Dockside in Winter

On a Tuesday afternoon during this frigid January on Fire Island, ferry service had resumed after several days of suspension due to bay ice conditions. Through it all foot traffic remained at a steady pace at Dockside Brick Oven Pizza & Deli – the only grocery store on the island that is open this time of year.

A PSEG Long Island tree trimmer came by, hardhat in hand, to order a deli sandwich for lunch. Another gentleman stopped by to pick up a six-pack of Montauk Beer and some lottery tickets.

The shelves are stocked with gourmet chips, breakfast cereal, homemade muffins and even disposable diapers – a little of everything that someone might need. As store proprietor, 31-year-old Travis D’Arienzo understands his customers, and offers prompt and gracious service to all who pass through the door.

“Construction workers come in all day, and we have more homeowners who stay here now since the pandemic,” he explained. “At first it was tricky; we had door service only. But now people have a better sense of how to stay safe and what to do.”

We live in interesting times. How about those supply chain issues?

“Some companies have insisted I increase my minimum orders, but 30 cases of soda is too much during this time of year. So I had to get creative and go through a restaurant distribution service to get the quantities that work for us.”

Indeed, creativity has been the key to finding resourceful solutions for Travis to keep his store thriving.

A local Long Island boy from West Islip, Travis, purchased the decades old established business known as the Mermaid Market back in 2015. However, he was no stranger to Fire Island’s grocer industry. “I started working for Alan and Evelyn when I was 17, and never looked back,” he said with a smile.

Of course, he was talking about Alan and Evelyn Whitney, longtime keepers of Whitney’s Market on the west end of Ocean Beach. The store today is known as The Pantry, owned by Island Mermaid’s Scott Hirsch. Travis remains involved with The Pantry, managing it in the summer months alongside his store on the east side of OB by the ferry basin.

In 2019 Mermaid Market was renamed Dockside – the same summer Travis invested in a state-of-the-art ceramic pizza oven – and started producing the made to order personal pies that were an instant hit that summer. As the season wound down, the oven went on winter hiatus, but their sandwich board kept going strong.When the pandemic landed hard on New York the following spring, Travis amped up store operations early to keep those who sought refuge on the island fed. The higher year-round population remains here two winters later. That said, Fire Island National Seashore’s decision to revoke Dockside’s off-season business driving permit in the autumn of 2021 still leaves us scratching our heads.

“Nothing really changed so I’m not sure why they did it,” he said.

Staying resolute, Travis eventually persuaded FINS to grant him a partial permit for weekends only, with an ice-over provision for harsh weather conditions when ferry service is suspended.

He then recalibrated accordingly.“We are still open when the first ferry arrives until the last one leaves,” he said with pride. “I tell my customers if they want to place a special order, let me know by Thursday so I can bring it over in my truck.”

Recently Dockside introduced another feature to their off-season customers – Friday Pizza Night. While the pizza oven is too costly to operate on a daily basis during the off-season, they fire it up every Friday, offering a treat for the island-bound that stay here.

On the cusp of February, another storm is on the way. Closures have again been announced, including Dockside this time, because holding an ice-over permit does not necessarily mean it is safe to make the journey. However, the days are already noticeably longer, and we all know the bustling summer is not that far away.