Food & Drink
Shippy’s gets a facelift
The Southampton favorite has a new owner—but your schnitzels are safe.
Dateline: Southampton, New York.
Welcome to the heartland of Range Rovers and rosé.
Let’s be honest: when you hear about a facelift in the Hamptons, the last thing that comes to mind is a restaurant. The question is who, not where.
Yet in this case, the procedure in question belongs to Shippy’s Pumpernickel, a beloved Southampton town mainstay that’s been pumping out pumpernickel and assorted German specialties since 1954.
In fact, when it was announced that new ownership was embarking on a restoration, a palpable frisson of fear erupted among the local regulars: “What will become of my schnitzel?”
For, aside from the familiar gemütlich of the place, the long-time clientele came for the German food and the folks who had been serving it to them for decades.
Therein lies the essential challenge: How do you revitalize a longstanding institution for a new era without turning off the locals who represent the core customer franchise? Answer: leave it to a local guy with deep roots in the community and a professional pedigree in food, restaurant hospitality, and brand marketing expertise.
Who better to take on that challenge than one John Betts, who worked at the nearby Mickey D’s as a teen in 1970 before eventually going on to become the CEO of McDonald’s enormous Canadian operation. In fact, after 50 years with McDonald’s, Betts was back at the Shippy’s bar in 2021 when he learned the place was up for sale. The opportunity to purchase the “most famous restaurant in Southampton” was irresistible to a local guy seeking his next life chapter.
The original space had been “decorated” with golf posters on the walls, presumably owing to the fact that it’s located just three miles from the famed Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the historic home of five US Open Golf Tournaments dating back to its founding in 1891.
Although some minor local flourishes can still be found within, windows have been installed on the wall that used to hold the “art.” The 12-seat bar is situated where it has always been, but new features include antique woodwork and hanging light fixtures that began life as Parisian street lamps. Everything about the interior has been refurbished and refreshed, and a beer garden has been added outside.
Randy Marder has been a Shippy’s admirer for many years. While attending the 1986 US Open, he recalls wondering where the pros went to eat. Who does he later discover chowing down on sizzling steaks at Shippy’s? Golf legends Tom Watson and Ray Floyd, who won the tournament that very year.
The old six-page menu has been compressed down to two, but you’ll still find steak, seafood, sandwiches, and German dishes on offer at the just-reopened restaurant. I can recommend the two I sampled for lunch—a smoked fish salad and a bratwurst—both copious quantities of very tasty tavern fare.
You could enjoy any of ten beers on tap, or ask bartender Fran for a handmade margarita or lemon drop martini. Betts retained almost all of the old staff, so that both the chef of 46 years and some crowd favorite dishes are coming back too.
With only a couple of summer months to earn the vast majority of required annual revenue, beachfront resort communities like the Hamptons are often filled with a potpourri of high-priced pop-ups, which makes these beloved old-time standbys that much more rare and valuable. A self-described “change agent” with his focus on culture and customer experience, John Betts is accustomed to success. I wouldn’t bet against him having it here.
The pumpernickel may now be gone from the Shippy’s name, (“nobody called it Shippy’s Pumpernickel anyway”), but thank goodness . . . the schnitzel remains.
Hero photo of the opening of the new Shippy's by Chloe Gifkins