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Aug 22, 2012 12:10 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Family Circles Wagons To Keep East Quogue Cafe Afloat

Aug 22, 2012 12:49 PM

On a recent Friday afternoon, while the sun glows softly through the windows of the New Moon Cafe on Main Street in East Quogue, Ron Campsey, with tired green eyes and a red bandana folded neatly and tied around his long white hair, placed a typed letter on a table.

“I turned 70 on June 29th, I don’t feel any different,” it read. “Life has been good to me and I can still feel strength when faced with challenges, but I write this letter to express to you my concern for my family’s business.”

Dated July 11, 2012, the letter was a plea to the employees of a local bank to allow his family a line of credit or a loan—something to help them catch up without being buried in overdraft charges.

“I hate to bother you, for I know you’re a busy person, but an old combat soldier who has asked for little in life other than to be part of the American dream has been beaten down a little too low and could use some help from his local bank,” the letter reads.

A family portrait hangs on the wall above the round wooden table where Mr. Campsey sat with his wife, Shana, and two of his daughters, among Lone Star State memorabilia and decorations. The cafe feels more like a home than a restaurant. It is their means for survival, and it binds them together, they say—but keeping it open has required much sacrifice.

“I wouldn’t sell it to my worst enemy,” Mr. Campsey joked, commenting on the unforgiving nature of the restaurant industry. “It’s tough.”

The couple’s second oldest daughter, Phebe, 26, who is tall and lean and has her brown hair pulled back while working, spent her college days shuttling between the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and the cafe, where she ran the floor. She has been waiting tables since she was old enough to hold a tray, she joked.

“It wasn’t easy,” she said, but adds that through the struggle—that at one point included looming bankruptcy and foreclosure—she still feels lucky: “I wouldn’t change having grown up here for anything in the world.”

Phebe returned home in May after graduating from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a master’s degree in creative art therapy, and agreed to stay until September to help reorganize the family business. With her help, as well as that of her younger sisters, Abby, 20, and Becky, 23, they are catching up, she said. Her older sister, Sarah, who moved to Austin when she was 18, is also home for a two-week visit, and volunteered to take some shifts.

“It’s exciting, because we’ve never gotten to work together, all four of us,” Phebe said.

She admits, though, that as restaurant owners, they aren’t perfect. “We’ve never had all of the parts come together at once,” she said. “The most difficult part of any business is to have it be consistent.”

But this summer is different. She explained that she has taken tips she learned while waiting tables for well-established restaurants in the city—things that make a restaurant run more like a well-oiled machine—and is applying them at the New Moon Cafe.

“It’s a hard thing for an old bull to give up his reign,” Mr. Campsey says, lightheartedly.

A Texas native, Mr. Campsey moved to East Quogue in 1977 and built the cafe, which he refers to as “the old girl,” a year later. He stuck with it through his failed marriage, and met Shana in 1983 in a booth not far from where they are sitting. He was 40, and she was 19. They raised their four girls in the apartment above the restaurant, and he stayed close with his three daughters and son from his previous marriage.

“We’ve seen the bad, the ugly, but we’re still together,” Mr. Campsey said. “That’s the main thing.”

Perhaps more trying than the financial difficulties of running a small business through a recession has been Mr. Campsey’s struggle with the depression and anxiety that have haunted him since he served in Vietnam in 1967, at age 24. Last year, he donated his helmet and other personal items from the war to a museum in Chicago—and for him that was letting go. “My family saw the worst of any man that you could,” Mr. Campsey said. “How can you take that back? How can you apologize?”

He underwent surgery for prostate cancer last year, and though he is now cancer-free, he said it has taken him up to this point to feel better. “I keep telling people when I feel good, good things happen,” he said, adding, “I think we’re going day to day right now.”

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Ron and his family are good people. I'm sorry to read that they are having a difficult time.
By Robert I Ross (250), Hampton Bays on Aug 27, 12 3:26 PM
I have faith that the local community will help the Campseys as they have so many times in the past. They are a great asset to the fabric of our community and each and every one of them is wonderful kind and generous. Let's all stop in for dinner - or at the very least a couple of drinks (provided we have a DD!) to show our support of these hard working locals.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 27, 12 3:29 PM
Been in business for 35 years and have been with the same bank. Never missed a payment and always paid my line of credit back every year. Now the bank says no more line of credit because of federal regs, and people wonder why there are no jobs being created.
By fish sticks (53), hampton bays on Aug 28, 12 7:14 PM
Great people and great food. My kids love this place with the fuzball and the friendly feeling. If this business cant work what can? Lets all try and support them.
By tee2sea (16), Remsenburg on Sep 14, 12 7:45 AM