Meet the husband and wife team behind Stars Café on Shelter Island

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The Stars Café showcases the talents of its chef-owners, Pepe Martinez and his wife Lydia Martinez Majdišová. Get to know them a little.

Q: Tell us about your background, how you met and what each of you brings to the Stars Café kitchen.

A: When I was still in college, my friend and I applied for a summer job at the Hampton Coffee Company in Watermill, which Pepe co-owned at the time. We immediately clicked as friends and within a few years our friendship turned into a relationship that has been going on for about 20 years now.

Pepe comes from Mexico and this influence is very present on the menu of the Stars. Besides a traditional breakfast and lunch, we offer specialties like chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, tacos, burritos, and more.

I come from Slovakia, and even if this cuisine is not represented on the menu, I bring my mother’s traditional recipes when preparing Easter or Christmas pastries and cookies. Also, in summer at the Marché Fermier, you can find my popular apple, rhubarb or poppy seed strudels.

Q: How did you decide to open your own restaurant on Shelter Island?

A: Pepe delivered his freshly roasted Hampton coffee beans to island businesses like Stars, and we always stopped by Dory’s for their popular chicken wings. When the last owner of the business at Stars closed, Pepe was offered to run the place by Linda and James Eklund.

Pepe Martinez takes an order from a customer at the Stars Café on Shelter Island.

Q: Stars has a number of popular items on the menu, from pastries and Thursday Burger Nights burgers to Cuban sandwiches and soups. Have any of them become Island favourites?

A: Our burgers are hugely popular and while we have our secrets on what makes them special, one key ingredient is obvious: freshness. We grind the meat in our kitchen and you can’t do better. From our breakfast menu, the most famous is the Devil’s Burrito, which says a lot about what people really love: spice!

Q: Any changes for the upcoming season?

A: I hope we can finally do what we planned three years ago: open a small store/market downstairs with ready meals, smoothies and juices, local produce, souvenirs and household items to complement our style of coffee. In addition to our usual daily menu, we will be using our new smokehouse and offering smoked meats, such as beef brisket, pork shoulder, ribs and baby ribs.

Q: What do you prefer in the accommodation of the Stars?

A: The sense of community and camaraderie. There’s nothing like seeing our customers interact, even if they don’t know each other, they kind of create a “community table”. Often we even join our customers at a table and have formed friendships that will last a lifetime. We have been on Shelter Island since 2006 and have seen young couples get engaged and then married. Then we met their first, second, third child. That’s what we like. We are also delighted to receive orders from our local institutions for their fundraisers and events and it warms our hearts to know that they can count on us and consider us a stable part of the island community.

Q: Do you have anything else to share with our readers?

A: It’s been a tough few years for everyone, and we’ve seen growing tension among our neighbors and friends — and the world for that matter — over things that we, as individuals, can’t really change. We tend to focus on the things that divide us, rather than what binds us. Let’s choose to focus on these things. That’s what Stars is all about, bringing diversity to the table, sitting with people who can think differently and having a cup of coffee. You will soon realize that you have more in common than you think.

The opening hours of the café will remain unchanged until the summer season: Every day from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Thursday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday closing at 3 p.m. In summer, extend by one hour.

Between Memorial and Labor Day, the Stars will also be at the Havens Farmer’s Market on Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

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