On a weekend typically reserved for fireworks and family gatherings, restaurant owners are usually hunkered down at their businesses, trying to make the most of the busy summer holiday.
But this particular holiday weekend, Riverhead proprietors put their own livelihoods, and competition, aside for an afternoon to support one of their own.
Friends and fellow downtown restaurant owners banded together Sunday for the first of many fundraisers to help Athens Grill rebuild after it was destroyed in a fire a little more than a week ago.
The barbecue lunch, called “Rebuild Athens,” at The Riverhead Project restaurant saw dozens show up in support for Athens Grill owner John Mantzopoulos and his family. Trays of food were donated from neighboring eateries, including Blue Duck Bakery, Digger O’Dell’s, Meeting House Creek Inn, Crooked Ladder, Cody’s BBQ and Grill and many more.
“It’s like the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ when everybody comes together,” event organizer and Riverhead Project owner, Dennis McDermott, said of the event. Guests were not asked to pay for a meal, however nearly all donated for Athens Grill’s reconstruction efforts.
“It’s not even about the money; it’s to show John that we are here for him,” Mr. McDermott said.
“I was actually surprised so many came together,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said. “Riverhead has really shown me good faith.”
In 2004, Mr. Mantzopoulos took ownership of Athens Grill, expanding and upgrading the former gyro joint into an elegant, Greek restaurant. For almost 10 years he has been a part of Riverhead’s downtown revitalization efforts and currently serves on downtown Riverhead’s Business Improvement District’s board of the directors.
“John would always help anybody and now it’s his turn,” said Ray Pickersgill, the BID president, adding the outpouring of compassion is characteristic of the downtown business community. “They are all in competition, but they are all members of the business district.
“People here like to help others when they’re down.”
Mr. Mantzopoulos said he was relieved no one was injured by the fire, and that he is looking forward to re-opening.
“It’s too early to say what color the walls will be, but we will rebuild,” he told the crowd Sunday. “Hopefully in six months from now I’ll see you back at my tables.”
The Riverhead Project has a new executive chef and will debut its revamped, seafood-centric menu later this week.
Roy Wohlars, the former executive chef at Montauk’s South Edison, signed on as head chef of the downtown Riverhead restaurant just days ago, owner Dennis McDermott said.
Mr. Wohlars said the new menu, set to be unveiled Tuesday, is “75 percent seafood.”
“We’ll use the local waters of Long Island including oysters, clams, sea scallops and striped bass,” he said. “When the local farmers start producing vegetables those will also be on the menu.”
Chicken and duck make up the rest of the 2-year-old restaurant’s latest offerings. Menu items of note include a Szechuan-infused version of chicken and waffles and a smoked blue fish pierogi with house made crema, dill and pickled ramps.
Mr. McDermott, who formerly owned The Frisky Oyster in Greenport, is optimistic that Mr. Wohlars’ presence will further enhance revitalization efforts in downtown Riverhead.
“The Frisky Oyster definitely changed the landscape of dining in Greenport and the North Fork,” he said. “When the Riverhead Project came to Riverhead two years ago it did the same thing, and the addition of Roy to the restaurant really puts Riverhead on the map.”