In June of last year, “06880” wandered over the border to report on Southport Beach.
Staples Class of 2004 grad Hunter King and his brothers, Carter and Parker, had just won a bid for the concession stand there. They invested $30,000 — and considerable sweat — into transforming the 66-year-old “shack” into a unique dining experience.
They sourced food from local farmers, dairymen and ranchers. The non-traditional — but delicious — beach menu included garlic herb marinated shrimp skewers, quesadillas, lobster tacos, chicken chimichangas, bacon jam burgers and hormone-and-preservative-free hot dogs.
“King’s Kitchen” became the go-to concession stand. Connecticut Magazine named it #28 on its Top 100 Places in the State list.
Hunter King, in his Southport Beach kingdom last summer.
But in October, Hurricane Sandy struck. The wooden shack was knocked off its foundation, and floated 30 feet across Pequot Avenue.
Thought undamaged, Fairfield’s Parks and Rec Department told Hunter on May 1 that he could not use the building. The town said FEMA regulations required a new foundation, 13 feet above wave height — and a handicap ramp 156 feet long.
With less than a month to go before opening, Hunter agreed to service his contract using a vending cart.
The contract called for the town to supply a building, water, power and wastewater services. But power was not restored until July 8.
The health inspector limited the menu to 4 items — with no coffee or breakfast food allowed.
The town put the shack up for sale. Hunter was the sole bidder, at $450 — the amount raised at a “Save the Shack” pig roast fundraiser held at the beach.
Given just 1 week to act, the Kings went to work. But jacking up the building, and securing permits, trucking and a final home for the shack was too daunting.
Richard — their 59-year-old father — fell from the building during the jacking process, and spent 10 days in ICU.
The town has threatened numerous times to crush the building. Word on the Southport streets — and the side of the building — is that it will be demolished tomorrow (Monday, August 12).
Southport residents believe once the shack is moved, it will no longer be grandfathered in. All food service at the beach would be eliminated.
Frustrated by what they called “the lack of transparency and duplicitousness on the part of the Town, no indications of their future plans for the beach, and heavy handed treatment without real regulatory notice or statutory imperative,” a group of beach lovers is urging Fairfield citizens to contact the first selectman (email@example.com), Parks and Rec director (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Parks and Rec Commission chair (email@example.com).
The group asks to be cced: SaveTheShack@gmail.com.
The Compo Beach concession stand sells lobster rolls, fish and chips, Boar’s Head cold cuts, portobello mozzarella sandwiches, gelato, souvenir t-shirts, beach chairs — there’s even an ATM machine (though you can run a family tab).
Southport Beach — a couple of miles away, as the seagull flies — has long made do with pre-packaged ice cream and sugary sodas.
Not any more. The food-fueled rivalry between Westport and Fairfield has a new beachhead: the beachfront.
And it’s a trio of Westporters who are making Southport Beach into the culinary place to be.
Hunter King, in his Southport Beach kingdom.
Hunter King graduated from Staples in 2004. His brother Carter followed 2 years later; Parker, 2 years after that.
Last Thanksgiving, they sat talking. They had vague ideas of buying a food truck. An uncle said that Southport Beach was always closed. He figured it was ripe for a new concessionaire.
Hunter talked to the 1st selectman, who referred him to Parks and Recreation. They were in the midst of negotiations for a new 5-year contract. The former concessionaire had run all 4 Fairfield beaches; Southport seemed a bit of an afterthought.
But Hunter liked the scenic location. In addition to beachgoers, there was plenty of vehicular traffic — plus walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
The Kings were always interested in food. Hunter cooked since childhood, and loved growing herbs. He was a waiter, a cook, and took college classes in baking and the culinary arts.
Carter was a sous chef at the Dressing Room, and worked at Rizzuto’s. Parker worked at Tarry Lodge.
The 3 Kings bid on the Southport concession only — and won it.
Immediately, they went to work.
They put in a new kitchen, and insulation. They redid the floor.
Most importantly, they upgraded the menu.
“King’s Kitchen” believes in a farm-to-table concept, with an emphasis on locally organic and sustainable food.
The menu includes fresh lobster rolls, organic burgers and hot dogs, grilled corn with cilantro and jalapeno butter, watermelon and heirloom tomato salad, smoothies and milk shakes.
Since opening May 28, word of mouth has been great. Almost too good, in fact: Sometimes the brothers can’t keep enough goods in stock. (Being 200 square feet does not help.)
“We’ve felt a lot of positive energy,” Hunter says. “We try to be good, honest people. We think if we give something to people, it will come back to us.”
While still ironing out the kinks, the Kings are already looking ahead. They’d like to offer fried oysters on the half shell, with roasted red pepper. Also, a lemon thyme hot dog.
And maybe smoke a pig, for pulled pork sandwiches.
“We’re small,” Hunter says. “But we’ve got big ideas.”
One of those ideas is staying open later. Right now the hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.(ish). “We won’t turn you away if you come while we’re cleaning up,” Hunter says.
They’re supposed to close for the season on September 3. That’s a short window of opportunity, for guys with long-term plans.
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