Relaxed, Ready to Stay

Surf Lodge’s new team promises subtle changes
Jayma Cardoso
Jayma Cardoso, the maitre d’ of merriment at Montauk’s Surf Lodge, sees smoother seas ahead for the once-embattled club. Tom McMorrow

    “We’re not cool.”
    So says Jayma Cardoso, the maitre d’ hotel of the Surf Lodge, Montauk’s magnet for the young and hip, although her clientele would likely take issue with Ms. Cardoso’s self-evaluation.
    After a year in the spotlight during a bruising court battle between the Town of East Hampton and the previous ownership of the club, Edgemere Montauk L.L.C., which finally ended on May 14 with the new owners Montauk Properties agreeing to pay the town a record-setting $100,000 fine, Ms. Cardoso now feels free to return the Lodge to the original vision she had for it when the club was first opened in 2008.
    “The whole idea when we first opened the Surf Lodge,” she said in a recent interview, was to have music and relaxed fun, but “no doorman, we wanted everybody to be able to come in.”
    And come they did, to enjoy the sunsets over Fort Pond, music on the deck, and the down-home funky beach ambiance Ms. Cardoso created.
    In her eyes, though, the club fell victim to its own success, with people flocking to the Surf Lodge in ever-increasing numbers.
    The growing crowds, particularly late at night, kindled local opposition to the summer hot spot, creating a chasm between the club and some residents of Montauk, a gulf Ms. Cardoso wants to bridge.
    “We don’t want to change the fact that everybody can come in, but we do want to limit the numbers,” she said.
    In order to do that, Ms. Cardoso is switching the restaurant side of the business to a reservation-preferred seating plan.
    She points out an irony of the restaurant business that, at a certain point, more customers do not equal more money.
    “It is not fun for the community. It is not fun for the guests,” she said, adding, “We don’t make more money.”
    When a restaurant is crowded, Ms. Cardoso said, service declines, and the check average per customer drops.
    There are many other tweaks and changes in the works.
    “I sympathize with some of the frustrations [of the neighbors]. I like to put myself in other people’s shoes,” she said.
    “If I went out of my house to walk my dog, and I found a bottle of beer, I would be really angry. I’m the kind of person that would take that bottle to the Surf Lodge and say, ‘Look, this is not cool.’ ”
    To prevent such incidents, Ms. Cardoso has employees coming in at 7 a.m., to walk two miles in either direction from the club’s location on Edgemere Street, picking up every cup and bottle they see, including items not sold at the Lodge.
    “The best thing we can do as a business,” she said, in order to get along with the community, “is to think of everything that could potentially be a hurdle.”
    To be clear, Montaukers should not expect a teetotaling somber soiree to replace the Lodge. “I definitely want to keep the concerts. I’m not going to sit here and tell you, we’re going to stop everything, that we’re going to be a sleepy venue.”
    “But now we’re going to stop the live music at 9 p.m. In the past, we would shut the music in the back,” the deck that faces out over the water, “between 11 and 12. Now we’re going to shut that music at 10 p.m.”
    “Sound travels. Sometimes a laugh will get to the other side. Because the vibe inside will be more chilled,” Ms. Cardoso said, the sounds outside should be a little less frenetic.
    Ms. Cardoso is bringing in a new chef as well, Chris Randle, who is replacing original chef, Sam Talbot, a “Top Chef” finalist.
    About Mr. Randle, Ms. Cardoso said, “He’s an amazing chef who’s going to embrace the local farmers we have” and, of course, the fresh-out-of-the-ocean fish.
    “In the past years, we had become a place where you go to hear a band and to have a cocktail.” Ms. Cardoso foresees a new emphasis on the dining experience.
    “It’ll be a place to have brunch in the afternoon, and segue into a beautiful dinner in the early evening.”
    One thing not changing is the laid-back atmosphere.
    “No high heels,” she said. “It’s a place where you can come in your flip-flops and your sarong.”
    Another change that Surf Lodge habitues will find in 2012 is the timing of the last call for drinks. “We intend to shut down at 2 a.m. Last call will be at 1:45.” In the past, the closing hour was 4 a.m. “My mother taught me, ‘Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.’ ”
    Ms. Cardoso was one of four children born to Marina and Jayr Cardoso, 35 years ago in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba, near the South Atlantic. She was named after both her father (Jayr) and mother, (Marina), hence, Jayma.
    Her parents were very religious people, and the family was close-knit. “That gave me and my sisters and brother a strong base, a strong core,” she said.
    The New York Times announced Ms. Cardoso’s engagement to Scott Campbell, an investor, a couple of years ago. Ms. Cardoso was demure on the exact details of the coming marriage.
    She first discovered Montauk when she was working as hostess at Rocco Ancarola’s Boom Bistro in Bridgehampton 12 years ago, Ms. Cardoso said. At the end of a hectic nonstop weekend, she would go to East Deck Motel in Ditch Plain to recharge her batteries. “Montauk would be my refuge,” she said.
    The new ownership group, which is headed by the Internet entrepreneur Michael Walrath, a Montauk homeowner, is in it for the long haul, she said.
    “We don’t need to make that [investment] money this season. Maybe 20 years. Maybe 30.”
    “I want to run a business that is, foremost, responsible. That is manageable. We can manage the parking system. We can manage the front of the house. We can manage the guest experience. And it doesn’t matter if I’m in Montauk, or if I’m in Nantucket, or if I’m in Brazil.”
    Besides the music, another aspect of the business that won’t be changing is Ms. Cardoso’s insistence that her customers do not get behind the wheel of a car if they’ve been drinking.
    “I tell them, if you turn out of here, you’re going to be arrested,” she said. She stresses to her clientele, that while it may seem inconvenient to leave the car behind, that inconvenience is far outweighed by the life-changing experience of being arrested, or even worse, being in an accident while drunk.
    “I watch them,” she said about her clientele, as they prepare to exit. Even a slightly tipsy customer receives Ms. Cardoso’s counsel.
    She has set up a system with local Montauk cabs, as well as her own staff, to make sure her customers get home safely.
    “Whatever it takes,” she said.
    Ms. Cardoso believes she has put a strong staff in place. “I now have 45 people who want to make the place work, no matter what.”
    She sees the changes made as a natural maturing process for the Surf Lodge, as newer nightspots become the “cool” flavor of the month, while the Surf Lodge mellows a bit.
    And if the changes mean that the Lodge loses money?
    “If it doesn’t work, and we cannot pay our bills, then we cannot be in business.”
    “I’m confident my plan will work,” she said with a smile.