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Hugo Montoya and Manual Lopez are now the proud owners of The Islander. (Photo credit: Charity Robey)

Shelter Island’s kitchen table now has new management. The Islander, Shelter Island’s one and only diner, is now in the capable hands of Manuel Lopez and his business partner, Hugo Montoya, where comfort is always on the menu.  

The Islander opened in 1998, when Pat and Steve Lenox decided Shelter Island needed a place for a reasonably priced hot meal, great coffee and friendly faces. It was welcomed by locals with open arms, and quickly became a staple for Islanders and those who love the island for its good food, fair prices, and a family vibe.

From morning eggs to mealtime meatloaf, The Islander is SI’s comfort food stop. (Photo credit: Linda Zavatto)

A few years in, when their primary line-cook suddenly went AWOL, Lopez stepped up to take the helm. Twenty-six years of burgers and omelets, tacos and Cobb salads have brought new owners, renovations, and spruce-ups, but two things have been consistent: Lopez at the grill, and local customers in the booths.

At the time, Lopez, a native of Guatemala, was living in Greenport where he arrived via Los Angeles more than 20 years ago. In L.A., the employment options were tough, such as working at a car wash in temperatures that got as high as 150 degrees. 

In Greenport, he worked in restaurants and did construction, which was hard, but not life-threatening.

His brother, José Lopez, worked at The Islander back when it was still called Pat and Steve’s, and he helped Manuel get his foot in the door. After the first chef left, Manuel took his place at the right side of the grill (hamburgers, fries) while Pat Lenox worked the left (pancakes and eggs.)

When the Lenoxes sold the business to Chris Chobor and Ashley Knight, they left strict instructions to hold onto Manuel, who had become a skilled chef. 

Steve and Pat Lenox flank their old friend and co-worker, Manuel Lopez, who now owns the diner started by the island couple. (Photo credit: Charity Robey)

Last year, Chobor and Knight decided to pass the torch to Lopez and his partner Montoya, and on Oct. 1, 2023, they became co-managers, with Lopez as chef. 

“Manuel is here every day,” says Hugo. “I come in on weekends and do whatever needs doing. Sometimes it’s washing dishes.”

Lopez grew up on a small, diverse farm in Guatemala. The crops and animals they raised fed his family — truly farm-to-table. “We had everything,” he says. “We ate it and we sold it.” He now lives on Shelter Island. Asked what he likes to cook at home, he gives the classic chef’s response. “Honestly, I don’t cook at home. I am here all the time. I start at 6:30 in the morning. Eight or nine I get home. On my day off, I might go shopping.”

Montoya was born in Mexico City and came to Greenport 23 years ago. At the time, the Spanish-speaking community in Greenport was only about 100 people. 

“Everyone knew everyone. Now there are many more Spanish-speaking people, from Salvador, and Nicaragua. Before it was only Guatemalans and Mexicans.”

He started Montoya Flooring, a floor-sanding business, and married Islander Bethany Clark. They have a daughter named Kenzie.

Montoya Flooring is now an established business, and if you’re wondering about their work, check out the gleaming wood floors at The Islander. 

They were refinished as part of a five-day, marathon renovation that closed the diner just long enough for customers to miss the place, and reopened with new floors and new paint on the walls and booths, with the latter back in the same spots they have occupied since 1998.

“Chris Chobor and Ashley Knight gave me the opportunity to lease this place,” Lopez says. “We are not going to change anything. It’s for the local people. We are open all winter, and made it through our first winter, thanks to the locals.”

Lopez and Montoya and Hugo have made a good life for themselves, and their community. “All the Islanders gave us their support this winter,” Montoya says. “Local people are who make this restaurant.”

Their skills complement each other. Lopez has years of experience running a successful local business, and Montoya has been right here, cooking three square meals of fresh and homey food, helping create a very special place on a very special island.