An Interview with Rex Chatterjee, Creative Director of Dune Road Lifestyle

Rex Chatterjee does not sleep. The Queens-born lawyer and consultant spends seemingly every hour of the day working on his various businesses, compulsively driven to expand and improve. At 34 years of age, he has already amassed a serious string of accomplishments, including an undergraduate degree from Cornell University, a law degree from Columbia Law School, past work experience in consulting, banking and law practice, fluency in four languages, and, perhaps surprisingly, a deep creative portfolio.Juggling workin both law and consulting, it’s a wonder that Mr. Chatterjee has any free time at all, much less the ability to take on yet another professional role. Today, we sit down with the workaholic-gentleman himself to discuss his third professional role, as Creative Director of Hamptons-based media company Dune Road Lifestyle.

RF:         Good evening Mr. Chatterjee. Thanks for taking the time to connect.

RC:         Please, call me Rex. I hate formality, especially in creative contexts like talking about Dune Road Lifestyle.

RF:         Easy enough, Rex. And Dune Road Lifestyle is something you started?

RC:         Yeah, back in 2018, around August I think. I’d been going out to the Hamptons in the summers for over a decade, and had a good lay of the land in terms of places to eat and drink. I kept an inventory of my favorites on a Google Map I made, and then shared it with friends, who shared with their friends, and it sort of took off from there. But of course, then people started saying that the map was incomplete, that I was missing XYZ place, et cetera.

RF:         That must have been annoying…

RC:         Sort of. I try to look at all feedback as positive, even when it might not be meant that way. I had two options: 1) defend the map as-is, and say that it was never meant to be a complete thing; or 2) spend the rest of the summer checking out every noteworthy restaurant and bar in the Hamptons and making a more defensible product. Being an insane person, I chose the latter.

RF:         That…sounds like a lot of work.

RC:         Oh it was. It was fun, but man it was work. It took me a couple of days to make the initial consideration list, but starting the project in August, I didn’t wind up finishing all the visits and in-person research until October.

RF:         And at this point, it was still just your user map on Google?

RC:         Yeah, I forget what I’d called it. Something like “Rex’s Hamptons Map” or something corny like that. But I also had all of these notes that I’d been taking in one long Microsoft Word file. I figured I shouldn’t just toss it, because there’s stuff people would want to know. When I started the project, I had no intention of creating a formal guide site. But, once the map was fully complete, I also couldn’t stand the idea of just tossing my notes. So I started turning the notes into blog posts, right there in the Word file. Then I made a pretty basic website, thought of a better name (“Dune Road Lifestyle”), registered the domain, and posted it all.

RF:         Lucky indeed. So, for those of us who aren’t as familiar with the terminology out in the Hamptons, I’m assuming, what does “Dune Road Lifestyle” mean?

RC:         Good question. So, Dune Road is this road in the Hamptons, right on the water, sort of on this outlying barrier island to the main landmass of the Hamptons. Almost all of the houses on it are these massive castle-type estates that cost millions on millions and are probably entirely uninsurable. It’s just this glorious display of devil-may-care luxury, and the lifestyle that goes with it, and that’s the feel that we wanted to capture in where I saw the site going. Just this celebration of life and the best pleasures in it, set in the Hamptons, over the summer every year.

RF:         Interesting, yeah that’s very much the picture that comes to mind when I think of the “Hamptons.” And so it fits that you’d call your website Dune Road Lifestyle.

RC:         Well, so, hang on, because technically that wasn’t it was back then. The URL was, and still is, duneroadlifestyle.com, but the entire website was called “The Dune Road Lifestyle Hamptons Guide.” We had nothing more than this list of top restaurants and bars, with some insider details for each.

RF:         This was when, in 2018 still?

RC:         Yeah, right when I posted the first guide, in 2018. By then, the summer was more or less over, so I took the winter to work and improve on it for the following season. I was happy with how the restaurants and bars sections looked, and could say that I’d considered all viable options when making my selections. So what I did was basically rinse and repeat the process for a few other categories I was getting asked about a lot: coffee places, hotels, gyms / yoga studios / other fitness options, spas / hair & nails places, and places to go shopping. I didn’t have as much familiarity with some of these, so I took my time in doing the research. I was ready by May of 2019, and that’s when I re-published the guide as “The Dune Road Lifestyle Summer 2019 Hamptons Guide.”

