Known to the rest of the world as a reality TV star in the Hamptons, Zach Erdem is a local restaurant owner and a neighbor, someone you definitely want to know. As the owner of 75 Main and Blue Mar in Southampton Village, he treats his staff like his family and views staying open in the Winter as a non-negotiable.
Walking through the construction and directing builders as we went, Zach beamed like a proud parent as he explained the renovations and updates coming to the restaurant, slated for reopening in March. “This is the first time 75 Main has closed since I bought it,” Zach says with a note of pride. “People keep calling me asking if something is wrong – don’t worry! We will be right back and better than ever! For now, come see us at Blue Mar!”
That community love and appreciation are essential to Zach, and he returns to this idea—that restaurants create community—frequently over our conversation. Zach is easy to talk to with a warm smile and is never slow to offer you hospitality. Speaking over drinks at Blue Mar (espresso for Zach, Corona for me), we instantly connected on working as a dishwasher.
“I live upstairs [above 75 Main], and there are 9 other rooms for staff members. The staff is my family, and this restaurant is my home. Of course, we stay open all year because people need to work and they rely on me. They need to work, so we make it work. You can’t be greedy; you have to share with people.” This almost paternal appreciation for the people who work for him is a rarity in many ways.
Clearly, Zach has a long history in restaurants. I was surprised that Zach was a dishwasher at 75 Main before he purchased the restaurant in 2010. Before moving to 75 Main, he was a dishwasher at Blue Mar, a restaurant he also owns.
The little things matter to Zach, and he works hard to inspire action from his team. “Attitude is everything; you have to be all in.” Proudly, Zach adds that he has had the same team since he started. “When I look for new team members, especially for the show, I’m all about energy. I’ve never said, ‘that’s not my job,’ and that’s what I expect from my team.”
Hearing Zach speak about leadership and management, he reveals humility and kindness that his reality show, Serving the Hamptons, often overlooks. Sure, you can see his mischievous, made-for-TV smile, but there is also a sincerity that shines face-to-face.
Generosity, responsibility, understanding—I was struck by how effortlessly Zach modeled these leadership qualities.“It makes me happy, so why change it,” Zach says about his work and life philosophy—the kind of boss you want. “We’re open all year because I can’t think about putting people out of work. When you’re making money, you must make room for your people.”
Remaining open year-round isn’t just wishful thinking or generosity, it’s hard work and effort. “We are always looking for ways to get people in the door – our menu is spectacular and keeps people coming back, so why close down in the Winter? We hit it as hard in the summer to stay open year-round. Feeding people is my favorite thing.”
After moving from rural Turkey to Istanbul at 18 and New York City at 21, Zach knows a thing or two about hard work. Asked what it takes to make it as a restauranteur in the Hamptons, Zach replied, “Effort, imagination, and a sense of duty to your people. Many people want to be here but aren’t willing to try hard enough. You have to imagine something special and then never stop building it.”
75 Main has been around long enough that Zach remembers when Southampton College was open, and I wondered how the College impacted the restaurant. “I love this question! The College was fantastic for us – young people bring so much energy. Not just as guests but for our team. We miss the College so much!”
Still, without the college to bring in new hires, Zach doesn’t have to look far for new team members. While his core team has stayed the same over the years, Zach’s family-first approach to leadership is visible in how he builds his team. “There are local families that have been coming to 75 Main since we opened, and their kids are now in high school. It’s such an honor for me to be able to give kids their first jobs. This works so well for us because I know them before they start working for me.”
Staying relevant and in touch with people’s wants is challenging, but it starts with a great product. “Nobody else is doing what we are doing at 75 Main. Where else can you go for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late at night? Young people want to dance, so we have a DJ who plays late into the night. Then, you get hungry after dancing, where do you go? Our kitchen is open; honestly, I love feeding people.”
The restaurant world has changed significantly since Zach started, but he has always stayed ahead of the curve. “Change is good when you are in charge of it,” Zach says with a wink. “These renovations are changing, the TV show is change, but that’s good. Same thing with health food, which is huge now. The restaurants that don’t adapt are the ones that aren’t here anymore.”