The past month has rife with sadness for Star Confectionery owner Tony Meras and his family.
Tony’s brother and former business partner, Peter, died July 5 at age 87. Eight days earlier, his wife, Kitty, passed away at age 84. His sister, Mitilda “Tilly” Delehanty, died June 17.
“It was terrible,” Tony said in an interview this week at his popular restaurant on East Main Street in Riverhead.
Despite their pain, Tony’s son, Anthony, who has run Star Confectionery with his father for the past 25 years, said he sees a silver lining in his family’s grief.
“It’s been a devastating time, but what a great town Riverhead is,” Anthony said. “I just can’t thank the people of Riverhead enough. They are phenomenal. Just coming in and showing support, calling the house, checking on my father, making food for us. It just makes you feel at home. You don’t feel alone.”
Tony said he and Peter began working at Star Confectionery when they were still children. Their father, Nickolas, purchased the business in 1920. Today, most locals still refer to the restaurant as “Papa Nick’s.”
“We grew up in here helping my father,” Tony said. “He gave us our freedom to play sports and stuff, but he wanted us back here to help him. This was in the late 1930s and early 1940s. If you went for sports, you could play the sports, but if you didn’t, you came down here and worked. And at 5 p.m., we went home and did our homework.”
Kaitlyn Ferris, who has worked at Star Confectionery since she was 15, also has fond memories of Kitty and the Meras family in general.
“I always say I would never have known how to use the register if it wasn’t for her,” said Ms. Ferris, a professional photographer who works part time at the restaurant. “This was my first job. They’re like family to me. Tony is my biggest fan. Everyone that comes in here with a camera, he lets them know that I do photography.”
Brian Stark, who owns Glenwood Village in Riverhead, said he’s a regular customer at Star Confectionery because of its friendly atmosphere.
“The Meras are a great family — they always welcome you in,” he said. “They are like family.”
After Tony and Peter took over the family business, the brothers ran the shop together until the early 1990s, when Peter retired.
Peter’s widow, Helene, described her husband as “a very joyful person.”
“He loved everybody,” she said. “He loved his customers. He missed it very much — talking to them and meeting people.”
After Peter retired, he and his wife split their time their between Riverhead and Florida.
“He was a big-time bowler,” Helene said. “He loved bowling and golf right up until he couldn’t play anymore, about four years ago.”
Kitty, who passed away at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, worked at Star Confectionery until she began to lose her eyesight, Anthony said. It frustrated her when people said hello and she couldn’t see who they were, he added.
“For a long time, she ran the show here,” Anthony said. “She made this place fun.”
On the last day of her life, Tony and Anthony spent a lot of time with Kitty.
“I said to her, ‘I’ll take your laundry home and I’ll do it,’ ” Anthony recalled. “She said, ‘Make sure that after 45 minutes you get the laundry from the washing machine. I don’t want my clothing coming back wrinkled.’ We we were laughing.
“I gave her a kiss and said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ ” he continued. “That was the last time I saw her alive. I’m grateful that I had those three hours.”
Photos: (Top) Peter Meras behind the counter at Star Confectionery in an undated photo. His brother Tony said he still has that Coke machine; (Right) Kitty Meras with WABC radio personality ‘Cousin Brucie’ Morrow, left, and son Anthony at Star Confectionery. (Left) Peter Meras served as a corporal in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1952. (Credit: Meras family, courtesy)