RF:         Got it. But so at this point, that’s the only thing the site had, correct?

RC:         That’s right, but sort of changed pretty quickly. Early on in the summer 2019 season, I went ahead and incorporated Dune Road Lifestyle as an LLC in New York. The site was getting a lot of traction, and incorporating in New York is actually pretty easy, so it just made sense. The site was still just the guide, and that actually didn’t change until the following year when I started the blog and the podcast, and then the guide became just a part of this larger site.

RF:         Did starting the formal company make things more real for you with respect to the site?

RC:         Oh definitely. Seeing the company go live was the first thing that made me realize that this could be much more than just a guide to the Hamptons. I think that very same day I set up the company’s Insta, @duneroadlifestyle, and went to work building out our presence on our now second platform.

RF:         But you didn’t launch the blog then?

RC:         No, not at that point. I think someone might have suggested it, because, you know, all sites have blogs these days, but it’d have just been too much work. Even for me, there’s a limit. I wanted to focus on popularizing the guide even further, and Instagram offered a much clearer path to that than blogging. The blog, and then the podcast, wouldn’t come about until March and June of 2020, respectively.

RF:         Still, this was all very ambitious. You were coming out of basically nowhere, and trying to compete with some of the larger outfits doing media work out there in the Hamptons. But media businesses are notoriously hard to run. Weren’t you worried about having to compete with—and this is just from doing a quick Google, but—Dan’s Papers, The Indy East End, 27 East, and the like?

RC:         Sort of, but not really. They’re just not really who we see ourselves as directly competing with. We’re super nichey, and those outlets are more trying to “boil the ocean. Do you know what I mean when I say that?

RF:         Not entirely, no. What does that mean?

RC:         So, it’s a consulting phrase, passed on to me by a mentor early on in my career. When you’re trying to do too much, and account for anything and everything, it’s called “boiling the ocean.”And what you wind up with is a product for which you can’t tell who it’s meant for or what it’s authoritative on. You lose the message.

RF:         Okay, now I understand. That makes sense in theory, but how exactly does it apply here?

RC:         I think it’s mainly an issue of audience segmentation. See, for me, I know my target audience, and I can describe them to you. They’re aged 20 to 40, mostly Millennials and Gen-Zers, brand conscious, luxury-minded, open to spending on experiences and trips, and less cost-sensitive than average.They value factors like style, aesthetics and quality over factors like priceand being part of the establishment.And they usually visit the Hamptons for a week to a month each season. Another thing to note is their insistence on ease of use, or convenience. This is the generation of Instagram Stories and Tik Tok. If you want to get a message across, you’ve got about 10 seconds to do it in.

RF:         That is…very specific. Where did you come up with that?

RC:         It is. And honestly? It’s me. As much as that’s my audience saying that to me, it’s me saying that to anyone creating content I’m consuming, because I, myself personally, fit 100% into the audience demographic I just laid out for you. I started writing Dune Road Lifestyle for people like me, and it’s something that’s stayed true for us to this day.

RF:         And you’re saying that Dan’s Papers and the others are different?

RC:         Extremely different. They just cover too much. Some great events like the annual Parrish Art Museum summer gala might be covered on their events pages, but it’s buried in a pile of things like “finger painting for your kids” or “best places to go antiquing with your nan.” There’s no option to filter their sites by “Hey, I’m in my 20s or 30s and want to do something cool.” Plus, there’s a lot of little things they miss out on, because they’re trying to…

RF:         Boil the ocean?

RC:         Bingo. And that’s where our values of curation and focus come in. We pass on a lot of coverage because it’s just not focused tightly enough on the interests of our core audience. We still wind up with more than enough content, but even if we didn’t, our way of seeing it is that it’s better to have a few posts with each one being a must-read and a must-do, rather than having those posts be the highlights in a sea of reporting on the traffic in Bridgehampton and someone’s lost cat. Even in media, sometimes, less is more.

RF:         So you wouldn’t say you’re in competition with those more traditional outlets?

