Forever gone is the tradition of a holiday Long Island Duck dinner at John Duck Jr.
It was “The home of good food.” When brothers Mark and John Westerhoff reported to work every day on 15 Prospect Street it was special. They followed the footsteps of their father, John, his brother Uncle Roger, and their grandfather, Ben.
Before 1946, the restaurant John Duck Jr. was located on Jobs Lane in what was once the Park Hotel and now is the home of Agawam Albertson Real Estate. The original restaurant of great-grandfather John Westerhoff was located in Eastport, but his son Ben came to Southampton in 1936. In 1946 Ben had a choice to make, either buy the Jobs Lane building for $10,000 or buy the 15 Prospect Street for $5,000. Ben chose the less expensive option, purchasing Bill Thiele’s Terrace Inn, which had been a notorious speakeasy. In fact many years later when some renovations were done, unopened Gin bottles were found in the walls from Prohibition days.
Years back while talking to Mark and John Westerhoff about there lives it became apparent about the commitment they had to the business. Their first jobs were raising the flags at 6 and 7 years old for fifty cents a week in the early 1960s for then owners Uncle Roger and their dad, John, as well as tending to the tropical fish in the fish tanks. Thirty years later John had to watch the fish in the tanks moved as the new owners converted the place into a posh upscale catering hall.
Their mother Gloria Westerhoff, at a vibrant 83 years young, use to greet old time customers like 90-year-old former Southampton Town Justice Ted Sharrets when he stopped in for his usual lunch or Barbara Proferes whose late husband Christy owned Christy’s Liquor Store in Sag Harbor and has been stopping in for over 50 years herself. In fact for over 40 years, civic organizations such as the Southampton Rotary Club, the Southampton Lions Club, The North Sea Lions Club, and the Kiwanis Club met regularly at John Duck Jr.
Besides the locals, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were regulars. Marlo Thomas held a St Jude’s fundraiser there. Even Hamptons legend Bobby Van would pop in and play the piano at the bar. A group of old farmers from Water Mill had been coming in to play a card game called “Pedro” for 40 years on a regular basis. But remember John Duck Jr. was a fine German restaurant that served Long Island duck. As John said, “As Germans we only do duck one way, the right way.” The tradition was ordering a roast Long Island duckling with apple raisin stuffing. The boys calculated in their heyday they prepared about 1,700 ducks per year.
Since buying the place in 1946 the family had done some major expansions and renovations. In 1952 they had added the present kitchen and a room that to the day they sold it 56 years later was still called the, “the new room.” A terrace was added in 1956. The present front was added in 1964 and the patio was added in 1968. Recent renovations by the new owner has accented the marvelous wood floors but those beautiful nautical paintings of schooners, ketches, and racing yachts that were on the walls are all gone.
John told of how years ago when people came for dinner men wore jackets, ties, and fedoras, removing the fedoras while eating. He said today informal wear is accepted but that his mother always was annoyed when men wore baseball caps during the meal.
When working the boys said they felt their father's presence still around. John Duck’s had always been a family place where children of all ages were welcome. In fact over the years there were five marriages of in-house staff including waitress Sandy who in 2008 was in her 30th year working at John Duck Jr. and was married to bartender George, who was in his 15th year.
Even Mark Westerhoff married an employee, his loving wife, Elizabeth, who helped in the office. Now they have two sons, Christian and Nick (fifth generation Westerhoffs) who helped out doing things like washing “bottles,” before the sale. John Westerhoff has a daughter, Dyan, who was a member of the Class of 2009. John in 2008 reflected, “At Southampton High School I had some teachers who taught my father and now my daughter has some teachers who taught me.”
So why the name John Duck Jr.? John explains, “No one could pronounce my great grandfather's name so they called him John the duck hunter which became John Duck. When his son, my grandfather Ben, moved to Southampton in 1936 he opened the restaurant as John Duck Jr.”
At the time in the Spring of 2008 the boys said, “Things are great, this is our home, we are not looking to sell,” however they continued, "if someone offered a crazy number we would be crazy not to think about it." They sold the property later that year.