A sharp remark about a local fire sparked a physical brawl between two East Hampton business leaders last month, resulting in a wrestling match on the floor of one of the town’s most exclusive golf clubs. The scuffle resulted in wounded feelings, a tsunami of local gossip, and the writing of a six-figure check.
Ben Krupinski is perhaps East Hampton’s best-known builder, with a client list that includes Billy Joel and Martha Stewart (with whom his daughter claims he had an affair). The other combatant, Robert Rattenni, owns properties on the town’s Main Street and is a business partner of Mark Smith, the owner of Nick and Toni’s restaurant, where premium tables are, according to the Times, “the most coveted summer property in the Hamptons.”
The fire in question started at one of Smith’s other restaurants, Rowdy Hall, and caused major damage to the neighboring J.Crew store, housed in a building owned by Rattenni.
“It was the morning after the fire, and I had been up since 3:30 a.m.,” recalls Rattenni. “I hadn’t slept because I was meeting with the restoration companies and insurance companies.”
To relieve the stress, he headed to the East Hampton Golf Club, a pricey retreat owned by Krupinski’s family. (Among many other notables, Lorne Michaels, Jeff Zucker, and Lloyd Blankstein have been known to play there.) “I simply wanted to go to the golf club to get fresh air and clear my head,” says Rattenni, who claims that when he took a break for a bite, Krupinski came over and began antagonizing him.
“I was waiting for my lunch and Ben came over and asked me if I was going to sue Mark for setting the fire. It was not meant to be a joke. I’ve known Ben for 25 years and I know when he’s joking,” he told Daily Intelligencer. “I said I didn’t know where the fire had started because the investigators were still doing their work. He then instituted a physical altercation, we bumped chests and I defended myself. The situation was quickly diffused by other people at the club.”
Krupinski has a different version of the incident. “Bob started the fight,” he insists. “I don’t hurt anyone. He grabbed me and I ended up on top of him, and then they pulled me off.”
Ratteni, who was one of the club’s initial members, asked for his six-figure initiation fee back — and received it a week later. The one thing that everyone involved can agree on is that the incident was regrettable.
“It’s unfortunate that Bob acted the way he did,” says Krupinski.
Adds Smith: “It’s unfortunate that some people need to revel in other people’s misfortune.”