Catching up with Paul Monte
Dorothy said it best, “There’s no place like home.” But having never been out of Kansas before, she more than likely never made it to Montauk. And Montauk isn’t just home to the locals who have lived there for their entire lives, but to anyone and everyone who makes their way out East. For Montauk local and hospitality professional Paul Monte, this is what makes the East End so special. Not just a resort town, but a place that opens its arms to visitors as if they are long lost friends. Something Paul always works for and wishes to never see fade away. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Paul to get a feel for the importance of keeping that family-like character of the town alive, why he’s known as the Brooklyn Cowboy, and why Montauk will always be home.
How long has Montauk been a part of your life? Give us a little background on how you ended up Out East.
Montauk (and hospitality) have been a part of my life since I was born in 1957. My grandparents started a little Italian restaurant in Brooklyn in 1906 and it was family run by them and their seven sons for over 90 years. In 1956 my uncle, Nick Monte, ventured East to Montauk and purchased Gurney’s Inn and my dad would take us out to visit every year.
Then in 1968, my father agreed to come out and help my uncle manage the property, and within a couple of months, he decided he wanted to stay in Montauk so we moved out here in the summer of that year. And that’s when my full-time relationship with Montauk started. Montauk and Gurney’s was my life from 1968 on. I started washing dishes at the hotel at 12 years old and worked pretty much every job on the property and within the hospitality business for the next ten years, so Montauk and hospitality for me have always been intertwined.
After I finished high school I went to college, spending a little time out in Colorado first and then a little time down in South Florida. My career path was initially going to be as a large animal veterinarian, but that changed after I went to Colorado State University which had 35,000 students, and was quite the eye-opener for me coming from a little town of about 2,500 people.
After obtaining my Hospitality Management degree in South Florida I came back to Montauk and planned to go back to work at Gurney’s, but then a business opportunity opened up for me followed by a number of others around the East End and I began my career as an entrepreneur. Between 1980 and 1995 I owned and operated several businesses all involved in hospitality. Around 1990 I went back to Gurney’s part-time to help my father with general management while I was doing all of those other things, but finally unraveled myself from all those other businesses around 1992 and started working full-time as the GM at Gurney’s, where I continued as GM, CEO and Senior Advisor for the next 25 years. So that’s it in a nutshell.
Well let’s start with the whole veterinarian and Colorado State University endeavor. In the early 70’s, my family owned and operated Deep Hollow Ranch and we started the process of creating sort of an East Coast dude ranch type thing, and my choice then was to go and work over there because that cowboy lifestyle was very attractive to me. So I spent about five years over there leading trail rides, training horses, working in the hotel and restaurant and just engrossing myself in the Deep Hollow Ranch history. I became enamored by the property and its old west atmosphere and I became very in tune with the horses, cattle and large animals we had on site. That’s where my idea of becoming a vet for large animals arose.
So when I graduated high school, that was the path I wanted to take. There were very few veterinarian colleges in the United States at the time and they were very difficult to get into. One of the best is Cornell, but I was waitlisted there, so I ended up going to my second choice, Colorado State. I went out there, but like I said, while Colorado is known for being all country and mountains and all that down-home good stuff, that large campus lifestyle was a shock to my system after coming from Montauk—a place where everybody knows your name, you know everybody’s business and you live everybody’s lives with them. Being out there in that huge crowd and being just a number did not sit well with me and I didn’t do as well as I should have done with my bookwork—and calculus and I just never got along. You don’t get into veterinary school unless you’re at the top of your class so I headed back home to hit the reset button to see where I wanted to go from there.
Home was Montauk. And that feeling I lost when I was out in Colorado came right back as soon as I came home.
Having been involved with the town for so long, what are some of the more positive changes you have seen or felt over the years?
Well, there certainly have been plenty of changes over the years.
One change that has been most beneficial to Montauk is the preservation of so much open space. We’re almost 70 percent preserved open space now so the parklands and other magnificent natural aspects being preserved is pretty much what has saved Montauk from becoming just another overdeveloped resort town.
