As the Sea Levels bar and restaurant celebrates 10 years in Brightwaters, owners Karen and Peter “Monty” Montgomery are pleased to report that they’ve fully realized their vision from a decade ago.
They’ve established a nice “Cheers” kind of vibe in the village.
The West Islip couple loves nothing more than observing a crowded Sea Levels on a Friday or Saturday evening, where it’s not just the longtime staffers and regulars who know one another — it seems everybody else does, too.
“You look around and everyone’s buying each other drinks,” says Monty, with a smile.
In true sitcom fashion, there was also a big wedding that took place between two employees: sous chef Andrew Lenz — who’s been at Sea Levels since 2006 — and Monty’s niece, Cristin, who used to hostess there.
The couple now lives in Brightwaters and has three children.
“You want to know what else is scary?” said bartender Kathy Cinquemani, also from West Islip. “When I started here my sons were 6 and 9. Now one works here and the other is 19 years old, so that’s real perspective. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, to be honest with you.”
Just this week, Cinquemani filled out a random Facebook survey that was to tell her where her “happy place” is. In true, random Facebook survey fashion, the answer was dead on balls accurate (it’s an industry term):
Sea Levels was her happy place.
Cinquemani took right to Facebook to share the survey’s findings.
“So blessed to work at such a great place,” she wrote. “Thanks to Monty, my fellow workers and all of our amazing customers who became friends!”
Cinquemani then invited everyone to Sunday’s big anniversary party, which starts at 3 p.m. — promising “lots of laughs.”
As both Karen and Monty tell it, it might have been the laughs that sustained them, but going into business on their own for the first time — with no margin for error, financially — was a scary proposition in 2006.
“Failure was not an option,” said Monty.
The stakes were raised even higher when the bottom fell out of the U.S. economy about a year later.
The promise of fine dining remained intact, but Sea Levels began to offer many recession specials and lower point-of-entry meals to attract more people.
The owners also had to abandon their original concept for the restaurant, which was to offer fine dining in one room and a bar-style menu in the tavern side.
But it all worked out. Today at Sea Levels, those proverbial walls have been broken down and everyone mixes company.
“In the beginning, we would never serve white zinfandel or Buffalo wings; we decided we didn’t want to be that kind of place. ” said Monty, who has served as a chef at hotels with recognizable names such as Garden City and Ritz Carleton. “But after awhile the customers basically tell you what you need to have, and to be successful you need to listen to them,” he added.
The Sea Levels family — which includes Karen and Monty’s kids, Melissa, Scott, Erin, Travis, and Maggie — has also expanded within the last year, with granddaughters McKinley, 1, and Teagan, who’s just one week old.
But the y won’t only be celebrating a decade in business on Sunday, Sea Levels will be raising money for the nonprofit Hope for the Warriors. The party will feature a 50/50 raffle and gift baskets, as well as some complimentary light fare.
As for the next 10 years, Monty said there are no big changes in store for Sea Levels.
“If it just continues the way it is now, I’d be happy as hell,” he said.
Photo: Sous chef Andrew Lenz, bartender Kathy Cinquemani, and owners Karen and Peter ‘Monty’ Montgomery at Sea Levels, located at 391 N. Windsor Ave. in Brightwaters, on Friday.