Banishing gloom with gorgeous blooms

Linda Leuzzi

By 10 a.m. the Main Street sidewalk traffic jam had converged happily in front of the Good Morning Bellport pop up, a teaser for their official opening on Saturday, May 7. Friend Robbie Zweig stopped by to admire the peony arrangement atop of Flourbud Bakery Owner Cristina Tovar’s cart near a display of gorgeous roses. Then Sara Byworth came down with her children, nicknamed, Creaky and Froggee as well as well-behaved pup Batman. Nina Truman walked down with little Cleo. Others from the art world, Mark Van Wagner and his wife Tonja Pulfer, as well as Esther Flury and Jeffrey Uslip joined the throng. When a wedding limo glided by and stopped, the bride was handed a white rose.

That was the scenario artist Fabian Bernal had in mind with partner Justin van Fleet. “It was `why not offer beautiful flowers and get people out to meet other people,’” said van Fleet. Covid quarantine, while a wild, scary ride, prompted the floral formation officially last April.

A colorful, sumptuous setting emerged last year in April every Saturday starting at 8 a.m. and last week was no different. The arbor, crowned with 200 creamy white flowers, framed The Lane between Café Costello and Pamela Lerner Home & Design in its gorgeousness. Abundant colorful bouquets, wrapped in pale yellow paper, tied in blue ribbons with the Good Morning Bellport label were set up on stands and Tovar’s wood cart had two full glass shelves of plain, chocolate, ham and cheese and raspberry croissants as well as foccacias, awaiting customers.

They now have five contracts for weddings and have created three new products, a Belgian chocolate bar, coffee roasted with cocoa beans, and a Good Morning Bellport mug.

Good Morning Bellport on Main Street has heralded a happy vibe. They start their season officially again on the Saturday, May 7 date, moving their popup next to Tola, just for the day.

(Yoo! Hoo! They deliver too! They’ll get Mother’s Day orders delivered day before.)

“Everyone wants something to lift us up higher,” said Bernal who credited their popularity to overwhelming local support. “Having the community be happy was the highlight of my life.”

Bernal shopped for flowers in Manhattan’s Flower District, mostly storefronts on 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue, near the couple’s former Chelsea apartment, whenever they entertained.  “Fabian knows everyone,” said van Fleet admiringly. When the flower idea began to gel after their 2018 move to Bellport Village, Bernal purchased the blooms in Manhattan and carted them to Bellport for assembling. Neighbors and businesses were gifted with bouquets and Bernal set up photo shoots; Instagram got the word out.

“People started following us,” Bernal said.

Then, accounts were opened at three high quality wholesale flower places.

“I wanted to make sure we got flowers from these wholesale places because there would be things we could offer that were not yet blooming on Long Island,” Bernal said. “You hardly see red and purple sunflowers but I see them in the Flower District.”

Now, Bernal said about 80 percent of the flowers offered come from out East or nearby; it means a more environmental approach with less non-recyclable packaging.

“We started working with farmers to partner with out here, like Malik Farms LLC in Coram, which specializes in peonies, Jamesport Farmstand for their organic ranunculis and scabiosa, and a small private farm that sells dahlias to customers in Sag Harbor and Water Mill,” he said.  

The decision to add Tovar, a trained pastry chef from Manorville, who has a New York State home processor’s license, and who worked for Carissa’s The Bakery in the Hamptons, took a year of discussions. She’ll be present at Good Morning Bellport twice a month, you can place orders. And she will definitely hand out pastries this Saturday.

Besides the business formation, these gentlemen who embue a quiet and congenial intelligence and kindness,  have quite a back story.

Bernal, who hails from the coffee region of Pereira, Colombia, began working for the advertising giant DDB Needham as an intern in his home country, then moved to Y & R (Young & Rubicam) as a junior art director in the U.S. then to BBDO. (He started college at 16 and got his Masters at The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at The George Washington University.) “When I came to Washington D.C. in 2004, the main reason was not necessarily just to live here as a main goal but to also learn this language and see the world a little more. Also for me, it was an eye opener and a privilege to work with peers at the ad agencies who were older than me, and my work reflected what I was learning.

“I think it was the true relationship with artists from the U.S. where I came to understand the different parts of the art world. They inspired me towards abstract and geometric forms, that’s what calls to me. I’m a minimal artist and make my own pigments and now I’m also doing ceramics.”

If you look around the home Bernal and van Fleet share (it’s the old Peek Piano Company building off South Country Road), his colorful, vibrant paintings hang on walls in the dining room and living room. “I always wanted to pursue full time art,” he said.

He brought out the Peter Schlesinger book, “Eight Days in Yemen;” Bernal also created the cover.

Van Fleet’s background is just as admirable. He was chief of staff to former Great Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown and is now President at TheirWorld, a global non-profit children’s charity (Brown’s wife, Sarah, is chair). He is also Executive Director at the Global Business Coalition for Education. “We’re here to end the global education crisis,” he said. “And working to set up a program for marginalized children in refugee camps in neighboring countries. We also do programs and recently gave awards in our Big Ideas, Bright Cities Skills Challenge to 15 cities for big ideas that help youth gain skills for employment.”

Bernal also feels engaging youth here is important; local high school students helped out last year at the pop-up.

 Bernal was the founding director of the New York Performance Artists Collective, a non-profit production agency for the performing arts focused on LGBTQ artists. “I think the arts build a set of skills they can use for the future,” he said. “I would like to do an arts program here and am working on a grant.”

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