The protection of some of our historic assets has also been very important. Many people that come to Montauk nowadays come because it’s hip, it’s cool, it’s in, it’s a place to see and be seen, it’s pretty, the list goes on. But so many people don’t realize the history Montauk has—the preservation of “George Washington’s” lighthouse, the preservation of Second House and Third House and Deep Hollow, the Carl Fisher House, the Montauk Yacht Club. There is so much history between Arthur Benson and his connection to Montauk, Carl Fisher and his development of Montauk, and Presidents that have come to Montauk—Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders after the Spanish American War. I’m always in awe of the historic background connections that Montauk has and the Montauk Historical Society has done a great job of trying to preserve all of that for future generations.
Favorite memory in or of Montauk of all time?
I have two for you. The first was the Deep Hollow Ranch days. It really was part of my inner being, I am always reflective of that time, spending time riding and working. I had my boots and my buckles and I connected with an old blacksmith that used to come out and shoe the horses, so I learned that and I learned how to rope and do all the cowboy things. When I was out in Colorado they used to call me the Brooklyn Cowboy. Those are such great memories.
The second has to be my Grand Marshal experience in 2014. In Montauk, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal with our parade and everything else that goes along with it, but you could say the ultimate recognition in our little honky tonk town is to be chosen as the Grand Marshal of our parade. And I had that honor and experience in 2014 and that was a memorable month of March for sure. The Grand Marshal title honors someone that has lived a life that exemplifies the sense of community that is Montauk. It was truly an honor and privilege to be granted that title.
Explain to us the importance of hospitality to Montauk — what do you ultimately strive to achieve for Montauk as a whole through the efforts of Monte Hospitality?
Hospitality and Montauk go hand in hand. Montauk is a resort town but also a very welcoming community with wide open arms that greet our visitors as long-lost friends. I think that the main attraction that brings people to Montauk is the small hometown feel, and the authenticity of the people and the town…in that respect you can’t separate Montauk and hospitality. It goes back through the decades. I keep going back to Carl Fisher—building big beautiful resorts and bringing people out and taking care of them and servicing their needs. Allowing them to avail themselves of the natural beauty as well as the warmth and genuine hospitality of the Montauk people.
Monte Hospitality is a little something I put together to help businesses in that hospitality realm. Once I finished up at Gurney’s, I felt that my personal and familial experience in the hospitality world was something I could share, and that’s something I’ve always been quick and happy to do for people. My goal in that sphere is to make sure that the hospitable, family-like character of Montauk never gets lost. If I feel that a business or group is losing focus on that, I try to bring them back.
It gets harder and harder to find that in today’s world in my opinion, so many places are just built on technology and making things pretty but really not having any soul. But in my eyes, hospitality is all about soul and human interaction. So trying to keep the focus on that in Montauk is something I hold near and dear to my heart and will continue to try to do. I make that my mantra—to never lose sight of the human aspect and the authenticity and genuineness of true hospitality.
What is Montauk to you?
That’s easy, it’s home.
Montauk is a very unique and close-knit community with a huge heart and magnificent natural beauty. It’s a pull-up-a-chair make-yourself-at-home kind of place. It’s a schizophrenic melting pot—a multi-sided rubric. It’s wild and wooly and it’s civilized and refined. It’s beer and burgers and it’s champagne and caviar. It’s cowboys and Indians. It’s Presidents and criminals. It’s draggers and yachts. It’s flip-flops and Louboutins. But at the end of the day, it’s always authentic.
If you had to pick a song that best describes your relationship with Montauk, what would it be?
I have three options for you.
The first is “Home Grown” by the Zac Brown Band, there’s a line in there that says something like, “Live in a small town, where it feels like home, I’ve got everything I need and nothing that I don’t.”
The second is “I’m a Small Town” By Kenny Chesney, and it has a pretty powerful line in it; “Either I hold your heart, or I hold you down,” and that’s kind of a feeling I think that a lot of people experience in Montauk. There’s always that connection and warmth and draw because it’s home but at the same time there’s that pull of everything else that’s out there.
Then the final, which is probably the most fitting and it comes from one of our own, is “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon. That’s Montauk.