RC:         Not at all. Those guys provide a crucial service to the people of the east end, and to those elsewhere who are interested in the happenings on the east end. We’re glad they’re a part of the ecosystem out here. But, that being said, some of their lists and best-of guides, we can’t say we find a ton of value there. They’re hard to use, hard to navigate, and sometimes full of nonsense. I can’t remember which one it was on, but I was look through one of their guides to restaurants, and I clicked into the section labeled “fried chicken,” just to take a glance. You know what I found listed? The KFC in Riverhead. That’s the best friend chicken in the Hamptons? Really?

RF:         Fair point. But Dune Road Lifestyle doesn’t go into that level of detail either, am I right? Do you filter by types of food or cuisine?

RC:         No, we actually don’t. Again, boiling the ocean. It’d be too much of a time suck on our part, and there’s already a great resource for finding who has the best X or Y in any major area. It’s called Yelp, and frankly, we’d be fools to try to compete with those dudes head-to-head. Yelp is great for research purposes, but it too is guilty of boiling the ocean. There’s just so much stuff on there, it’s hard to use when you just need to make a decision. And, a lot of the Hamptons’ local gems don’t get enough reviews to rank high in their search, so people miss out. We only cover the best, and we treat more popular and more low-profile places equally.

RF:         Interesting. And there are no other sites offering this type of content?

RC:         Oh no, there are. There definitely are, and a lot of them are absolutely fantastic. Sites like Eater and The Infatuation are great examples of curated restaurant recommendation sites, but the problem is, they don’t maintain dedicated site sections for the Hamptons. There’s one-off articles here and there, but nothing comprehensive like what they do for more major cities and areas like NYC or LA. In terms of that type of coverage, I think we might actually be the only site to do it specifically on the Hamptons.

RF:         Do you think those sites’ one-off articles paint an accurate picture of the Hamptons food scene? Do you tend to agree with their recommendations?

RC:         Great question. You know, for the most part, they do okay, yeah. Their coverage is limited, obviously, so we can’t really judge them for not being more comprehensive. What I will note, though, is that they also miss out on some of the more low-key but still world-class excellent spots we have in the Hamptons. The area is full of local secrets that we know about because we’re based out here. It’s just the sort of information we’re in a better place to provide, literally, and so we can’t really fault the more NYC-focused curated list sites for skipping over in their coverage. At the end of the day, they’re adding some value, and we applaud it.

RF:         Well noted, well noted. And what does Dune Road Lifestyle have coming up for 2020?

RC:         So, we launched our blog, “What’s Hot Out East,” in March of this year. We’re building out coverage of local pop-ups, events, restaurant openings, and more. The events and pop-ups are largely virtual, unfortunately, because of the ongoing COVID pandemic, and so we’re all the more motivated to help people stay connected to the Hamptons while staying socially distanced and taking other appropriate precautions. We also launched the “Out East Vibes” podcast in the second week of June, to coincide with the true start of this socially distanced summer we’re having. Because so much interaction is now happening digitally, we wanted to do something to give would-be Hamptonsgoers another way to connect with the celebrities, VIPs, influencers and notable locals who add something to the Hamptons scene each summer. Via the interviews we have planned, we’ll be sharing perspectives, interesting stories, personal recommendations, and more, from our stellar list of guests in the Hamptons. We’d also planned to launch a live event series where we’d pop up and curate the music at various venues over the course of Summer 2020, but obviously, that had to get postponed because of COVID.

RF:         That’s a shame. Are you doing anything online with it at least?

RC:         Yeah, actually. We have a site section called “Out East Beats,” which we set up back in May, just to keep a place on the site for it. The section currently has a series of playlists we’ve curated to give people a Hamptons-inspired soundtrack to their socially distanced summers. We’ll be adding some DJ mixes to our SoundCloud as well, and we’ll post updates on the page in case we’re able to actually have an event or two at the end of Summer 2020. Maybe we’ll do a virtual one, we’ll see.

RF:         Ever the optimist, you are.

RC:         It’s the only way to be, my friend. The only way to be.

***

Visit the Dune Road Lifestyle website to see their Summer 2020 Hamptons Guide, The What’s Hot Out East Blog, The Out East Vibes Podcast, the Out East Beats page, and more original content.

Engage with Dune Road Lifestyle on Instagram at @duneroadlifestyle.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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