Ian Duke, Restauranteur

By: Norah Lawlor

Living in the Hamptons for several years, Ian Duke has made quite an impact on Southampton’s social and culinary scene. As a key part of the leadership team behind the 2019 launch of Union Burger Bar and the ever-popular Southampton Social Club since 2010, Ian along with his partners, David Hilty and Tuck Hardie, are embarking on a new venture with the launch of the all-new Union Sushi & Steak this summer.

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Catering to a clientele both in New York City and Southampton, Ian prides himself on designing hospitality experiences that are appealing to families, groups, locals, singles, and as go-to venues for parties and events, whether it is during the bustle of the summer season and holidays or the quieter times in between.

While it has been a challenging start to the 2020s with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ian has maintained a strong presence in the Hamptons and looks to make the summer of 2020 the best it can be by providing some of the most memorable gourmet meals and nightlife scene for everyone to enjoy.

When and how did you first realize that you wanted to work in the culinary and hospitality industry?

I started quite humbly as a dishwasher around 12-13 years of age. Since then I have worked in nearly every position in the restaurant business and am a partner in six restaurants now, including Prohibition—a live music bar, restaurant, and lounge on the Upper West Side; three Lucky’s Famous Burgers located in Hell’s Kitchen, the East Village, and Chelsea; Southampton Social Club; Union Burger Bar; and most recently Union Sushi & Steak, also in Southampton. Also this summer, for the first time, my restaurant partners from Prohibition in New York City and my partners from the Hamptons are joining forces to open The Baylander in New York City once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. This restaurant is going to be very unique. Baylander is a beautifully restored naval vessel that was most recently used for the training of Navy helicopter pilots and was known as the world’s smallest aircraft carrier. Moored at the West Harlem piers, it has a casual, beer garden-style feel, killer cocktails, and one of the best sunsets in Manhattan.

What is a typical day like for you? 

There’s really no such thing as a typical day in the restaurant business. That’s one of the best and worst things about it. You never know what will happen—and I say that on both the good and bad sides. Even with everything going on, most days fall into the good category! We work in a business that has an immense number of variables, which means there will be many potential things that can happen. Because of this, our restaurants and their staff are very well-suited to handle the challenges of running a business, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Union Burger Bar celebrating its second season, and Southampton Social Club its historic 10th season, what inspired you to open Union Sushi & Steak, and what prompted you to choose its particular theme?


Last year when we opened Union Burger Bar, Chef Scott Kampf and I did so for the main reason that we both really love burgers and we saw the need for a good gourmet burger restaurant in the Hamptons. We were an instant hit from day one. Fast forward a year, and we had a similar situation. I am a believer that the ultimate goal for every restaurateur should be to give people what they want. I am a big red meat eater and love a traditional steakhouse. I love ordering a great steak and then all the things that come with it—the specific sides, as opposed to the chef allocating what comes with a dish. We’re going to have a few of the best—the best filet, the best strip, the best ribeye.

With the sushi, we have a great chef who has worked all over, and this is going to be his unveiling in the Hamptons. Building the first sushi bar in Southampton, we are really confident that this will exceed the expectations of the slightly more sophisticated crowd that comes with it.

I also want to make Union Sushi & Steak the nightlife hub for the slightly “older” crowds who have been clamoring for a hotspot where they won’t be overwhelmed by the twenty-somethings that regularly inhabit Southampton Social Club.

What do you regard as being the secrets to success in the hospitality industry?

My team, including the exceptional leadership of chefs Scott Kampf and Mark Fasciana; general managers Chris Cappiello, James Brew, and Shelly Roberto; and our resident house mom Carolyn Cashman.  It truly is a business where no one job is any more important than any other, and everyone relies on one another in order for everything to work smoothly.  The irony is that as the owner, if anything, I’m the least important person in the place. Secondly, I’d say would be the ability to adapt to anything on a small and large scale. Every day is a different one that will present different challenges. Being able to roll with the punches is paramount.  The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown had a major impact on the restaurant and hospitality industry.

What changes have you made to your businesses to keep them going, and how will you handle social distancing this summer season?

Early on it was very challenging because the statewide closures happened so quickly and no one knew what you could or could not do. But thankfully, one of the state orders was that restaurants would be able to still operate via pickup and delivery. Besides being a great sit-down restaurant, Union Burger Bar already had a strong pick-up service that we expanded on. Social Club had a delayed start to the season, and we were in the middle of renovating to open Union Sushi & Steak, so quarantine just gave us more time to focus on the upcoming Hamptons season.

We strongly encourage reservations for both Union Sushi & Steak and Union Burger Bar to reduce the possibility of people congregating while waiting, and the fact people been wanting to get out, we anticipate long waits. However, you can still grab a cocktail at the bar and enjoy the outdoors while waiting.

At Southampton Social Club, we are requiring reservations; unfortunately, there will be no exceptions for this. Absolutely all guests during this outdoor dining time need to have a reservation for entrance. As restrictions are removed, we hope to be able to adjust this policy.

Masks will be required at all our locations, but can be removed once at your table as tables have been spread out with social distancing in mind.

photo by Rob Rich/SocietyAllure.com ©2020

How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will affect your businesses long term?

It will be a while before we get back to normal or the “new normal,” but if everyone does their part to stay healthy, protect themselves and others, and continue to support each other, the restaurant and hospitality industry will make a comeback.

When not working at your restaurants, how did you pass your time during quarantine? How do you spend your free time now?

While lockdown might have slowed down everyone else, I was constantly busy, so there was not much free time, especially with renovations we were making to Union Burger Bar and for the opening of Union Sushi & Steak. Three months later, we are ready to go. But, when I do have a little time, I have now taken up tennis. I need to work on my back swing!

To date, what has been your best Hamptons moment?

There have been many  unbelievable  moments—things I never could have imagined. But they all came from one…I’d have to say the opening of Southampton Social Club. It was really the beginning of a whole new life for me.


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