John Peragine wasn’t convinced.
He thought his old high school friend Scottie Campbell was kinda crazy for suggesting the two start a fancy restaurant in Patchogue.
“No way am I doing anything in downtown Patchogue,” Peragine told him.
In Peragine’s words, downtown Patchogue was “a dump.”
So Peragine thought.
You see, it had been about 12 years since the Pat-Med graduate had taken a look around his old stomping grounds. Peragine had moved into Manhattan to work as a chef in top restaurants — and he didn’t turn back.
But now it was 2006, and things had started to change a bit on Main Street.
“I didn’t realize what was going on,” Peragine said.
The two friends toured the downtown together, and checked out the restaurant space that Campbell’s late brother had operated, the Bull & Bear, located at 114 W. Main St. (It’s now The Tap Room, which Campbell and Peragine helped open.)
“The downtown was cleaner, not as many empty storefronts,” Peragine recalled “I thought it looked like a nice, quaint little downtown. They had cleaned it up a lot.”
The two then happened to run into Mayor Paul Pontieri on the street.
“Scottie introduced me to Paul, who told me his vision for Patchogue and kind of sold me on the whole thing,” Peragine said.
Campbell recalled saying he “grabbed John and said, ‘Hey man let’s turn this town around. You’re a great chef. I got a great following in Patchogue. Let’s make this work! Not only that, let’s put our name on it!’”
They opened together in December 2006, with only a few other places to eat available in the downtown at the time.
Within months, PeraBell, a combination of the lifelong friends’ last names, would open to fanfare, glowing reviews from Newsday and The New York Times, and an “excellent” Zagat rating. At the time, no one could have imagined people heading to Patchogue from miles around for fine dining.
But it happened, thanks to Pat-Med’s own Scottie Campbell and John Peragine
Four years later, the two would move to 69 E. Main St., tripling in size.
Top: Scottie Campbell, Dave Chiarella and John Peragine outside PeraBell Friday. (Credit: Benny Migliorino/Benny Migs Photo)
As the kids say, Peragine wasn’t really “feeling” the food out in Suffolk County in 2006.
You had your seafood spots for a fried fisherman’s platter, he said, or your Italian spots for chicken parmesan or baked ziti, maybe a shrimp scampi if you wanted to get fancy.
Then you had your burger and wing joints.
After living on the Upper East Side and working as a corporate chef for the Flatiron Restaurant Group and in charged of six restaurants, this suburban kid got a little spoiled in NYC.
“I remember thinking, there’s really nothing like in Manhattan to eat around here,” he said. “Even when you went to the higher-end restaurants, it was the same stuff, chicken francese, chicken marsala.
“When I started [in Patchogue] I wanted to bring a piece of Manhattan to Long Island, with a menu that was eclectic and global: American, Italian, Spanish, French, Asian.
“That was unheard of before out here.”
“We were putting sushi on the menu,” he recalled. “Tartare, steak tartare, shellfish pan roast. We probably did help change the way people wrote menus on Long Island.”
Instead of specials using ingredients that didn’t sell, PeraBell’s specials were out of the box and fresh, ever-changing and had people coming multiple times a week for something new, he said.
“That was the whole idea, bring some good food from the city out to Long Island at an affordable price and people just loved it,” he said. “Take the braised short rib, which used to sell for $.99 a pound. Nobody was using that. Now everyone is and, it’s $12 a pound.”
As for Campbell, the gregarious type who ran the front of the house, his favorite memories center around the sense of community PeraBell fostered on Main Street.
“We ran a really fun, discounted happy hour where it felt like the whole community would just come out and enjoy one another’s company and great food,” he said.
Then there were the Drinks on the Lights, tender memories in his mind now years later.
“If the light lit up under your beer, you got a free beer,” he said.
Peragine said the old, West Main Street spot especially reminded him of a middle-of-the-avenue restaurant in Manhattan.
“The corner locations are taken up by big names in the city,” he said. “But this reminded me of a quaint little Manhattan restaurant where you step down a few steps. I fell in love with that space when I first walked into it.”
The waiting list only grew as the two moved to the larger, current location.
The memories there became a bit more family oriented. “We all raised our kids there,” Campbell said.
“And the staff,” Peragine added. “They became like family. So many have been there for over 10 years and we watched them grow up from 16 years old, bussing tables.”
Those “kids” are now starting families for their own.
End of an era
This week, Campbell and Peragine and their partner Dave Chiarella, whom they took on in 2015, announced that PeraBell Food Bar is closing after nearly 17 years in Patchogue.
The last day is Aug. 12.
Peragine and Chiarella are fully focusing on other projects now. And they all have growing families to tend to.
But Campbell is staying on board with the incoming leaseholders, the owners of a rapidly expanding Italian restaurant group on Long Island. Check back at greaterlongisland.com for details.
“It’s a sad moment for me right now because PeraBell represents our name, literally, and we’ve been in the community for 17 years and we were part of helping Patchogue turnaround, especially with the old location,” Campbell said.
“I’ve been involved with over 50 places,” he continued. “And this place meant the most to me. PeraBell is my baby and the day we decided to go in a different direction, well, it was upsetting. It was a sad day for us, our staff too, which is like a family. But it’s a good day to move on.”
Peragine added, “A lot of blood, tears and heart went into this place. But nothing lasts forever, you know?
“And if it does, maybe you’re not really that happy, is my opinion.”
Chiarella credited PeraBell with changing Patchogue into what it is today: a food and fun mecca with over 40 restaurants, bars, dessert shops, and all sorts of food options.
“PeraBell was a staple for families, couples and everybody,” Chiarella said. “It grew with Patchogue. For me, it was a great experience and a great opportunity having started as an employee and then a partner.
“We won’t be working together, but we’re still going to stay great friends.”
“PeraBell is a business that will long be remembered by Patchogueans for decades to come,” said David Kennedy, the executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re just so grateful for their many years as being one of Patchogue’s most known gathering spots,” he added. “They introduced Patchogue to the concept of a gastro pub and were true trailblazers.
“They helped make downtown Patchogue what it is today.”
Lift a glass
The PeraBell team is encouraging friends, fans and regulars old and new to visit before the last day on Aug. 12. “Please bring any outstanding gift cards you might have and just have a great meal, have a drink with us and say goodbye,” Peragine said.