prefers conversation about work and family. “I liked Candy Kitchen and how it was old-fashioned and a family business,” he continues. “Being a family business is what makes Candy Kitchen work.”
The jury is out on whether, 30 years onward, people will be rhapsodizing about their first egg-white omelet or the gluten-free sprouted toast they ingested after a week of juicing. I, however, recall with great clarity the banana ice cream I used to inhale at Candy Kitchen as a child, my reward after finishing twice-weekly riding lessons at Swan Creek in the early ’80s. A few trots around the ring in the beaming sunshine astride a mare named Seashell at the Topping’s farm was worthy of two scoops on a sugar cone of the most delicious and creamy homemade ice cream that has ever touched my lips. What a priceless, indelible memory.
Fortunately, Candy Kitchen remains as it was; it is easily one of the few Hamptons places that haven’t been transformed. The original stained-glass windows are intact as are the white and cornflower-blue tiled floor and the marble tables in the front room. The blue vinyl stools and banquettes have been refurbished because of wear, but they do not differ from their prototypes. The Laggises had to replace the original soda fountain in the ’80s, but did so with an exact replica, and they make every effort to maintain the original appliances.
Sure, in an effort to keep up with the times, concessions have been made: The addition of avocados and spinach to the menu was downright revolutionary. Also, in an effort to protect his youngest daughter, Jamie (who is allergic), and others, Gus tries to keep the ice cream flavors as peanut-free as possible. But that’s about all the new-fangled ideas you will see. No gluten-free, dairy-free, low-fat, no-carb here. The menu is neither pandering nor patronizing. Yes, Candy Kitchen offers delicious salads, but without making customers feel as if any other meal selection would be an unhealthy choice. (My waitress doesn’t blink when I order the cholesterol-laden egg and cheese on a bagel, with a side of fries.)
“Bridgehampton has changed so much. People come and go, the restaurants have come and gone, and the environment has changed,” says Jamie Laggis, who manages the restaurant and works the late shift after her parents have covered the morning. “Now that I’m older, I appreciate Candy Kitchen a lot more for what it is. It’s not just a job, but an institution. It’s nice to have something that’s so consistent. It’s nice to have something that represents the history of Bridgehampton, what it was like 50, 60, 70 years ago. Just to have that little piece still intact is nice.”
“I agree,” says Maria Laggis, Jamie’s older sister, who also works at the Kitchen in a managerial capacity beside her parents and sister and also her husband, Mauricio, who makes the ice cream with Gus, among his other duties. “I love seeing familiar faces throughout the years, and my two daughters love going there! They love going to the back room and pretending to play Candy Kitchen, just like my sister and I did when we were little.”
Candy Kitchen, one of the original buildings in Bridgehampton, has always had that inborn and accessible feel. Although the restaurant opens at 7 am, some locals arrive at 5 am to help themselves to coffee, toast, or Danish and read the papers. (In fact, in the ’80s and ’90s, many of the farmers had their own keys to the restaurant and would let themselves in until Gus arrived at 5:30.) Jamie, who works from 3 pm to closing after teaching pre-K at the Ross School, says that much of the clientele remains the same. “There are kids I’ve known since they were little who come in and want to relive the nostalgia of being here. They say, ‘I remember having shakes and sitting on these stools and spinning around,’ and I say, ‘I probably made you that shake!’”
Although popular among everyday people, the Candy Kitchen has its share of celebrity sightings. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his wife are regulars, as is actress Julianne Moore and her family. And a few summers ago Justin Bieber’s surprise visit incited a paparazzi and tween frenzy. “They came out of nowhere,” marvels Jamie. “But Justin and his group were very nice. When [celebrities] are here, I treat them like anyone else; I don’t want to draw attention to them.” The cacophony that often surrounds celebrities has little to do with the beloved restaurant.
The fact that it is a stalwart, steadfast, reliable beacon in the dwindling light of local establishments is something that makes Candy Kitchen all the more important to the community. Other buildings have come and gone, but the Kitchen, the Historical Society, and the building that formerly housed the Bridgehampton National Bank (and is now home to Starbucks) remain. And no matter what the economy or weather throws at it, Candy Kitchen holds strong.
“We’ve had some crazy days, but our busiest were after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy,” explains Jamie. “All of Bridgehampton ran out of power, but our power lines are underground, so we were still up and running. We were able to accommodate as many people as possible. They were happy to sit down, eat something, then plug in their phones. We could do only so much—we were running out of food because we weren’t getting deliveries—but people were happy to be here, at a place that was alive.”
Perhaps it’s the family aspect of Candy Kitchen that allows it to remain vibrant and important to the next generation. Because what is nostalgia after all, but a homesickness and longing for the past? And for many a generation, Candy Kitchen is home—at least, the home of their dreams.
“I love working with my family and helping each other,” says Maria. “Plus, I really like seeing the familiar faces through the years.” Gus Laggis, agrees: “All of my memories of this place are my favorite memories.” 2391 Main St., Bridgehampton, 537-9885
PhotograPhy by doug young