The Chequit Inn, a Shelter Island landmark built 148 years ago, was sold at auction last Tuesday to Stefan Soloviev, who owns Crossroads Agriculture, one the nation’s largest agriculture companies, and who has purchased more than 1,000 acres on the North Fork for agricultural uses.
Mr. Soloviev won the auction with a bid of $3 million and said operation of the Chequit will be handled by his ex-wife, Stacey Soloviev, who will also run the recently acquired Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue. She has been running Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm in Cutchogue, which Mr. Soloviev acquired in a July 2019 auction.
In an extended interview last Thursday, the Solovievs spoke about their plans for the inn and restaurant, including integrating their various projects on the North Fork with the purchase of the hotel on Shelter Island.
After walking through the building, she said, “I fell in love with the place. It’s amazing. The wraparound porches, the red maple tree and just people sitting outside looking at the water.”
Ms. Soloviev said she’s spoken with the neighbors and the Shelter Island Heights Home Owners Association about her plans for the building. “This will be our starting point for our plans for Peconic Bay Winery,” she said.
For the winery, which Mr. Soloviev acquired last year, “the plan is to have a new tasting area and winemaking facility,” she said, adding, “I would love to have a small boutique hotel and a spa that’s catered all toward wine.”
She said she also envisions having a restaurant at the Cutchogue property.
“I don’t want the limos and buses, I don’t want the crowds, I want a total immersion,” she said. “I want people to come out and be part of the winemaking, being in the facility, bottling wine, labeling wine, bringing wine home with you.”
Other plans for Peconic Bay Winery, which also has a vineyard, include having guest chefs teach about wine pairings and getting people out in the field, letting them be part of the harvest, she said.
Peconic Bay Winery will need permits from Southold Town for several of those proposals. Ms. Soloviev originally hoped to have the tasting room open by May 1, but that’s been pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought construction to a halt. The winery has been closed since 2013.
As for the Chequit, Ms. Soloviev envisions having weddings at one of several vineyards Mr. Soloviev has purchased, and then bringing guests to the hotel at the Chequit, or possibly to a new hotel at Peconic Bay Winery.
“We can have weddings at either,” she said.
The Chequit already has a restaurant, called The Red Maple, and there’s a coffee and pastry bar on the north side of the building on Washington Street.
“It needs some love on the outside,” Ms. Soloviev said of the inn.
The Solovievs also plan to bring cattle to the North Fork.
“We plan to grow all our own food and raise all of our own meat,” she said.
Hemp or food?
Mr. Soloviev has purchased numerous farms on the North Fork, stretching from Orient to Wading River.
He plans to run them under the supervision of his Colorado/Kansas-based company, but local people will do the work. He has already installed deer fencing on 1,100 acres of farmland at a cost of $35,000.
Crossroads Agriculture, founded in 1999 in Kansas, now has 15,000 acres there and 100,000 acres of cropland in Colorado. It also owns 300,000 acres of grassland and 38,000 acres of cropland in New Mexico.
Mr. Soloviev says the wheat they grow in Colorado is ready for human consumption, and is not used for ethanol or animal feed.
“It goes right into the food system,” he said.
But the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has prompted him to consider changes for the use of the North Fork farmland. He originally planned to dedicate a large percentage of that acreage to growing hemp.
“My gut is telling me that we should be planting a lot more food crops than hemp if there’s a food shortage,” he said. “Long Island will be in a better position with more food at this point and not hemp. But hemp is still very important, though.”
Because his Midwest operations make money, he can be more versatile with his North Fork land, he said.
“I want to do what’s best for the community,” he said. “Not making money. We’re making money out west.”
And while he says he is not looking to develop land, one development project is being considered for the future.
On the sites he calls Quintin North and Quintin East, comprising 130 acres that extend north from Route 48 to Long Island Sound in Cutchogue, he said, “I do want to built renewable houses using 50% to 70% of the material as hemp. They would not be massive houses; they would be normal-size houses, 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. That will be the first development I will do, but it will be very careful. It will not ruin the vistas. There will be wooded property and you could not even see it from the road.
“But that’s down the road,” he added.
Mr. Soloviev attempted to clarify comments he made in a previous Times-Review interview. In December, he told a reporter, “I’m really tired of talking about the North Fork. It’s not my priority,” before hanging up.
He explained last week that at the time he received the reporter’s call, he was facing a stressful deadline and if he missed it, he’d have been stuck in New Mexico over the weekend and unable to see his kids in East Hampton. “It’s a little high-stress environment,” he said.