A visit to the Vine Street Café

Vine Street Café opened on Shelter Island in 2003. (Photo courtesy)

Vine Street Café on Shelter Island showcases the talents of its chef-owners, Lisa Murphy-Harwood and Terry Harwood. Ahead of their busy season kicking off, we asked Terry to share some insight into how they give their menus a distinct flavor and style.

Vine Street Café chefs Lisa Murphy-Harwood and Terry Harwood. (Credit: Doug Young)

Q: Tell us about your different backgrounds and what each of you have brought to the kitchen of Vine Street.

A: Lisa started out in television communications. In her mid-twenties, she decided to follow her passion and enrolled in a cooking school. I was working at Union Square Café when she joined the team as a pastry assistant. I had worked as a chef in many award-winning kitchens and later became a corporate executive chef in charge of several hotel kitchens. Because I have traveled a lot, Lisa joined me on this road which eventually led us to Shelter Island.

In addition to raising our two teenage sons, these days Lisa focuses on desserts, maintaining our finances, and catering. Additionally, she manages the logistics side of our sauce bottling company, called Bottlehouse Foods. My daily schedule has me working side-by-side with Chef Hector at the Vine Street Café as I create and execute menus for all of our businesses and manage much of the day-to-day. For us, it’s a balance that works.

Q: What led you to open Vine Street here in 2003?

A: My job took me to Shelter Island to run the Sunset Beach startup. Our goal quickly became to settle down and start a family here. We found a dilapidated building for sale and made an offer which was surprisingly accepted. It took every penny we had, an indescribable amount of work, untold battles and sacrifices, just the two of us with no partners or really knowing anyone on Shelter Island. We have just discreetly opened our doors to a crowd of onlookers on a rainy Thursday in April. We were deeply touched by the local support we received that evening. This is what allowed us to live our dream.

Q: Vine Street is known for its fresh ingredients from around the East End. Was it difficult to obtain these ingredients?

A: Our primary goal is to support local farmers. We also grow many of our own tomatoes, vegetables and herbs here. We get 100% of our wild seafood through Montauk. We are delighted to support local oyster farmers and clam fishermen.

Q: You are not just the bosses, you are the owners. What changes have you made in response to the pandemic?

A: Our first thoughts became our mantra: Stay open no matter what. Continue to serve our community in some capacity. Once again, the people of Shelter Island have given us tremendous support, so we have been able to stay open, with takeout and our market, until we can resume meals on site.

Q: Can you describe the consistent level of service you encourage in your staff, particularly with manager Chris Calloway?

A: We met Chris over two decades ago when he was just 19 years old. Lisa and I were driving across the country and stopped at an Outback Steakhouse in Tennessee. He was our server and we just loved him. After getting to know him that night, we felt he needed a home, so we offered him a job and he started working a few weeks later. He excelled in every role – waiter, captain, bartender, became general manager about 10 years ago. He comes naturally when it comes to the needs of our customers and he trains our staff to be their best person inside and out because people can make a difference.

Q: What’s planned for spring and summer?

A: For nine months of the year, we are open five days, Thursday to Monday from 5 p.m., dinner only. Summer is 7 days, opening at 5 p.m. We are going to introduce some novelties like orecchiette with duck meatballs and parmesan broth.

Q: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

A: Families and businesses on Shelter Island need available and affordable housing and we need to find a range of solutions to achieve this.

Vine Street Café is located at 41 South Ferry Road.

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