The Fig and Olive is one of your beautiful options for the Taste the North Fork getaway weekend packages, April 7-9.
Q: How did you come to the North Fork?
George: My parents bought Orient By The Sea Restaurant & Marina in 1978. Lisa and I met in 1981 and we’ve been coming out here ever since. We had a summer place in Southold, on Ashomamack Pond.
The shift to full time happened because we realized we needed to slow our lives down. It was obvious life was too short, and we didn’t want to look back and say wow that was a mistake.
Q: Was there a particular trigger that made you decide to slow down?
Lisa: Three. The first was 9/11, I thought, we’re done. George was in the Trade Center that day.
George: I was president of a clearing corporation for a commodity exchange. I was in 4 World Trade, so two tower fell on us. After that we were in a warehouse in Long Island City. I couldn’t leave the company then. After we were back up and normal again, the second straw was my company being taken over. I mean, I could put up with it, but it wasn’t the same and time just kept ticking by.
The third straw: My father was hit by a car outside of Soundview, in 2007. I gave my notice days later, and a year later I left. It took a while to find and train my replacement. We waited for school to end, and we moved out here in June 2008. I had a two year noncompete so we acclimated out here while I looked around.
Lisa became a teacher at Cutchogue East in the autistic program. After my noncompete was up, I started consulting, which involved going to the city two or three days a week. Two years after that, we looked at each other and were like ‘what are we doing’?
Q: So you decided to become innkeepers?
George: Yes. We looked at The Orient Inn, which was on the market then. It’s such a beautiful building.
Lisa: That staircase—I could see my daughter as a bride walking down that staircase.
George: But we decided it wasn’t, in the end, the one for us and we looked at a few others. Then we saw this place, and we really liked it in part because of the privacy it gave us.
And Lisa fell in love with the land. Lisa’s cousin had a friend who opened a B&B, and it turned out to be next door—the Blue Iris. We’re best friends now. Fated.
From a business standpoint the biggest plus of this location is that you can walk to five vineyards within half a mile—Bedell, Lenz, Pindar, Rafael, and Pugliese.
Q: Did you have any background in hospitality?
George: No. But Lisa can fit into any situation and make anyone comfortable. It’s a real gift, and key in this business. So she does the inside, and hosting. I do the outside and the books.
Q: Any surprises about the B&B business?
George: Well, it was more work than we thought it would be, however we enjoy the lifestyle. We have met many nice people, and we like to share our North Fork knowledge with our guests.
Also the people that we have met through the B&B association have been great. We’re all trying to show someone a good time, there is a friendly competition, but it’s mostly cooperative. We like to hang out, try new recipes on each other bounce business ideas around.
Lisa: We have a joke—you know how people say WWJD What Would Jesus Do? When we have an innkeeping situation, we say: WWDD? What would David (of Cedar House on Sound) do? He’s the professional. (David got into innkeeping after going to school for hospitality and working in the industry).
Q: How long has this been your business?
Lisa: We opened up in June of 2013, so we’re going into our fifth season. When we opened originally, it was a three room B&B, and we made a bridal suite.
In 2016 we expanded to five rooms.
Q: Where did the name Fig & Olive come from? Also, it looks like you have a mini-vineyard out front. What are you growing, and do you make wine?
George: As to the name, a few years back, I bought Lisa a fig tree, and then I bought her an olive tree. The fig tree is still thriving, and the olive tree died, but we’re planting more.
As to our vines, we have half merlot, and half cabernet franc. This is my first year of making wine. I have six gallons of wine in the basement, I have to rack it one more time, and then I’ll bottle it. I think we’ll be opening it spring of 2018. It’ll be a 2016 vintage. It is pretty cool to make wine.
Lisa: Well, we have to taste it first.
Even if it turns out to be vinegar, the vines are really nice to have; people love to sit out among them, we have a fire pit out there too.
Q: Half of a Bed and Breakfast is the breakfast. Do you have any signature dishes?
George: Lisa cooks. If you take a look at our reviews, 98% of them rave about our food.
Lisa: My signature bread is my zucchini bread, in season I make it with vegetables from the garden. I’ll make it gluten free too. I make these Chinese five spice bacon pops. They’re amazing. Also crustless quiches and fritatas, I like to shop the farm stands, use what’s fresh.
George: She presents really well too; that’s an important part of it.
Lisa: We like to do individual plates, we don’t do family style—
George: Oh and your apple-stuffed French toast. That’s really good.
Because we have a two night minimum on weekends, we try to do one sweet and one savory breakfast.
When Lisa is away, we give people a discount on the room and don’t offer breakfast because we need to maintain the standard—my breakfast would be fine, but not superlative like hers. We don’t want repeat customers, or new ones relying on the rave reviews, to be disappointed with my cooking.
It makes me crazy when she makes something for the first time and I’m serving it. It always works out but it’s so risky.
Lisa: We are getting chickens this spring. Both for the freshness of the eggs, and also because they’re so fun, walking around.
George: No rooster though. No waking our guests up in the early morning with a crowing rooster.