V.F.W. Makes Way For Chez

Susan Rosenbaum | June 25, 1998

The M60 army tank stays, but the wartime mementos inside the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Montauk Highway just east of Wainscott are gone.

In their place are cream-colored walls suggestive of Mediterranean stucco and graceful archways reminiscent of Tuscany. Cypress trees are said to be on order to enhance the indoor decor.

Gone, too - rumor and a formal application notwithstanding - is Billy Joel's name from the new restaurant being readied for a Fourth of July, or thereabouts, opening. Cesare Dellaguzzo, who spent nine years running the nearby Sapore di Mare, will be its manager.

Ciao Billy

Just eight days ago, when Jack Kehoe of Sign Language, an East Hampton signmaker, appeared before the East Hampton Village Design Review Board, the enterprise's name was to have been "Chez and Billy." Indeed, permission for a two-way sign spelling out that name on the sign, the front windows, and on a canopy, was duly granted.

The application for the sign and canopy lists both Mr. Dellaguzzo and Mr. Joel as owners.

That was then. This is now.

Now the restaurant's name is "Chez and Chez," a sort of double-entendre mingling the French for "at the home of" with a phonetic diminutive of Mr. Dellaguzzo's first name.

He Will Be Seen

"Billy is not a partner, and as far as I know he is not putting any money behind it," Jane Arginteanu, Mr. Joel's spokeswoman at Maritime Music in Southampton, told The Star Tuesday. She said her information came straight from the Piano Man, who is recuperating at home in Amagansett from an upper respiratory infection that caused him to cancel a recent European tour.

"He intends to eat there often," said Ms. Arginteanu. "He will be seen" at the restaurant.

For his part, "When I walk in the door, I want to have an orgasm," said Mr. Dellaguzzo this week. "I want to open a restaurant that is sexy, seductive, hip, fun, and joyful," he added, his blue eyes sparkling in anticipation.

"You won't need a loan to eat here," he promised, declining, though, to name his chef, who, he said, will be coming from a "recognizable" New York restaurant.

Tough Call For Vets

While the new venture seems a happy career move for Mr. Dellaguzzo, it was a tougher decision for East Hampton's veterans to lease their Everit Albert Herter Post building, where they have held meetings and gathered socially since buying the place for $460,000 in October 1987.

That was months after they sold their stately Main Street headquarters, now London Jewelers, to East Hampton Village for $1 million.

This is the first time they have leased the building, V.F.W. officials said.

The veterans will hold their June meeting this week at Mary Jane's restaurant in East Hampton, and will hold smaller, informal gatherings in the single-family house the post owns behind the now-former headquarters on a nearly three-acre lot.

Financial Pressures

The V.F.W., which counts roughly 240 members, is reported to have experienced financial difficulties in recent years, saddled in part by a roughly $25,000 bill for energy and general maintenance costs, and affected, too, by an aging membership.

In recent years several local chefs, including Bobby Thomas, ran its dining room and kitchen as a concession, turning over a percentage of the take to the V.F.W.

"If the post could have afforded to, it would have been nice to keep the building as it was," said Elbert T. Edwards, an East Hampton Village Trustee and the post's junior vice commander. "Otherwise, we might have had to sell it."

"Money pressure made for a lot of arguments among members," Mr. Edwards said, acknowledging that not all the old soldiers backed the idea. He was one who did. "It's better off rented," he said. "It will be used more."

Mr. Dellaguzzo has taken a 10-year lease on the building at $60,000 a year, with an option to renew for another five. He is putting in a new entrance to the west of the existing one.

At center stage of Chez and Chez, he said, will be a woodburning oven for the preparation of pizza, fish, meats, and vegetables.

"We're going to stay away from heavy sauces," said Mr. Dellaguzzo, and use instead "local produce, good olive oil, God, and the earth." Without drinks, he estimated an average meal, year-round, at $30.