Union Cantina – Talking Southampton Style with Restaurateur Ian Duke


A Fashionable Q&A


In NewsWhistle’s weekly question-and-answer series, Clara Morgan speaks with some of her favorite influencers and finds out more about their lives and careers. This week, Clara speaks with restaurateur veteran Ian Duke.

Residing in the Hamptons for the past six years, Duke first came out to open Southampton Social Club and fell in love with the natural beauty and the drastically different pace from hectic New York City. Duke enjoys recharging his batteries while enjoying a walk through Southampton Village or paying a visit to award-winning Coopers Beach.

Duke lives in East Quogue with his fiancée and dogs and has been involved in the restaurant industry one way or another since the age of 12. He is currently a partner in six restaurants, one of them being Southampton’s new Mexican restaurant, Union Cantina, which offers innovative takes on classical dishes such as the signature deconstructed enchilada.

When he is not busy managing his restaurants, Duke likes to ride his motorcycle, eat a good steak, and spend time with his family and friends.

Read more about Ian Duke in this week’s Q&A.


1. When and how did you first realize that you wanted to work in the industry and business you are in?

I started quite humbly as a dishwasher around the age of 12 – 13 years of age. Since then, I have worked in nearly every position in the restaurant business and am a partner in six restaurants now: Prohibition – a live music bar, restaurant and lounge on the Upper West Side; 3 Lucky’s Famous Burgers located in Hell’s Kitchen, the East Village and Chelsea; Southampton Social Club; and most recently Union Cantina, also in Southampton.

I grew up with a dad in the business, so I was pretty sure what I wanted to do from a very young age. My mom thinks the combination of my dad in the industry and the game of Monopoly is what drove me into it!


2. Any celebrity clients or memorable stories related to your business that you want to share?

We have seen a few celebrities since we opened Union Cantina, including Brooke Shields and Michael J. Fox, although we treat all our customers to the same great service and attention as our more high-profile customers. Our clientele is very diverse, as we have designed a place to be friendly for families, groups, locals, and singles, as well as for parties and events. That design is apparent both in our menu and in the restaurant’s stylings and furnishings.


3. What is a typical day like for you? And what do you like to do on a day off?

There’s really no such thing as a typical day in the restaurant business.  That’s one of the best and worst things about it.  You never know what will happen – and I say that on both the good and bad side. Fortunately most days fall into the good category! We work in a business that has an immense number of variables which means there will be many potential things that can happen.

On a day off, I like to head down to a little beach down the road from where I live in East Quogue, where my fiancée and I walk our dogs. Maybe go for brunch at tThe Hampton Maid, which is a nice little inn with a windmill-shaped main building and great food. Or taking a ride on my motorcycle along the old highway.


4. What is the biggest change you have seen in the Hamptons social scene, compared to 10-15 years ago?

In the last five years there certainly have been many changes. With the explosion of growth in Montauk, and the near removal of nightlife in Hampton Bays, there are a lot of differences. Regarding Southampton specifically, I think we’ve improved rather drastically. We really do have a great social scene in Southampton now with many different cuisines and a much improved nightlife scene.


5. What are your favorite restaurants in the Hamptons?

I’m a big meat and potatoes guys and One North Steakhouse in Hampton Bays certainly offers that, in addition to great people who work there and run the place. I also love Tutto il Giorno and Redbar – again – great food and great people who work there. In my opinion, great people are the key to it all in this business.


6. What are your favorite bars in the Hamptons?

Oaklands, love that view and live music!  And Southampton Social Club. I know I am biased, but being able to go inside to dance and outside to lounge is really fantastic.


7. What are your favorite things to do in the Hamptons year-round?

As I mentioned previously, I love what I do, so I certainly do work all year-round.  With off time, I like to run, motorcycle ride and enjoy dining with friends.


8. What was your best Hamptons moment? Your worst?

Best Hamptons Moment:  Opening of Social Club.  It was a long and arduous process with taking the property out of bankruptcy, remodeling, and rebranding.

Worst Moment:  Toss up really.  Both were hurricanes.  Hurricane Irene at the end of the Summer of 2011 and then Sandy in 2012.

Caused a lot of damage, a lot of heartache, and an awful lot of pain to many people on the east end.  Really tough times for everyone out here.


9. Tell us something that people do not know about you.

I am a pretty open book.  There aren’t many things that the people who know me, don’t know about me. Perhaps that I’m more of a loner than people think.  I spend my life around people, so I suppose it’s only natural that I’d really appreciate the little time I get on my own.


10. How would you describe your personal style? 

I am a “wanna be” British Rocker.




11. Who is your style icon? Where do you find your style inspiration?

I don’t really have one, in terms of an icon.  I like to think that I dress with a British Mod influence along with a little bit of a classic edge.


12. Who is your favorite fashion designer, artist or architect – and why?

Paul Smith. The man simply is one step ahead and designs suits that were made for me, or at least guys with my build.


13. Name your favorite… and tell us why:

a. Outfit.  It’s a toss-up between my favorite Paul Smith suit and wing tip boots or ripped jeans, T-shirt and my motorcycle jacket.

b. Perfume/Fragrance.  Don’t have one.

c. Movie.  Favorite movie is really tough.  So many different genres.  Here’s two: The Usual Suspects or Cool Hand Luke.

d. TV show.  Currently, Designated Survivor.  

e. Book.  Lee Child, who writes the Jack Reacher novels, is probably my favorite. However, I have been recently reading a guy named Vince Flynn – he writes about a guy named Mitch Rapp. Solid.


14. What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What is it you love about it and what is your favorite dish?

Again – so many possibilities here.  I’d say the best restaurant that I have ever eaten at is 11 Madison Park. One of my favorites is Del Friscos – great vibe, great steaks, great service, and not stuffy like many classic steakhouses can be.


15. Name your favorite vacation spot and hotel? What makes these places so special?

I don’t have one. I rarely do vacation, and when I do I love seeing new places and people or just being with my family.


16. Which three items can you not live without?

Removing loved ones and actual things you CAN’T live without from the equation: I’d say Manhattans, aged rib-eye steaks, and Coca-Cola.


17. What song, meditation or mantra can you listen to on repeat? And why?

I’m a big “silver lining” guy, things never get me down.  As such the music I like falls into those categories: Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Billy Joel….music that inspires hope, family, and good friendships.


18. If you could meet anyone in the world, who would you like to meet? And why?

I have been very fortunate to meet many great athletes and musicians and stars, etc. throughout my career (including all three of the musicians previously mentioned) which makes this easier for me. I would like very much to have coffee with Jon Stewart and convince him as to why HE should be running for president!


19. Is there anything else you would like to share, discuss or promote?

I’d like to say thanks to those guys back in 1983 who gave me a shot as a dishwasher when I wasn’t even old enough to work yet. It’s been a great 33 years and only getting better.  I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t find their career until much later in life. I have been all too blessed to always do what I love.




All images courtesy of Ian Duke and photographer Barbara Lynn