Well before the days of $400-a-night hotel rooms and $35 lobster rolls, John Gosman Sr. could see Montauk's potential beyond a place just for serious anglers, or as they're affectionately known, "fish heads."
The hamlet native was one of the drivers behind the expansion of his family’s eponymous business from seaside chowder shack into the sprawling restaurant and retail complex it is today, said his son Michael Gosman. Over the years the seafood business expanded to become a harborfront tourism complex, featuring the Gosmans' own restaurant, clam bar and sushi restaurant, as well as retail shops.
"He had a really deep connection to Montauk," Michael Gosman said. "He loved this town more than anything."
The elder Gosman died March 20 at Stony Brook University Hospital of complications of COVID 19-related pneumonia. He was 87.
John Gosman Sr. was born in 1934 to Robert Gosman and Mary Harrington Gosman. The couple started the seafood business in 1943, long before Montauk became a trendy and upscale tourist destination.
Gosman graduated from East Hampton High School in 1952 and then St. Bonaventure University, in upstate Allegany, in 1956, before coming home to work in the family business.
There were times when a single lobster boat trip would bring in about 15,000 pounds, Michael Gosman said, an unheard of amount in 2021. The boats would pull up to the dock and John Sr. would cull the lobsters fast and exact in a way no one else could, his son said. Back then, the elder Gosman was an intimidating presence in the gritty industry.
"Even the toughest of fish heads knew not to mess with my old man," Michael Gosman said.
Gosman Sr. married Rita McKernan in 1962 and the family settled in Montauk where they raised three sons. They were together until her death in 2003.
He established a summer concert series on the harbor that drew artists like Woodstock legend Richie Havens and jazz groups, among them the Heath Brothers.
"People would show up from all over the place to see these live shows," Michael Gosman said. "Of course, you know, it doesn't hurt business either."
The business remains a family affair with Gosman Sr.’s sons and three cousins all employed by the family's restaurants.
In addition to Michael and his wife, Tara, Gosman is survived by sons John Jr,.and Christopher and his wife, Rene, seven grandchildren, as well as brothers Emmett and William Gosman, both of Montauk, and Richard Gosman of Vero Beach, Fla.
A funeral service was not held because of the pandemic. Gosman was cremated and a private memorial will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers the family is asking that donations be made in his honor to the Montauk Food Pantry.