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A Shelter Island institution keeps a steady course

JULIE LANE PHOTO Kolina and Bob Reiter of Bob’s Fish Market and Restaurant are almost halfway through their fifth decade as owners and managers.
JULIE LANE PHOTO Kolina and Bob Reiter of Bob’s Fish Market and Restaurant are almost halfway through their fifth decade as owners and managers.

After 44 years of operating Bob’s Fish Market and Restaurant, Kolina Reiter says she’ll give it four more years before hanging up her apron and calling it career. Husband Bob declares that after 70 years of fishing, he’ll end that part of his career after this year.

But worry not, fish lovers, the market and restaurant will continue on into the future, the Reiters said.

When Kolina met Bob — he’s originally from Greenport and she’s a harelegger — he was already fishing, scalloping and clamming. In the early years, while they were raising their three children, fishing was often a family affair.

But after awhile, she thought it was time for her fisherman husband to stay closer to home more while she pursued a career as a registered nurse and later a supervisor at Eastern Long Island Hospital.

“It’s not an easy life,” Ms. Reiter said.

Her love of nursing wasn’t going to be what was sacrificed, she decided. Instead, she told her husband it was time for him to spend more time on land, picking up the slack so she could balance what became a 40-year career at the hospital.

That’s when they purchased the site on North Ferry Road that had an old barn that had to be burned down to make way for the fish market. At the suggestion of a family friend, they took what was a concrete slab and built a small place with picnic tables for customers. Gradually they expanded until they had space for a full dining room and what Ms. Reiter calls “a real deluxe kitchen.”

Initially, they cooked in that small front space using a deep fat fryer until someone asked for broiled fish and they purchased a home broiler.

If Ms. Reiter thought her life would be easier with her husband fishing less and being closer to home, she learned that it was still difficult balancing her nursing career, business responsibilities and the raising of her children.

But at least in those days, the Reiters could hire help. Today, it’s increasingly difficult, she said.

On the rare occasions when they have to close for a doctor’s appointment or other personal business, they hang a sign and customers generally come back later, she said.

As for staffing that was once easy to organize, today’s young people want to leave the Island to pursue college degrees and careers elsewhere, she said. Children no longer want to take over their parents’ businesses and few want to pursue trade related jobs, she added.

“Kids think it’s greener on the other side,” she said.

Perhaps few knew that for years, Ms. Reiter spent nights working at the hospital, grabbed a few hours sleep at the end of her shift and then opened the fish market and restaurant.

What hasn’t changed through the years are the customers, many of whom are long-time regulars, but they get newcomers each summer who are delighted to find fresh fish whether they take it home to cook or eat at the restaurant, she said.

“Bob knows what’s good and what isn’t” in the fish he catches and serves and sells, Ms. Reiter said.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the Reiters’ appreciation and respect for the environment. Both are upset that areas that once flourished with fresh fish of all varieties are ruined. Chase Creek, for example, has become “a stagnant water pond” when it once was alive with aquatic creatures, Ms. Reiter said.

They’re frustrated by some regulations the state and federal governments have imposed on fishermen. Ms. Reiter said she understands regulations that are meant to improve the environment and protect peoples’ health, but some regulations just make it more difficult to earn a living from surrounding waters.

One thing hasn’t changed, however. The Island institution that is Bob’s Fish Market is open during the summer months seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The restaurant serves dinners between 5 and 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5 to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.